OPTIONS FOR YOUR ELOPEMENT CEREMONY // HOW TO MAKE SURE YOUR ELOPEMENT CEREMONY IS LEGAL & LEGIT // WHERE TO FIND OFFICIANTS & WITNESSES
So you want to elope, but are unsure what the legal process is like to make your ceremony legit?
I’m not gonna lie, it can be tricky finding an officiant who is willing to travel and hike and adventure with you, and hiring one for an adventure elopement can often become expensive if they include extra fees for their travel or time spent hiking with you.
You might also be dreaming of an intimate elopement just the two of you, and the thought of bringing along witnesses messes up your entire vision.
So what the heck is one to do?
Well, there are several options. Technically, you don’t need an officiant for an elopement ceremony if you don’t want to include one. In some states, you don’t need an officiant at all to marry yourselves, and in other states you can hold your own ceremony on your elopement day if you’re willing to perform a few extra steps beforehand to make it happen.
No matter what direction you choose, it is important to understand how elopements works and the marriage laws in whatever state you’ll be holding your ceremony!
FOR LEGAL ELOPEMENT CEREMONIES
If it is important to you that you get legally hitched on the same day as your elopement adventure, that’s fine too! It IS possible, even if you don’t invite any guests.
Do you need witnesses for your ceremony?
In Washington and Oregon, you’ll need 2 witnesses to sign your marriage license — and your officiant cannot be one of them.
Here’s a breakdown of states that do require witnesses for marriage ceremonies and ones that do not. (Note: this data is from August 2021—always double-check the laws in your state for the most up-to-date information!)
These states require witnesses:
New Jersey (1, witness must know both applicants)
New Mexico (2)
New York (1)
North Carolina (2)
North Dakota (2)
Rhode Island (2)
South Dakota (1)
Wyoming (2)(Video) DESTINATION ELOPEMENT - Everything You NEED To Know and Consider For Your Elopement
These states do NOT require witnesses:
District of Columbia
WHO TO SERVE AS YOUR ELOPEMENT WITNESSES
In most states, anyone over the age of 18 (or 16 in some states) can serve as a witness to your ceremony. Here are a few tips for finding or including people to serve as witnesses on your elopement day!
This one’s easy: have your photographer sign off as a witness on your marriage license! (*Unless your photographer is serving as your officiant, in which case you will likely still need additional witnesses.)
If you’re eloping on public lands, there is a very good chance you’ll be able to ask fellow passersby to serve as your witnesses! This is a fun, spontaneous solution to finding a witness or two. Maybe you catch a few fellow hikers along the trails, or folks hanging out at the top of the mountain around the time you’re holding your ceremony.
You’d be surprised by how many folks are intrigued and excited when they see a couple in wedding attire out in their favorite parks, and many of them would be thrilled to be a part of your wedding day!
(Note: I recommend having a backup plan in case you are unable to find witnesses along your trail, particularly for really secluded locations. One contingency might be to take a trip to the park’s visitor center or a popular overlook and ask a few rangers or strangers to be your witnesses if you need to!)
Friends & family
You could consider inviting a small handful of your favorite people! You can make your loved ones a part of your day and include them in some of your other festivities afterward, or you can ask them to simply come and fulfill the legal obligation of being present at your ceremony then signing your marriage license, then give you privacy after that.
FINDING AN OFFICIANT
AND NAVIGATING MARRIAGE LAWS FOR YOUR ELOPEMENT
This is one of the few things about eloping that is unfortunately MORE complicated than having a large, traditional wedding. Finding an officiant who is willing to come travel and hike with you can be really difficult—but, there are still options!
If it’s important to you that you get legally married on your elopement day (and not on a different day—I’ll get to that in a second!), here are a few totally-legal options to consider.
Consider eloping in a state that will let you marry yourselves
A few states allow couples to self-solemnize, which means they don’t need an officiant and you can lead yourselves through your own marriage ceremony. This is a great option for couples who want a private, intimate experience all to themselves.
Colorado and District of Columbia are two locations in which it is rather simple to self-solemnize. A few other states allow self-solemnization, but only for couples of specific religions and faiths. Read more about different state laws on self-uniting here.
Search local officiant registries
I’ll be honest, even this option can prove difficult, because most officiant registries aren’t designed with adventure elopements in mind. If you are searching for one, I HIGHLY recommend looking for an officiant who specializes in adventure elopements, or officiates adventure elopements regularly. You’ll want to make sure the person you hire is comfortable and experienced in the outdoors, and that it isn’t their first elopement rodeo! I recommend including the keywords “hiking”/“adventure”/“elopement” plus the state/park/location you want to elope in.
You can also ask your elopement photographer if they have any recommendations for officiants local to the area you’re eloping who are willing to adventure and hike with you.
OR… You could consider hiring an officiant for a ceremony at an easy-to-access location, like your Airbnb or an accessible overlook, then going out for a celebratory hike or adventure afterward with your photographer!
Have a friend or a family member marry you
Another great option, especially if you’re willing to invite people along! Having a loved one lead your marriage ceremony is often much more memorable, meaningful, and intimate than hiring a total stranger to come with you on your adventure—plus, they might be more willing to go on a long hike with you if that’s your game. And I’m sure your best friend (or your sibling, or your parent) would be THRILLED to have the great honor of marrying you and your partner, especially if that means an invitation to your elopement!
As for the legality of this, it’s incredibly simple to get ordained as a officiant in the USA. Anyone over the age of 18 (no matter their religion or faith) can do it online in a matter of minutes, and can at that point perform totally-legal wedding ceremonies. Here are a few organizations that allow you to become ordained online in the US:
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (yes, this is legit!)
The Church of the Latter-Day Dude (yes, this is legit!)
A few important notes about online ordinations:
Some states do not recognize ordinations from these organizations. Research the marriage laws of whatever state you plan on eloping in beforehand! The ULC has a great resource on wedding laws to help you figure out what’s what and navigate the laws in each state.
Some states (like Hawaii, Nevada, West Virginia, Virginia, and Vermont) require officiants to register in that state. Registering is easy to do, though it does require an extra step. Check out this list of states and ordination registration laws on the AMM site for more details.
Many of these sites offer online ordinations for free, though I recommend all officiants who are actually going to officiant someone’s wedding ceremony pay the extra fee to order a certified copy in case it is requested by the court.
Hire a photographer who can double as your officiant (like me!)
Another option to consider if you want a more simple and private ceremony is to hire an elopement photographer who is ordained! (Like me!) I am ordained as an officiant through several organizations, including the ULC and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and can perform simple non-religious marriage ceremonies. You can tell your friends you were married by a recognized Pastafarian minister, and that it was a 100% legit and legal ceremony.
Typically, a photographer-led ceremony looks pretty similar to a self-solemnizing ceremony, where you two do most of the leading and I do most of the capturing. You’ll lead each other through your exchange of vows, then I say the magic two sentences that meet the legal requirements, and announce you two as married!
If you’re having trouble finding an officiant or witnesses willing to adventure with you, or you’re dreaming of a totally private elopement day just the two of you, there’s another option—and it’s one of our favorite options because it’s one of the easiest!
Legalize your marriage at the courthouse, then elope wherever you want, however you want!
Here’s a TRUTH: Your elopement day doesn’t have to be the same day you get legally married.
If you’re dreaming of a private, intimate elopement and a day all to yourselves, you can do that literally ANYWHERE. Yes, for real!
A lot of couples decide to leave the paperwork for another day so they don’t have to worry about the complicated nature surrounding marriage laws and officiants, and they can simply go out and have the intimate adventure of their dreams, wherever they want and however they want! This is a great option to consider if you want to elope in a state with complicated marriage laws, or if you don’t want any witnesses or an officiant.
Is that legal?
The simple answer? Yes! The legal requirements to get married include a few sentences to recite, plus some signatures, and you can get it done at the courthouse. You don’t even need rings, technically. That’s a wholly different matter than the vows you exchange and the commitment you make to one another. The day you say those vows and make that commitment, the day you celebrate your union—that’s your wedding day. Paperwork is just paperwork!
Should we sign our paperwork before or after our elopement day?
It’s totally up to you, and both are legit, valid ways of eloping! Perhaps you want go the courthouse when you get home from your elopement trip, or maybe you want to get it out of the way beforehand so your whole trip feels like a combination elopement/honeymoon adventure!
Note: make sure you research marriage laws in the state you’re getting legally married, and pay attention to whether or not there’s a waiting period after you apply for your marriage license.
Is it still special, if we do it that way? Will it feel like a real ceremony?
Absolutely!!! No matter what kind of wedding day celebrations you want to have, emotions are going to be running high, and you certainly aren’t going to be thinking to yourselves, “wow, this isn’t real”. It’s real because it’s the day you commit your lives to one another—that’s what makes it special. Not the government, not the thought of finally being able to file your taxes jointly, not the formality of signing on the dotted line. The legal aspect of marriage is a fairly modern inventions, anyway. Marriage ceremonies themselves are ancient traditions, going back all the way to 2350 B.C. in Mesopotamia (source).
A lot of couples who opt for this kind of ceremony still have a plan (like a loose script), and write handwritten vows to read to one another. You could also involve some kind of unity ceremony like hand-fasting, unity shots, or planting a unity tree. If you’re thinking about getting legally married before your elopement ceremony, you could also consider saving your exchange of rings for this moment to make it feel all the more ceremonious and poignant.
(Also, you kind of end up with two wedding anniversaries to celebrate, which is pretty cool!)
No matter what you decide to do, whether you hire an officiant to come along on your adventure and find some witnesses along the way, or you forgo the paperwork and exchange your vows in private in a spot all to yourselves, your elopement day is your wedding day, and it deserves the same amount of care and intention as any other wedding.
If it stresses you out thinking about all the laws and logistics and you’re dreaming of something simple and intimate, maybe you should consider a private vow exchange and a separate legal ceremony. If the symbolism of becoming legally married at the same time you share your vows with one another is important to you, then recruit an officiant to make it happen! Ultimately, your elopement day is your own, and no matter what you decide to do, your elopement is gonna be legit AF.
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Can you get married without witnesses? ›
After the ceremony, the marriage register is signed by both partners and the registrar. Two or more witnesses must also sign at the time of the marriage. Witnesses don't have to be a certain age but you should check with the person marrying you if they have an age limit on who they'll accept.How do you ask someone to witness your wedding? ›
If you're having any guests at your wedding – anyone at all – you can simply ask them to be witnesses for you. Ideally, ask them whether they'd be happy to do this before the wedding day, so you're not springing it upon them at the last minute.Who should be your witness at a wedding? ›
There's no strict rule on this – you and your partner could pick one each, or you can make the decision as a couple. It's more of a joint decision than choosing the bridal party or groomsmen, so ideally it would be someone who means something to both of you.What happens if you elope? ›
Eloping is a marriage conducted without the knowledge of the couple's family and friends, particularly their parents. Typically, those who elope only have a ceremony and do not host a reception or celebration.What is needed to elope? ›
You must be at least 18 years old. Persons under 18 with written consent from at least one parent (or legal guardian) AND permission from a California Superior Court Judge may marry. Emancipated minors are NOT exempt from this process. Parties may not be already married to each other or other individuals.Do elope marriages last? ›
If you're considering eloping, you might be wondering if your marriage will last. Many studies have shown that couples who elope tend to have longer-lasting marriages than those who have expensive, extravagant weddings.Can a witness be a family member? ›
Anyone 18 years and over can witness or sign a will, but importantly, a beneficiary can't witness a will, and neither can their spouse or civil partner. In many cases, people will ask a friend or work colleague to sign and witness the will.How do you include friends who are not bridesmaids? ›
- Have Your Friends Come To The Wedding Wearing Your Wedding Colors. ...
- Let One Friend Officiate The Wedding And Give Other Friends Special Duties During The Ceremony. ...
- Gather Your Friends And Family Together For A "First Look"
Witnesses. You will need 2 witnesses at the ceremony. They must be over the age of 16, and able to speak and understand English.Can my mother be a witness at my wedding? ›
Anyone can be witnesses, as long as they understand what they're witnessing. We therefore recommend that they speak English and are of an age to understand the meaning and purport of a marriage and civil partnership ceremony, however this is not set in law. They do not need to bring ID with them.
Who is the best man in the wedding? ›
The best man is the groom's right-hand man (or woman) at the wedding. Usually a close friend or relative, this person is asked to stand by the groom's side to support and assist in any way possible before and during the wedding.What is the purpose of a witness at a wedding? ›
What do witnesses do? They literally witness the wedding ceremony, and when it's over, witness the couple and the officiant signing the marriage license. Then it's their turn to sign. As far as wedding-related jobs go, this one is pretty simple.Is eloping a sin? ›
Since we've discovered that eloping is not a sin, let's check out how to take yours and consider how it can best honor God with these awesome Christian wedding ideas!Do you walk down an aisle when you elope? ›
While not all elopements have aisles, there's no reason you cannot arrive to your all-time favorite song or walk down a designated aisle. White has created an aisle out of flower petals on the beach and had brides walk down a mountain trail to their partner.What is high elopement risk? ›
Increasing Elopement Risks
Residents who have eloped may be exposed to extreme heat or cold. They may suffer a fall when walking over uneven or unfamiliar territory. Additionally, they may suffer injuries or death as a result of wandering into traffic or bodies of water, or as a result of exposure to inclement weather.
A two-person elopement ceremony can still use the traditional, “in sickness & in health…” script. Or, you can write totally personalized vows! Share your hopes for the future, your favorite memories, the qualities you love most about your partner, or what your partner does that makes you smile/laugh.Do people regret eloping? ›
Certainly, some people regret eloping. And some people who have traditional weddings, regret that they did not elope -- not all of them, nor probably even the majority, but a few.Is eloping selfish? ›
When you are choosing to elope, you are not, in fact, being SELFISH. You are practicing SELF-CARE. You are choosing to honor your own needs and feelings. You are making decisions that are right for YOU.Who can be a witness signature? ›
Ultimately, although it is possible for anyone who is not a party to the deed to act as a witness, it is strongly advised that they are independent and over the age of 18.What makes good witnesses? ›
Honesty is the best policy. Do not stop to figure out whether the answer will help or hurt your side; just answer the questions to the best of your memory. Do not exaggerate. If you tell the truth, and tell it accurately, nobody can cross you up.
Can my girlfriend witness my signature? ›
Can my spouse or partner be the witness? Generally, your lawyer will tell you that the witness cannot be a family relative. And whilst this is definitely best practice (so as to maintain some independence of the witness), it is not actually a legal requirement.Is the groom's sister usually a bridesmaid? ›
Are you automatically expected to ask your fiancé's sister to be a bridesmaid? The short answer to whether or not you have to include anyone, even a family member, in your wedding party is no. This is your wedding, and you and your partner should do whatever feels right.How many bridesmaids is too many? ›
A wedding can have quite literally any number of bridesmaids. Some brides have no maids at all, whereas others might have several dozen. The most common number of bridesmaids is 3, but anywhere between 1 and 12 is considered a perfectly normal amount.How many readings do you have at a wedding? ›
No matter the type of wedding, whether you are having a traditional religious wedding, a civil ceremony or an alternative wedding celebration you will definitely have one or two readings during the ceremony.› how-to-elope ›
How Do You Elope? | FAQs and Tips About How to Elope
How to Include Family in an Elopement
All the Things You Need to Know About Eloping (Before You Do It)
Someone authorized by the state must perform the marriage. The marriage needs at least two witnesses. You can also get married by common law or by declaration of marriage.What is required to get married in Texas? ›
To apply for a marriage license, a man and a woman must each have a valid form of identification, such as a driver's license; a certified copy of a birth certificate; a passport or military identi- fication card; and their Social Security cards. Age requirements: You must be 18 years of age to marry on your own.Can a family member be a witness at a wedding? ›
Anyone can be witnesses, as long as they understand what they're witnessing. We therefore recommend that they speak English and are of an age to understand the meaning and purport of a marriage and civil partnership ceremony, however this is not set in law. They do not need to bring ID with them.Do you need a witness to get married in Georgia? ›
Witnesses and Officiants
In Georgia, judges, justices of the peace and licensed or ordained ministers, clergymen, pastors and other religious leaders can perform marriage ceremonies. Wedding ceremonies in Georgia must be observed by at least two witnesses. See generally O.C.G.A. § 19-3-30 et seq.
The State of Montana only recognizes marriages performed by the following: Clergy and/or Ordained Minister. A Judge or Public Official given specific solemnization rights by their office.
What is the fastest way to get married in Montana? ›
Marriage licenses are obtained from the Clerk of District Court at 228 Broadway, Helena. Once issued, the license can be used immediately or up to 180 days after the date of issue. The license may be obtained in any county within the state of Montana, and the ceremony can take place in any county within Montana.Who can officiate wedding in Montana? ›
(1) A marriage may be solemnized by a judge of a court of record, by a public official whose powers include solemnization of marriages, by a mayor, city judge, or justice of the peace, by a notary public authorized pursuant to 1-5-630, by a tribal judge, or in accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any ...› Lifestyle › News ›