Updated March 28, 2018
Elopement day

Eloping is often, though not always, a cost-effective alternative to traditional weddings. Couples who want a simple service, want to save money, are planning a second wedding, or want to travel for their ceremony should all consider eloping.

Elopement Location

Your local courthouse can serve as the venue; check the courthouse for available dates and times. Similarly, many Justices of the Peace or judges may be willing to preside over an elopement ceremony at your home or in your backyard. Check with the person you want to officiate before selecting a final location.

Couple sometimes want to plan an elopement at a destination like a romantic place to elope or somewhere that offers inexpensive elopement packages. Make your reservations as soon as possible so you can have all the proper paperwork filed at that location, whether it's Las Vegas or an international locale.

Paperwork and Legal Details

No matter where you plan to elope, you will still need to abide by the local laws when it comes to making your marriage official. This includes:

  • Marriage License Waiting Room
    Filing for a marriage license - Every county, state, and country will have different laws regarding the number of days you have to file for the marriage license prior to the wedding date. Make sure you file yours in time by checking in with their city and county government offices. Pay fees that are due, too.
  • Residency status - You need to find out how long you must be living in a particular area before you get married. For destination elopements, this could be a stay that lasts anywhere from three days to a month, but double check with the local authorities.
  • Witnesses - Make sure you find out how many people are needed and if they need to attest if they know you personally or if they can simply sign to verify they witnessed the ceremony.
  • Identification documents - Bring along proof of your identity. This may include, but isn't limited to: driver's license or state issued I.D., passport, divorce decree, and any bloodwork results that are required.

Ceremony and Guests

The ceremony itself is usually a simple one. You may walk down a short aisle, but you'll have a service that is 10 to 15 minutes long at most. While some places will allow for a song, the simplest ones at the courthouse may just have you and your spouse recite the appropriate vows and then make the official pronouncement.

If you want to incorporate more than a song and vows, such as a sand ceremony, check with the venue. You may need to book a small wedding ceremony instead of an elopement package.

The number of guests and witnesses you have depends, again, on your preference and location. At minimum, you'll need an officiant and at least one witness. Some people include parents, siblings, and grandparents or their closest friends. Check to see how many people are allowed to view the ceremony before you ask anyone to attend.

Additional Considerations

Although you may be having an elopement, that doesn't mean you can't incorporate a few traditions.


Bride and groom walking up stairs

While you can, of course, wear whatever you want for your elopement, most people want to wear something special. Elopement dresses are usually more casual and not as full as a traditional gown. Grooms may want to wear dress pants and sport jacket or button down and tie. If they happen to have a suit, they can choose to wear one.

Choose clothing that fits the location. For example, at a seaside elopement, brides should wear beach wedding dresses and grooms should dress in beach wedding attire.

The important thing is for the couple to match each other's level of formality in their attire.


Decorative flowers aren't usually at a courthouse elopement, but the bride can still carry a simple bouquet or single rose or two. The groom can wear a boutonniere. If you're eloping at a destination, the venue may come with floral arch, or a couple vase bouquets might be included.


Hire a photographer to take photos during the ceremony and with any witnesses, close friends, and family who attend. Have a few formal and fun photography poses done after the elopement outside the courthouse or in a nearby park.

If saving money is the goal of your elopement, ask witnesses to snap some photographs with their phones or a digital camera during the ceremony and then a few quick group shots afterwards.

Hosting a Reception

An elopement allows you to do whatever you want for the reception without feeling obligated to host a big wedding reception. Instead, consider hosting a small dinner, brunch, or open house to celebrate the elopement. But, if you're planning a destination elopement, you may want to host a traditional wedding reception once you return home. And if you want to skip any sort of reception entirely, you can.


After you elope, you'll need to let everyone know about your newly married status. Send out elopement announncements worded so everyone knows the ceremony already took place.

Eloping With Ease

While you may be planning an elopement so you don't have the stress of a larger wedding, there are still some details that need to be considered. Put together a basic checklist or planner to make sure your elopement goes off without a hitch!