If you’re considering eloping in a different state or country, or a remote location, you’re probably wondering about the legal requirements and whether or not you need an officiant to elope. Couples often ask me questions like:
We live in a different state, how do we find an officiant for our elopement?
If we’re eloping in a National Park, do we need to find an officiant to travel with us?
Will my marriage be legal in the U.S. if we elope in another country?
Marriage requirements vary from state to state, and in different countries. The process, the number of witnesses, and the need for an officiant differs widely depending on the location, so it’s important to understand the legal requirements early on in your elopement planning process.
To help you navigate the less-glamourous, legal requirements of planning an elopement, here are my answers to some of the most common FAQs:
We want to elope in a different state, what do I need to know?
If you plan to elope in the United States, it’s quite easy to do it in a different state. I can help you research the legal requirements (such as when to file for a marriage application, how to navigate waiting period laws, where to go to pick up a certificate, etc.) but it’s important to know that each state has a different set of obligations – some states like California require an officiant and two witnesses and other states like Colorado don’t require an officiant at all. Make sure you check out the state’s marriage laws early on, and as long as you follow the marriage laws for that state, you’ll be legally married when you return home.
Can we have a friend or family member marry us?
If you elope in the United States, a friend or family member is welcome to serve as your officiant if they are an ordained minister. And even if your loved one isn’t a traditional religious leader, the Universal Life Church offers an easy online membership process that lets any adult over the age of 18 become ordained for free, completely online. If you have a friend or family member who is willing do a little paperwork, they’ll be able to legally officiate your elopement.
I’m not sure where to look for an officiant, can you help?
Absolutely! I’m happy to recommend officiants that I’ve worked with in the past, as I know officiants in places like Oregon and Yosemite where I shoot regularly. And I can help point you in the right direction of where to look for an officiant that will be a great fit for you two.
We’re getting married in a remote area in a foreign country, how does that work?
Internationally is where it gets tricky. Some countries require translation services, in-person interviews with a judge, and complicated paperwork. But don’t let overwhelming legal details stop you from eloping in your dream location! I often suggest signing the legal paperwork at a courthouse or city hall either right before or after the elopement. The majority of my couples complete the legal paperwork at home. Instead of thinking about paperwork details or finding an officiant, this gives you complete freedom to choose the location that feels the most right for both of you. And trust me, this doesn’t make the experience any less meaningful; the day you exchange your vows and celebrate your commitment is the day you get married.
The bottom line: if having an officiant hinders your ability to plan an elopement that truly reflects who you are as a couple, there are options! Do what’s meaningful to you, especially for your wedding, it’s so worth it.