Ballpark Estimate: $50 to $350.
Before you can exchange your wedding vows, you’ll need to find an officiant licensed in your state who can marry you and your mate.
If you’re having a religious wedding, your priest, rabbi or other clergy person will probably be the one to marry you and your intended. But when you’re planning a non-denominational ceremony, hiring a justice of the peace or other secular official can be essential. This allows you to decide what traditions you want to include or skip in your wedding. This can also be an option for same sex couples wanting to get married.
Hiring a Justice of the Peace
Keep in mind that you spent months of visiting bridal boutiques in your hunt to find the perfect wedding gowns and deciding on your bridesmaid dresses was a subject of major stress. But how much energy and thought have you spend to find the right justice of the peace to perform your wedding? Many couples take the first person they find who is licensed and available on their date. This is fine but just make sure that you and whomever you hire are on the same page in how you envision your special day.
A Changing Role
In the past, a justice of the peace was an official position charged with maintaining peace and order within the jurisdiction. Back then, this position was considered very prestigious (although it usually was not paid). Over time, the role has shifted to mean different things in different places. What does remain consistent in the United States, though, is that most justices are licensed in their state to perform a wedding or civil union and most of the time they are now paid. Other services a justice of the peace may now offer include notarizing legal forms and documents and issuing subpoenas and other types of court documents.
In some jurisdictions, the power of a justice of the peace even extends to arresting people for minor legal infractions, such as traffic and license violations. Some justice of the peace positions are filled as fulltime government employees, while others are very part-time gigs. In addition, some justices are appointed, while others are elected positions.
How to Find a Justice of the Peace
If you’re looking for a justice of the peace, you may want to start with some of online wedding resources such as The Knot, the Wedding Channel and Brides. You can also use a range of specific “justice of the peace” directories. For instance, there’s the National Directory of Justices of the Peace and Find a Justice. Or ask family and friends if they can offer any recommendations. Some local courthouses also have a directory of justices on their website. Finally, attend local wedding expos to find officiants who are available in your area.
Requirements for the Job
Keep in mind that not all justices of the peace you can find will be equal. Exactly what each one will bring to your wedding alter will really depend on who you hire and the area in which you live. In many parts of the country, there aren’t any specific educational or job requirements. However, some locations do require that a justice of the peace have a juris doctorate degree and/or experience as a lawyer or judge first. When selecting a justice of the peace, these factors are less important than the justice’s style and tone and how he will approach the wedding ceremony. Therefore, most wedding experts recommend meeting with anyone you are considering in advance and finding out if you feel comfortable with him and like the way he will perform your ceremony. If you don’t click with one person, you shouldn’t settle but should find someone else who feels like a better fit for your expectations.
Design Your Ceremony
Once you’ve picked your justice of the peace and confirmed the date, you’ll need to apply for a marriage license. You can also talk to the officiant about writing your own vows if you desire. Expect a civil ceremony to be very simple and quick unless you want some special traditions incorporated into the event. Some justices will also want to add their own word of advice or good wishes as well, which can be a nice touch to personalize the ceremony. You can ask your justice about how he handles this part. It can be helpful to ask the justice to share samples of previous ceremonies as well to give you some ideas.
You can also ask if you can see a copy of your ceremony plan in advance. Just keep in mind that not all justice’s script out what they will say so yours may want to talk spontaneously at your event and therefore may not have it all down on paper in advance. You should also discuss the logistics of your ceremony, such as your bridal party, family members, any special blessing or traditions you want to incorporate and what type of ceremony music will be used.
If you’re having a small wedding without any attendants or family participation, you may not need to prepare much in advance but otherwise, you’ll probably want to have a rehearsal before the event. Talk to the justice of the peace about this and make sure he will be able to work this into his schedule.
When you meet with a justice of the peace, you’ll want to go prepared with some questions. For instance, you should ask what his fees are for performing the ceremony and for the rehearsal, too. You will ask need to know what other expenses he might charge. For instance, other possible costs include travel fees, personalizing the ceremony for you and submitting the legal paperwork. You should talk about how much money you need to give in advance to hold the justice’s time for your event and find out when the balance will be due.
What It Costs
Many couples find a simple wedding ceremony performed by a justice of the peace to be very affordable, although the price can vary depending on where you live and what will be involved. Some states have a set schedule of fees that a justice can charge, while others allow this to be an individual thing.
To give a general idea of what to expect, the costs usually start in the $50 to $100 range if you are willing to go to your local city hall or courthouse and have a justice there perform a brief ceremony. Some experienced justices who travel to your wedding location will charge more. Their fees may start at around $150 to $200 range and go up from there. If you are planning to have a destination wedding, such as getting married in Hawaii, you can expect to pay a little more. For instance, on the Hawaiian islands, justices can charge as much as $350. For this price, you can usually expect that they will be willing to travel a short distance and will also help you to coordinate some of the legal paperwork and other details.
Some justices will include the cost to meet with you and your fiancé before the wedding to get some details about you both that can be incorporated into the ceremony. In other cases, this can be an additional fee of about $50 for the time involved. If your rehearsal isn’t included in the justice’s price, this can add another$50 or so.
So you can expect to spend between $50 and $350+ for a justice of the peace, plus the license and any extra fees.
(In addition to the justice’s fees, don’t forget that you’ll also need to pay for your marriage license separately.)
It’s worth noting that when an interfaith couple is getting married, it’s not unusual to hire two justices or officiants, one that represents each of their backgrounds, styles and beliefs. If you plan to incorporate two justices, be sure to plan for double fees in your budget.
Many couples will invite their justice of the peace to attend their wedding reception. If you would like to do this, be sure to include the officiant on your guest list and plan to send a formal invitation.