12 Must Do Wedding Ceremony Planning Tips

Wedding Ceremony Planning TipsCarol was sitting in the beauty salon when she called me. She was a little frantic as she explained her dilemma. She’d been getting her “practice hair” done and chatting with the stylist about her wedding–just 2 weeks away. The venue, caterer, DJ and photographer were all confirmed. The RSVPs were all in and her final dress fitting was her next stop. She and her fiance were ready to get married…or so they thought.

“So what kind of ceremony are you having?” That simple question sent Carol scrambling. In all the months of planning, they forgot to hire an officiant!

If you’re like Carol, your wedding day is one of the biggest events you’ve ever planned. With so many details to consider, don’t let your wedding ceremony fall through the cracks.

These wedding ceremony planning tips will help you get you off to a good start.

1. Book your officiant early

It’s not a wedding without the ceremony and in most places it’s not a ceremony without an officiant. The sooner you look for your officiant the better the chance you have of finding the right officiant for you. The earlier you hire your officiant, the more time you have to work with her or him to plan your ceremony. More time means more opportunities to be creative and get exactly the ceremony you want.

See why you might even want to talk to a wedding officiant before you choose a venue.

With that in mind…

2. Remember to budget for an officiant

Don’t assume that your officiant’s fee is covered by what you pay your ceremony venue. (In fact, if you’re not getting married in a house of worship, don’t assume your venue comes with an officiant.) Budget for your officiant the same way you budget for other parts of your wedding. Ask yourself, “how important is the ceremony to us?” and “do we have special requirements for our ceremony?” If you’re asking for more than a very basic ceremony, budget accordingly.

3. Meet prospective officiants before you hire one

Your wedding ceremony is a very personal event. You want an officiant who’s personality clicks with yours. Prospective officiants should be willing to meet you both in person (or via video chat like Skype) before you hire them so you can be sure it’s a good fit.

4. Get familiar with local marriage laws

You’ll need to apply for your marriage license in the state where you’re getting married. Every state has its own rules and regulations so make sure you know what you have to do to make your marriage a legal one.

Do you have to bring a witness when you apply for your license? Will you need a blood test? How many witnesses will you need on your wedding day? Where should you apply for your license (especially if you live out of state)? Is there a waiting period and how long is the license good for once you get it?

The rules for who can perform a legally binding marriage ceremony also vary from state to state and some cities have additional rules. Make sure you check the laws for where you’re getting married.

When you’re checking for the rules online, check the official state and local government sites. Other sites may have outdated information.

·        New Jersey (http://www.state.nj.us/health/vital/marriage_apply.shtml)

·        New York (https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/4210/)

·        New York City (http://www.cityclerk.nyc.gov/html/marriage/license.shtml)

5. Make sure your officiant can legally marry you

This may be one of the most important wedding ceremony planning tips you’ll ever read. Now that you’ve found out what the rules are where you’re getting married, you need to be sure your officiant can perform those duties. Don’t assume that your friend can get ordained on the internet—some municipalities won’t accept online ordinations. Ask your officiant what makes them qualified to perform legal marriage ceremonies and if you’re not sure if they meet the qualifications, double check with registrar where you’re getting married.

6. Get a contract from your officiant

Over years, I’ve been called as a last minute replacement for all kinds of officiants including friends, relatives, clergy, and government officials who all backed out of doing the ceremony unexpectedly. Having a contract with your officiant shows you that the officiant is committed to being there for your wedding day and gives you some protection if they don’t.

7. Speak up about your ceremony wants and needs

Of all the things that you’ll do on your wedding day, your ceremony is the moment you make your commitment to each other. Let everyone who’s involved in planning your ceremony with you know what you want and how you want it. Otherwise, you may find yourselves stuck with a cookie-cutter ceremony that doesn’t reflect your plans or even your beliefs.

Even if you’re looking for something “traditional” make sure you explain what that means to you. What one person thinks of as traditional may not match your vision.

8. Get a copy of the ceremony in advance

Have you ever been to a wedding where the officiant used it as a platform for their own message or agenda—and said things that you knew the couple didn’t agree with? Or maybe it was just that the officiant got someone’s name wrong. You should be able to control what goes on into your wedding ceremony. Reading and approving the script in advance lets you relax and be in the moment when your wedding day comes, because you won’t have to worry about what’s going to be said next!

9. Take a good look at your ceremony location

Many reception venues offer spaces where you can have your ceremony. It’s convenient and you your guests won’t have to travel in the middle of your festivities.

It’s a great option, but you’ll want to take a good look at the ceremony site to be sure it’s a good fit. Is there enough room for your wedding party? Is the location noisy? Is there adequate lighting and is there electricity available for your DJ or musicians?

If you’re using in a public space like a beach or park for your ceremony, see if you need a permit. Make sure there’s parking for your guests and that they can get to the ceremony space easily.

10. Have a backup plan for weather

What do you do if it rains on your wedding day—or if it’s too hot, too cold or too windy? If your ceremony is outside, having a backup plan will give you peace of mind. This is definitely something you want to discuss with your venue. Do they have an indoor ceremony space or do they just put up a tent? Does the backup space seat as many people as your ceremony space?

Even if you’re having your ceremony at a separate location such as a beach or a park, you should talk to your reception venue about having the ceremony at the venue if the weather calls for it.

Then make sure everyone knows the plan. When will you decide? How will you let the guests and vendors know? Who should people call to know where to go? Having a plan in place can make for an easy and relaxing day no matter the weather.

11. Consider having a rehearsal at the venue if you can

Not every ceremony needs a rehearsal. If you’re having a very simple wedding ceremony with no additional participants, you can probably skip it.

But if you have a wedding party, readers, or special rituals in your ceremony, a rehearsal can help you all get comfortable. A rehearsal can also help you spot and deal with unforeseen problems like finding out there’s not quite enough space for your wedding party to stand during the ceremony or that the table the venue is supplying for your sand ceremony doesn’t leave room for you to stand under your chuppah.

12. Plan time for your paperwork

Before your ceremony, you’ll need to give your officiant your marriage license. Your officiant can’t perform a legal wedding ceremony without one.

After your wedding ceremony, you and your witnesses need to get together with your officiant to sign your marriage certificate and make it all legal. The rules for who has to sign will vary depending on where you’re getting married and how much paperwork you have sign will vary too. (New Jersey’s certificate is 4 pages.) If possible, arrange for a place where you, your officiant, and witnesses can sit at a table for a few minutes and let them know where to go. You might sign right after your ceremony or after the receiving line if you have one. Then you can go celebrate!

Get started planning your wedding ceremony. Contact Cris today!

5 Responses

  1. Andre Beluchi
    • November 10, 2015

    Cristina, would using creativity and good equipment for a celebrant wedding be some good ideas to do? It seems like I’ll probably have to try it out at my cousin’s wedding if it turns out to be a good idea. Well, since her sister put both my wife and I in charge of coming up with some good designs to add for the wedding.

    • Cristina S. Kollet
      • November 11, 2015

      Hi Andre,

      I mostly deal with writing and officiating the ceremony. But if you’re talking about decorating for the ceremony and reception, there are certainly lots of ways you can get creative. I suggest looking at Offbeatbride.com for ideas. And don’t forget to run everything by your sister in law and her fiance first. 🙂

      Good luck!

  2. Michael Robinson
    • December 1, 2017

    I wanted to thank you for helping me realize that I needed to book my officiant pretty early! My girlfriend and I just got engaged, and we are trying to figure out what to do next. With that being said, I think that we will try to find our officiant sooner than later because we want to get married on a certain date. Thanks again, and we will try to help them understand our vision and plan this all together.

    • Cristina S. Kollet
      • December 4, 2017

      Congratulations on your engagement Michael!

  3. JJ
    • July 10, 2018

    Working with the officiant is so important! You have to tell them what you want them to say far in advance so they can practise and prepare something as well. Thanks for that tip too! This wedding planning has been stressful, but exciting!

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