How to Start Planning Your Wedding Ceremony

When it comes to planning your wedding ceremony, there are a few big pieces to consider: who you want to officiate, where you’d like to get married, and what you’d like to say to each other as you exchange vows at the altar. We’ll also talk about your marriage license and share a few resources for getting started.

YOUR OFFICIANT

If you plan to get married in a house of worship, the venue and the officiant are usually a package deal. One of the pastors, rabbis, or religious officials associated with your church, temple, or house of worship will officiate, and you’ll meet with them to set your ceremony date and time. If you have an idea of who you’d like to marry you, but he or she is not associated with a particular house of worship, reach out to get an idea of his or her availability so that you can make sure it lines up with the dates that your venue is available.

Even if you’re already familiar with your officiant, it’s a good idea to set up a consultation and run through a few basic questions so that you have a good idea as to what his or her typical wedding ceremony looks like. Depending on the religion or denomination, your officiant might want to meet with the two of you for premarital counseling sessions before the big day, and he or she might have feedback as to how long your ceremony should be, what kinds of readings should be included, and whether you’re allowed to write your own vows.

Though it’s unlikely that your officiant will request a specific fee, they usually have a suggested donation for their time (especially if attending your wedding will involve travel). It’s a good idea to ask about this upfront. Once your officiant is on board, remember to include him or her on the guest list for the reception and as well as the seating chart as a way of showing thanks for having made your marriage legal and binding.

Finally, if you want a friend or family member to officiate your wedding, you’ll need to check your state’s laws regarding what is needed to legally officiate a wedding. Some states offer programs that allow anyone to be deputized for a short period of time to perform a marriage ceremony, or your friend can look into the requirements to be legally ordained to perform marriages. If you choose to go this route, allow a couple weeks for your friend or family member to go through the deputization or ordination process.

FINDING YOUR VENUE

As you look at venues keep in mind how many people you’ll need each location to hold (we’ll touch more on the guest list later, but for now you can move ahead with a general figure), whether or not the venue is available during your preferred day and season, whether or not your venue will need to be wheelchair accessible, and what add-ons and amenities come with the venue’s wedding package. Some venues will rent just the space, in which case you’ll be in charge of finding tables, chairs, and everything else, while others will throw in the whole kit n’ caboodle – from tables and chairs to in-house catering and a complimentary wedding coordinator.

Wedding Spot, The Knot, and Wedding Wire, The Hitch offer great tools for searching for your wedding venue.

We’ll talk more about what to look for in your venue before you sign on the dotted line in a few weeks.

QUESTIONS TO ASK WEDDING VENUES

As you’re touring venues, bring the list of questions below to ask the venue manager:

  • How many guests does the venue accomodate? Is all necessary seating provided? What about parking?
  • Does the venue host more than one wedding on the same day?
  • What will your access to the venue be on the day of your wedding, including set-up and cleanup time?
  • Does the venue provide an in-house coordinator?
  • Does the venue have an in-house caterer / baker, and if so are you required to use their services?
  • Is there a bridal suite for the bride and bridesmaids to get dressed? What about the groom and groomsmen?
  • Will you be able to host a rehearsal and / or rehearsal dinner there the night before your wedding?
  • Are local permits required for lights and sound?
  • If it’s an outdoor venue, is there a back-up location in case of rain?
  • Is the venue wheelchair accessible?

Tip: All-in-one outdoor ceremony and reception venues typically offer so much natural beauty that fewer flowers and decorations are needed to customize the space. If you have a smaller budget, finding an all-in-one venue is a great way to save money.

SIGNING THE VENUE CONTRACT

Once you’ve found the right venue or venues, look over a contract to make sure it includes all of the information below:

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing (ceremony location, reception location, rehearsal space and time, tables and chairs, and terms for guests and vendors)
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of event and length of time venue is available to you
  • How much: cost of venue
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation and overtime policies and emergencies

Additionally, ask for a floor plan of your venue if it’s not already included. You’ll use that later as you or your wedding planner or designer decide how to make the space work for you. Once you sign the contract, make a copy and file it in a place that will be easily accessible throughout your planning process.

WRITING YOUR VOWS

Your vows are one of the most intimate, yet public pieces, of your wedding day. Whether you’re planning on reciting words of tradition or writing your own, these will be the words that seal the deal and reflect your shared commitment to have and to hold.

But if you’re writing your own vows, it can be difficult to know where to start. Talk about pressure, right? Just be natural! This is the moment that you get to look your true love in the eyes and tell him or her how you feel. For real. In front of everyone. Just a few words to let your betrothed know that yes, you’re really in this for the long haul. That you can’t think of a better person to be jumping into the deep end with than the one you’re looking at right now. And that come hell or high water, you’re digging your heels into the side of love.

For your first go, write down your feelings, unedited and raw. From there, create your vows. It may take a few passes, and it may take hearing it out loud. But whether you read them, memorize them, or choke them out through happy tears, they’re yours, and they’re the beginning of your forever together.

YOUR MARRIAGE LICENSE

If only getting married were as easy as saying “I do.” Unfortunately to make a marriage legal and binding, you’ll need to be issued a marriage license by the county in which you’re marrying. Usually that means a visit to the County Clerk several weeks before your wedding date in order to prove that neither of you are currently married and that you’re eligible to be legally married.

Visit the County Clerk’s website to review the guidelines for applying for and receiving a marriage license. While you’re reviewing the website, make sure you find answers to the following questions:

  • When should you apply for a marriage license?
  • What is the cost of applying for a marriage license?
  • What is the time frame after receiving your license in which you can get married?
  • Is there a wait to receive your license once you’ve applied?
  • Will you need to bring witnesses in order to apply for a license?
  • What documents must you bring to apply for a license?
  • What, if any, medical records are required?

Once you have the information you need, start collecting all of your relevant documents into a file folder so that the two of you will be ready to apply for your marriage license before the wedding day. A lot of counties will only issue the license a couple weeks before your wedding, so make a note in your calendar as to when you should apply.

THREE OR FOUR WEEKS BEFORE YOUR WEDDING DAY

Arrange a time to visit your County Clerk’s office and apply for your marriage license. Bring the documents that you compiled earlier and call ahead get an estimate as to how much time you should allow for your appointment.

The marriage license itself doesn’t make you legally married, but it does give you the legal grounds to hold a marriage ceremony. Your officiant will sign the license alongside you and your new spouse following your wedding ceremony, and he or she will be responsible for submitting it to the county as proof of marriage. Within a few weeks of your wedding, you’ll be able to request certified copies of your marriage certificate, which will act as legal proof of your marriage.

Want even more tips for planning your wedding? Our weekly countdown walks you through the entire wedding planning process from beginning to end, telling you exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. Check it out HERE.