You’ve decided to get married and commit yourself to a life with your partner, but in the process of making that decision you may have realized that you don’t care for the wedding itself. Contrary to what the wedding industry wants you to believe, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a huge party, if that’s not important to you. You can, in fact, get married without a wedding.
There are three key ways in which you can get married without a wedding. Well two, if we’re getting technical. But I’ll talk more about that in a second. I’ll go over each of the three ways you can avoid the big, traditional wedding and do things your way on your wedding day. And at the end of the article, I’ll ask you a few questions to help guide you towards which route is best for you.
Click each tab below for more info on each way to get married without a wedding.
Elopements, by their very nature, are the rebellious way of saying "no" to all of the wedding industry's archaic rules and expectations. They focus on the experience of the engaged couple and not on the experience of a room full of guests. And in case you're curious, elopements are no longer defined as secretive weddings taking place in a chapel in Vegas. They've changed a lot, and honestly they make for an awesome way to get married without a wedding.
A civil ceremony is simply a wedding ceremony that is performed by a government official that isn't affiliated with any sort of organized religion (although there are exceptions where you could have a friend or family member officiate, depending on the state). When you typically see civil ceremonies is when couples opt to get married without a wedding by going to the courthouse and having a qualified government official marry them. Typically, this is done because the couple doesn't want a religious ceremony, whether they have different religious backgrounds, don't affiliate with a religion at all, or simply want their wedding day to not incorporate their religion. There certainly are elopements that are also civil ceremonies, but I prefer to put them into two separate categories, which I'll explain later.
Remember when I said technically one of these ways to get married without a wedding wasn't officially a way to "get married." A commitment ceremony is exactly that. It's essentially a way to have a wedding ceremony without the marriage license. A commitment ceremony can include many of the same aspects of a traditional wedding ceremony, but the key difference is that it isn't legally binding and the couple isn't married after the ceremony is completed.
That said, it's important to note that your commitment to each other isn't any less important with a commitment ceremony than it is with a civil ceremony or elopement ceremony. During commitment ceremonies, the couple will typically exchange vows, they may choose to have an officiant present, and they may even incorporate aspects of their culture or religion. But commitment ceremonies are not legally binding, so you're technically not married in the eyes of the law. For some couples who feel like marriage is not right for them, but who want to express their commitment to one another, a commitment ceremony is a great fit.
Elopements and civil ceremonies/civil marriages are both legally binding ways to get married without a wedding. With elopements you'll pick up a marriage license from the County Clerk and Recorder and you'll sign it on the day of your elopement and then have it filed after its completed.
A commitment ceremony, unlike an elopement ceremony or a civil ceremony, is not legally binding. You are not married in the eyes of the law. There are many reasons, whether financial or personal, why a couple may opt to have a commitment ceremony or delay marriage as opposed to having a legally binding marriage ceremony, but if you like the idea of sharing vows, exchanging rings, or committing your lives to one another, but don't want to be legally considered married, a commitment ceremony is a great option.
While elopements, civil ceremonies, and commitment ceremonies can all be full day experiences, from my experiences commitment ceremonies and elopements are most conducive to all day adventures. Why? You're not dependent on a government official who may or may not be willing to come to your ceremony location of choice. So, for example, if you're looking to spend the day of your ceremony adventuring in the mountains, going the elopement or commitment ceremony route is, in my view, the best choice.
With a full day celebration, you're not only having a ceremony that allows you to get married without a wedding, but you can spend your day with your partner doing activities that you love, whether that's a picnic by your favorite alpine lake, hiking up the trail you had your first date on, sharing a meal cooked by a private chef in the cabin you're staying at, etc.
If you're looking for a way to get married without a wedding, and you want it to be short, sweet, and to the point, civil ceremonies are a great way to do this. Sure, you can make a day out of your civil ceremony, if that's what you want. Or you can simply take a quick trip to the courthouse and take care of the legal process there. If you're a no fluff, no frills type of couple, a civil ceremony can work really well. It's straightforward and simple, while still allowing you two to share vows, do a ring exchange, and incorporate many of the traditional elements of a wedding ceremony, if that's what you want.
A common reason why many couples opt for a civil ceremony is the fact that you can have a qualified government official perform the ceremony. This person doesn't have any sort of religious affiliation. Whether you and your partner are not religious, don't celebrate the same religion, or don't want your religious beliefs to be a part of your ceremony, a civil ceremony can be a good option. That isn't to say you can't incorporate aspects of your religion into your civil ceremony (you certainly can!).
Commitment ceremonies are also a really good way to express your commitment to one another without having to incorporate religious elements into your day, if that doesn't feel right to you.
If you'd like to incorporate elements of your religion in your ceremony, you can do so with elopements. Religious rules vary, and I'm admittedly not an expert on all the world's religions, but I've seen couples I work with incorporate elements of their religion into their ceremonies all the time. Whether it's reading their favorite Bible verses to each other or kicking off their elopement ceremony with a prayer, there are ways to bring your religion into your day, even if you're not getting married with a religious official or in a religious building/estalishment.
Personally, out of all these options on ways to get married without a wedding, I love elopements and commitment ceremonies the most. I’m certainly biased, working in the elopement industry and also having eloped myself as well. But the reason I love elopements and commitment ceremonies is that they’re essentially a blank slate. You can customize an elopement or commitment ceremony to look however you want it to. It can be a no frills celebration out in nature. Or you can pull out all the stops. The choice is yours.
I’ve seen elopements of all different flavors, each one customized to match what was important to the couple getting married. And since most of the elopements I document take place in Colorado, many of them happen without an officiant or any witnesses! The way I see it, elopements are hands-down the most flexible and freeing way to get married without a traditional wedding and all the baggage that comes with it.
As an elopement photographer who also decided she wanted to get married without a wedding (fellow eloper here!), I know firsthand what you’re going through. I spent nearly a year planning my own big, traditional wedding, only to decide I didn’t want a big wedding at all. So I found a way for me to get married without one.
As someone who has been there, I love helping my couples do exactly that: figure out how to get married without a wedding, and have the best time doing so. I exclusively document adventure elopements, because I know what an amazing and freeing option they are for couples who want a non-traditional celebration. I’d love nothing more than to document yours.
Check out some of our favorite elopement and adventure wedding planning resources:
Not everyone loves tradition, but that doesn’t make your adventure wedding or elopement any less important.
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