Getting Married Before the Wedding: Why and How

For some couples, saying, “I do” isn’t nearly as important as saying, “I did.” But why on earth would anyone want to get married before their wedding? If you want a private ceremony, isn’t that what eloping is for? There are a few reasons, however, why you may want to get married officially before you celebrate in front of a big crowd.

Whether or not you tell your guests that they’re not at the “real” wedding is up to you. You should be honest with your officiant, of course (at the very least so she doesn’t file duplicate paperwork). And this probably goes without saying, but only the first time you get married will be your technical anniversary in the eyes of the law. That being said, however, there’s nothing wrong with planning a little City Hall appointment before you celebrate your marriage with a big gathering of friends and family–and you can even get up and say your vows again in front of everyone, too. Here’s why you might want to do it:

Avoid Confusion

Sometimes you want a friend to officiate your wedding because he knows you well and he’s got a beautiful way with words, but he’s not always the most reliable person when it comes to filing paperwork. You don’t want to give up the moment when your friend pronounces you partners for life, but you also don’t want to risk discovering, years from now, that your marriage certificate somehow got wedged between the seats in the back of his Jeep. Or maybe the friend you want to officiate lives across the country and isn’t qualified to marry you in your state.

If you legalize your marriage ahead of time with a quick visit to the courthouse, you can relax on the big day and enjoy the emotional whirlwind of getting married without unfinished paperwork clouding your head.

Perhaps you have more than one officiant and you don’t want to choose one above the others when there’s only space for one signature on the marriage certificate. In order to sidestep the emotionally-charged game of playing favorites, you can file your own marriage paperwork ahead of time and let your officiants know that they all have an equally important role in making your wedding meaningful. After all, filing the marriage license is just a technicality–the actual significance of marriage lies in the love and emotions of the wedding day.

Avoid Drama

If you’ve seen a few too many movies, you may be dreading that moment where the officiant asks if there’s anyone in the crowd who objects to your union. While people are unlikely to get up and shout objections in real life (and that moment in the ceremony is meant to be about legal technicalities, anyway; not whether the bride’s high school boyfriend still has a crush on her), there are more subtle ways guests can spoil your ceremony.

Weddings bring together people from all parts of your life. They bring together branches of families that haven’t spoken to each other in years; they bring together divorced halves of couples; feuding siblings; and even multiple buddies who all claim the title “best friend.” When you start worrying that you’ve invited a few too many Hatfields and McCoys for comfort, it can be a welcome relief to know that, whatever else happens at your marriage celebration, it won’t spoil the day you actually got married.

Get the Timing Right

Maybe you’ve always dreamed of a spring wedding, but your Italian fiancé’s Visa runs out in September and you don’t want him to be deported back to Italy before the big date. Maybe you just found out you’re expecting and you don’t want to stay unmarried for the time it would take to plan your dream wedding. Maybe you need to be married to qualify for your fiancé’s health insurance or to live together on an army base.

When you have a “technical wedding,” you satisfy the legal requirements of being married. Then, at your leisure, you can plan together for your “emotional wedding,” which is the celebration you have when your friends and family can gather to share your joy.

When you get married before you “get married,” you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. You can have the intimacy and simplicity of a courthouse wedding, which allows you to appreciate being bonded to each other without the distraction of a flurry of guests.

Then, later, you can enjoy the festive affirmation of your marriage with a merry crowd to celebrate along with you. Again, it’s up to you whether you let your guests know that the big party isn’t “the real one.” After all, there are two ways to define marriage. The paperwork is only one step. The lifelong commitment is the other.