I got married last Friday afternoon in a simple two-minute ceremony at the courthouse over on 4th Street and it was perfect.
Our day was special, memorable and emotional in ways I didn’t know would be possible if we bucked the tradition of a bigger affair. But that’s what we did and we couldn’t be happier.
My husband and I struggled immensely with the traditional wedding planning process. Although we’d been engaged since Christmas Eve 2015, we had made no progress to move forward over the last year. I watched other couples get engaged and married before we could even set a date.
Instead of dutifully checking boxes off one of those standard 18-month wedding planning guides, we were plagued by indecision and indifference that stalled the few half-hearted plans we proposed.
As such, engagement was an uncomfortable time for me. I thought that being unable to show enthusiasm for the wedding planning process meant that perhaps I was unable to show enthusiasm for the relationship itself. And that was really troubling.
I knew Nick and I were on the same page but failed to find other women who viewed weddings as lukewarmly as I did and thought that might be a warning sign that something was fundamentally wrong—with the marriage or at least with me.
It wasn’t until watching my little sister get married in a big, beautiful, over-the-top, Gatsby-level affair on October 15 that Nick and I really vocalized that an event like that would never be for us. We loved it for her and wanted nothing to do with it for us. That felt good.
We let the dust settle on that realization for a couple weeks before calling our parents with a pretty jarring declaration the last weekend in October: “We’re getting married before the end of the year. Which weekend can you be in Charlotte?”
We had four weeks to figure everything out, and for the first time in the wedding planning process I felt really genuinely excited and engaged.
We kept the plan a secret (to keep unsolicited advice at bay) and the guest list to just 26 immediate family members and a few close friends.
Planning a small last-minute wedding played to my strengths (like high performance after procrastination) and quieted my weaknesses (like paralyzing indecision when I have too much time to think). Most importantly, it was what we really wanted to do. It felt like us.
I bought a $300 dress online and Nick wore a tux he already owned. We got a gorgeous cake from Suarez Bakery and my little sister and her husband laser-cut a topper for it at the library. We made a reservation at Halcyon for dinner and ordered floral from Nectar. To document it all, I booked the same photographer and videographer my sister had used in October.
In the end, there was never anything wrong with us as a couple or with me as an individual. There was something wrong with trying to force ourselves into a wedding formula that’s not a one size fits all kind of event.
With our simple courthouse nuptials we got everything we wanted out of a traditional wedding (a teary-eyed first look, moving toasts from our siblings, a big party to celebrate and gorgeous visuals to document it all) but nothing that we didn’t (stress, debt and a whole bunch of stuff).
For me, getting married has always been less important than being married, but I still wanted our day to feel special.
Although I always cry when I attend other weddings, I chalked that up to the whole dramatic production and prepared myself for the possibility that our pared down ceremony in a cold, dead courtroom might be void of emotion. Instead, I was moved to unexpected tears at the “altar” while Nick promised to love me forever.
What I learned in having a wedding at the courthouse is that the audacity of the vow of marriage and the immensity of your spouse’s reciprocation of that vow is monumental no matter where or how it is exchanged. So do whatever makes you happy, not what everyone tells you to do.
Want to plan your own courthouse wedding in Charlotte?
In planning our event, I had a really hard time finding clear information about what a courthouse wedding would really be like in Charlotte so I’ve included some tips below based on our experience.
Pick your date – Civil ceremonies are only offered between 2 and 4 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays at the courthouse or 7 – 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the jail. They don’t accept reservations so you may have to wait in line. Fridays are the most popular wedding days with 20 to 40 marriages on average, but we had no wait at all at 3 p.m. on a Friday in December. You kind of just roll the dice.
Get your marriage license – As with any wedding, you’ll head to the Register of Deeds Office (720 E. 4th Street) to get your marriage license prior to your ceremony date. It’s $60 (cash, credit or debit) and you’ll both need an ID and your social security number. You’ll bring this paperwork and $20 cash with you on your wedding day.
Send invitations – Even though we were on a tight timeline and had already invited everyone in person, we still ordered affordable, small-batch invitations on Etsy as a formality.
Go check it out – I was nervous about bringing the wrong paperwork or showing up to the wrong place so to calm those nerves I stopped by the courthouse during marriage hours (2 – 4 p.m.) the Monday prior to our wedding. I made sure I had what we needed and knew where we were going, which really helped the day of our wedding.
Bring whoever you want – You need a minimum of 2 witnesses (with IDs) to sign paperwork and sit at the front of the room, but you can cram as many people in as you need. We had 20.
Document your day – Cameras and recording devices are NOT allowed inside the courthouse in Charlotte (and, trust me, we got yelled at a few times). So if a record of the actual ceremony is hugely important to you, a courthouse wedding might not be your thing. But while you can’t have cameras inside, you can take plenty of pictures outside. We did our shots across the street at Marshall Park and next door at the old county courthouse (now the DA’s office, 700 E. 4th Street). The new courthouse (where you’ll get married) is nice but not stunning. The old courthouse next door has big stone columns and gold doors that make for a much more impactful photo backdrop.
Celebrate! – Lots of restaurants in Uptown will be willing to work with a large party reservation instead of making you book the full venue as you might for a more traditional wedding or rehearsal dinner. We made our 26-person dinner reservation at Halcyon and had two large tables to ourselves while the rest of the restaurant was still in operation. It didn’t bother me at all to have strangers in the building.
Make it your own – We’re not big drinkers or dancers so bachelor/bachelorette parties, music and a dance floor all went out the window. But we love treats so several cakes were obviously a must. My advice is to keep the wedding traditions you love and toss everything else.
Or hey, skip all this extra stuff and just get married. It takes two minutes and I still cried like a baby. Do you.
Loveluck Wedding Vendors & Details
Ceremony: New County Courthouse (832. E 4th Street) | Dress: Bariano Austraila (ceremony), Betsy and Adam (dinner), Kensie (coat) | Tux: J.Crew | Floral: Nectar Floral Boutique | Hair & Makeup: The LALA Girl Makeup Bar | Dinner: Halcyon | Desserts: Suarez Bakery | Invitations: Chynna Hansen Designs | Hotel: Le Meridien | Photography: Amore Vita Photos | Videography: Discover Love Studios