What is a confidential wedding?

Confidential marriages aren’t just for sneaking off with Vegas girls named “Bunny” anymore. Today’s couple has a wealth of reasons why they’d like to keep their wedding off the record–not the least of which is avoiding telemarketers! In a social media age where intimate details are only a click away, more and more people prefer to keep their private lives, well, private. A confidential marriage allows you to share your new union with a circle of friends and family that you define, and no further.

The Benefits

Celebrities and public officials are turning to confidential marriages as a way of keeping the tabloids at bay, but even non-famous folks can happily spring at the opportunity to marry without alerting ex-spouses or riling other delicate emotional situations. With a confidential marriage, your wedding is strictly off the record. Prying mathematicians can’t count the months from a confidential wedding to the birth of a child. Estranged family members can’t stir up inheritance trouble. With the exception of a court order, no busybodies can pry into your personal life because, unlike most marriage certificates, your wedding is not a matter of public record.

A confidential marriage ceremony can be performed legally with no witnesses, unlike a usual wedding ceremony. This can be useful for couples who want a wedding that’s as private and intimate as their honeymoon. It may also be a way to incorporate personal elements into your wedding ceremony that you aren’t comfortable sharing with even your closest friends or family, such as nudity or references to traumatic and emotional memories. Although such a ceremony is a far cry from the standard public celebration, it can be a deeply bonding and healing experience.

Don’t worry, your confidential marriage won’t go completely unnoticed. It will still be recorded with your County Clerk and will be fully legal in the eyes of the national government. The only difference between a confidential marriage license and a public one is that viewing a confidential license is only available to the people whose names are on the document. If you happen to lose your marriage license, your marriage doesn’t go away; you can always request a new certified copy and it will arrive at your door in a matter of weeks.

The Process

California couples seeking private weddings are in luck, although couples from all over the nation can have their confidential marriage legally recognized if they get married within the boundaries of The Golden State. California is currently the only state to offer confidential marriages. 

To become confidentially married, you’ll need to either apply at a County Clerk’s office or visit a notary public. Note that not every notary provides this service; you’ll need to ask ahead of time to find a notary with specific confidential marriage training. The only requirements are that you and your spouse-to-be are living together (there is no minimum length of time for the cohabitation) and that the ceremony takes place in the same county that issues the marriage license.

The fee for confidential marriage licenses vary by county, but are generally under $100 (and often less expensive than a public marriage license). You may also be required to order certified copies of your marriage license and certificate to comply with government regulations, but these are generally under $20 and will be mailed to you within a few months of your wedding. Los Angeles County offers an especially streamlined and convenient process, possibly because of the demand from celebrities wanting weddings away from the public eye.

Don’t forget to bring the same paperwork that you would need for a public marriage: valid identification for you and your partner, proof of dissolution of previous marriages, proof of age, or other official documents stating that you are legally eligible to marry. You and your partner need to appear in person, at the same time, before the County Clerk or notary public. Make an appointment well ahead of time to ensure that you won’t have to wait in a long line.

There are some drawbacks to a confidential marriage, one of which is the problem it poses for future generations. Great-great-grandchildren who attempt to research their genealogy may go astray at the point where your family tree dips underground. If you keep a personal record of your family history, however, this can be passed down to your children and grandchildren without entering the public sphere. 

Ultimately, your marriage is your own affair. While some couples may prefer to celebrate with all the bells and whistles of England’s royalty, there’s nothing wrong with having your ceremony in an intimate setting. No matter your reasons for wanting a quiet wedding, a confidential marriage is the right answer. Pack some suitcases, head to the West Coast, and enjoy some California sunshine as you legalize your relationship in your own private way.