Here’s the deal. Every state has different rules and regulations. Waiting periods, license expirations and deadlines. It can be overwhelming to research, especially when it’s so high-stakes. 

So here’s what I recommend: don’t.

Hear me out. I’m not saying don’t know the legal requirements of where you’re getting married. But I’m suggesting you don’t worry about it until you know where you want to get married. 

I’ll give you the basics below, but honestly, getting married in most states is pretty simple as long as you’re only focusing on that one place.

Most states have these three steps to get legally married:

  1. Apply for a license
  2. Have the ceremony
  3. Return the license

Applying for a license

The biggest thing here is that most states have a 3-day waiting period from when you apply until you can have the ceremony. If you’re able to file the complete application online (like in Washington State), then that’s no problem! But if you have to be in person to submit the application (like in California), that adds days (and expenses) to your trip that you need to plan for.

Note: If you want to hold the ceremony in a National Park, you’ll likely need a permit in addition to your wedding license. Those are best requested as early in advance as you can manage!

Have the Ceremony

In most cases, you need to have the ceremony anywhere from 3-60 days after your license application, but some are longer, like Wyoming’s year requirement. This is the easiest part to juggle though, especially if you’re traveling and have to apply in-person anyways. 

Most states will allow you to have the ceremony anywhere in the state, not just in the county you got your marriage license from, and if you’re not doing a courthouse wedding, you can likely use an ordained minister from out of state if needed. You’ll likely need to have two witnesses over 18 sign your license, but in most cases they can be anyone (and not actually present for the ceremony if you’re dreaming of keeping that as small as possible).

Return the License

This is the responsibility of your ordained minister, so it shouldn’t fall on you. Just know that states have varying timelines for this, from 30 days or (in the case of Oregon) just 5 days. Just make sure you’re aware of this requirement if your officiant is also traveling with you. 

And that's it!

That’s it! It’s actually pretty simple, right? So don’t sweat! If you fall in love with a location for a special ceremony somewhere in a state that doesn’t have ideal parameters for you, then you can always wed at your local courthouse prior to doing your unique ceremony. 

You don’t have to let complex laws overwhelm you or dull your dream elopement! There are always ways to make your vision work! You just need people in your corner to support you. And hey, that’s me!