Will You Marry Us? Everything You Need to Know Before You Pick Your Officiant

The officiant is your master of ceremony — literally. So, it’s important to consider your options before deciding who should do your “I dos.” Whether it’s a justice of the peace, a member of the clergy, or your own friend or relative, here’s what you need to know before you plan your wedding ceremony. One quick tip: If you’re hiring two officiants (like when you’re throwing an interfaith affair), designate one to be the lead, and be sure she signs the marriage license. Not all houses of worship are agreeable with a tag-team ceremony, so ask early!

Here, the three most common options for your wedding officiant, and everything you need to know before you select one.

Justice of the Peace
How it Works: A JP is simply a layperson licensed to perform marriage ceremony — a good option for the nonreligious and your only option at city hall. To find one, visit a site like findajp.com. (Getting married abroad? Do the JP thing stateside first so you don’t have to deal with foreign red tape.)
Fee: It varies, but $75 to $150 is typical.
Make it Your Own: A good JP will want to meet in advance and personalize the ceremony. “You and your groom should tell her your favorite story about the other privately,” says Utah-based planner Michelle Leo. “Then have her tell both stories from the podium.” At city hall, the ceremony can be tailored with self-written vows and other personal touches depending on local rules and how busy the office is that day.

Clergy Member
How it Works: Reverend or rabbi, priest of pandit, when you choose a religious official to perform your ceremony, there’s a good chance she’s done this a few times and can run the show (and calm your wedding-day nerves). She’s also recognized by the state, so there’s little danger of a paperwork mishap. Most religions allow clergy to marry nonmembers, but some require premarital counseling or holding the ceremony in a house of worship (instead of in your nana’s backyard).
Fee: The donation range is $200 to $1,500
Make it Your Own: religious rituals tend to go by the book, but you can usually tweak some parts (to remove hints of sexism, for example) and choose your own music. Try bringing in a children’s choir or a friend with great pipes, says Calder Clark, a South Carolina planner. “We once had a gorgeous male guest stand up from the crowd and sing ‘Amazing Grace,’ and everyone lost their minds!” she says.

Friend or Relative
How it Works: Someone you know and love gets ordained as a minister and performs your ceremony, guaranteeing it will feel personal. But whether you ask your cousin, camp friend, or SoulCycle instructor, she should be at least 18, be comfortable with public speaking, and “have her shit together,” says San Francisco planner Amy Nichols. “Attorneys are great; they don’t crack under pressure.” Make sure your pal gets certified by a reputable organization, like the Universal Life Church or the American Marriage Ministries. And double-check your state’s rules: Some require here to do it at least one month before the big day.
Fee: Ordination is free, but you can offer to pay for a printed certificate to commemorate her contribute — from $8 to $260.
Make it Your Own: You can tailor this ceremony however you want, but grad a good guidebook to create a framework. (We like The Wedding Ceremony Planner: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Part of Your Wedding Day by Judith Johnson.) Want to take the sweetness up a notch? “On your programs, print the ‘asking of intention’ and ‘pronouncement’ portions of the ceremony, and have your guests join in,” says planner Hallie Slade, of L.A.’s La Bohéme events. “The sound of a hundreds of people pronouncing your husband and wife is so moving.”

Don’t forget to pick up the February/March 2015 issue of Brides, on newsstands now or available for download here, for more great wedding advice!


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