Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Q & A: Getting Married Legally Before the Wedding

Reader Question: My fiance is a freelance photographer (he's so creative...one of the many things I love about him) but that work does not provide him with health insurance. I have health insurance through my job, but in order for him to be on my plan, we would need to be married. We have been engaged for four months and our wedding date isn't until September of 2012. My question is, for reasons of practicality, do you think it would cheapen the main wedding event to get married at the courthouse before then to get him on my health insurance plan? I wouldn't change my name or do anything drastic until after the real ceremony with all of our friends and family there, but I am just worried this may make the marriage seem forced out of necessity. I would appreciate any insight or advice. Thank you so much!

If you are absolutely positively sure that you want to spend the rest of your life with your creative freelancer photographer fiance and you're sure you won't want to change your mind before your far, far away wedding, then by all means sign the paperwork and get him on your insurance!

Seriously, a wedding is what you make of it, regardless of what is or is not already on record with the state (which was proven by one of my favorite weddings of all time; Katie and Paul got legally married before their actual wedding for insurance reasons, too).

I actually think it could be very romantic to get legally married in private at the courthouse and have an intimate celebration between the two of you to commemorate your legal binding with your partner. And then when your wedding rolls around, you can craft a meaningful and memorable ceremony that allows you to publicly declare your love and commitment. In my opinion, the public declaration won't be any less sincere or authentic; it will just be the public version of what already happened privately.

In my opinion, the paperwork part of it is the least meaningful and memorable. Matt and I incorporated the signing of our marriage certificate into our wedding ceremony, but we weren't officially married until we got one more witness to sign it and then sent it off to the state for processing. The technicalities and semantics didn't subtract from the sincerity of our ceremony at all.

I hope that helps!

I'd love to hear others' opinions in the comments...

Wondering whether you have to send Save the Dates? Wondering how to build an equitable partnership? Wondering how to handle pressure from your parents? E-mail me your questions, and I'll take a stab at answering them!

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Karuna said...

My husband and I had already decided our families would kill us if we did not give them a party when we decided to elope. We had a date set, a dress, a menu, a venue and a growing guest list. I was in paramedic school at the time and had just gotten to the point of going part time in my job to be able to acomidate school’s growing time requirements. This meant that I was going to lose my insurance. School required a certain level of insurance and was going to charge me upwards of 600$/mo for it. We did NOT have that kind of cash and G had kick butt insurance through his work so we started thinking about getting paper married. We debated it a lot. Would it ruin or water down our wedding wedding? On and on. Ultimately we decided to gather a tiny handful of friends at one of our favorite pubs on a rainy January weeknight and “do this thing”. We exchanged baby vows under the light of the sierra nevada sign and signed our certificate on the pool table because somone had spilled a beer on the table table. It was one of the most wonderful nights I have ever had. We handed out boxes of Annies mac and cheese and chocolate bars as pacific NW winter wedding favors to our dear buddies who attended.
Smash cut to 9 months later. We walked into the most beautiful summer camp dining hall covered with prayer flags, twinkle lights and lanterns. There were flowers everywhere and the warm smiling faces of our friends and family surrounded us as we stood infront of the impromptu alter of the fireplace. It was POURING outside so our riverside wedding had been relocated to the reception hall about 30min before the ceremony. We stood there and exchanged our second set of vows in front of our community and family and inturn asked them to help keep us honest and dedicated as well as remind us to have a sense of humor and lightness in the hard times. It was not a perfect day if you took it apart piece by piece but it WAS perfect for us.

I would not change my 2 weddings for anything. Our elopement cost us 50$in beer, flowers and favors. Our wedding wedding cost us about 5k since we rented a summer camp for a whole weekend so we could play with our friends from all over the globe who came to celebrate and they would not have to spend more money on a hotel. We have sort of started a revolution in our group of friends. Everyone is now running off to the court house or hopping on a schooner to have a private “Us wedding” before the hubub of the “Big wedding” and so far, everyone agrees that it takes the pressure off the big big day and allows a sweet intimacy from the little big day that becomes untouchable by family drama or weather or any other nonsense. Just one opinion but something to think about. Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

Chris and I were planning a *huge* wedding all by ourselves last October and as such, got really frustrated. So we decided to get legally hitched in a chapel you rent by the hour in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in July. To this day, no one knows about (I wouldn't normally post anonymously, but you know, gotta keep it under wraps). We're just hoping that no one we know ever looks at our actual marriage certificate and notices the dates

Anonymous said...

I had almost exactly the same situation and exactly the same fears. I am an underemployed journalist and the only way to get on my fiance's health insurance would be to get married. We had been engaged for several months but the wedding isn't until spring of 2012. I was really worried that getting married before the wedding would take the specialness out of wedding. And while we haven't had the wedding yet, I don't regret getting legally married first, it was signing paperwork, it lasted 5 mins, it was a neat experience, and we followed it up by spending a nice afternoon together, but it didn't feel like our wedding--I still get to plan and think about that while also being able to go to the doctor. And, if anything goes wrong at the wedding--oh well we are already married anyways!

Anonymous said...

I was engaged for a few months, when I lost my my health insurance from my job. Having a pre-existing condition, after doing the research I found out the only way my condition could be covered was to get married before it ran out.

A few things I found out that I hadn't expected. I really wanted a ceremony with my family and friends. I didn't know how much this was important to me, until it was almost taken off the table. There is something amazing about having your family and friends there to witness to your vows and celebrate afterwards. I am so glad we still had a wedding.

The second thing that happened to me was that after legally getting married before our wedding 6 months later, we found ourselves in this married/engaged limbo. We told our family and close friend. But we didn't have rings and it wasn't broadcast to the general public, but it wasn't a secret either. It left both of us not feeling 100% married, but we didn't feel quite engaged anymore either. We stopped saying fiance, but we didn't say husband or wife either. However, I don't feel like it took away from our wedding day. It was nice that once we had our wedding and said our vows, we felt completely 100% married.

The third thing is you need to be prepared that some people might not take the wedding 100% serious. Luckily only one person didn't get it. My husband's grandmother kept referring to our wedding as "Oh it is so nice you are having a party!" I am not sure she understood that we were saying vows and exchanging rings; that it was the real deal for us. It hurt a little bit, but that is okay. She couldn't have made it anyway, so I don't want her to feel bad about missing it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing. I don't know if this happens everywhere, but our local newspaper prints a list of people who received wedding certificates. This is how both my husband and I got found out at work. It wasn't a secret, so it wasn't a big deal for us. I had a sheepish laugh with my coworkers about it. But if you need to keep it super top secret from someone, keep this in mind.

Anonymous said...

Short story: If you're sure, then do it. People might get pissed, but it's worth it.

Long story:
My husband and I were engaged for a year or so. We got tired of waiting, because we were virtually jobless and living in his parents' basement, and we were absolutely not going to go into debt for a wedding, so we decided we'd hit up the courthouse early. What really factored into that was also that some friends we really wanted to be there also would not have been able to afford to fly to our wedding, and we were going to visit them that April. So we decided, kill two birds with one stone, and get married in California when we visited.

My parents warned me that my local family would want to know about it, but I was suffering from an extremely strong bout of anxiety, especially when having to do with the phone and delivering bad news. So I didn't tell them. We got married, posted some pictures for people to see, and promptly pissed everyone off.

We were treating it as a no big deal sort of thing. This was just a little ceremony. We were getting "really" married at the wedding, when we can afford to have it. No one should care about this. We were stunned our parents wanted to come (and they did, and it was awesome). It was just supposed to be like running an errand, with a little dinner party afterward at Island Burger. But everyone else under the sun made it into a HUGE DEAL.

Half my extended family disowned me for about six months (seriously?!) and many of the rest of my friends made really pointed comments about it frequently. It is now to the point where we could feasibly save up for a wedding (yay employment!) but... I don't want to. Not because I don't want to have one, but because I foresee the stress being Way Too Much. And since people threw such a shitfit over our courthouse jaunt that was meant to be as low-key and relaxed as possible, how will they feel when I put my foot down on things I don't want to do for the "real" wedding? I don't want a traditional wedding, and I'd want pagan rituals involved. That'd be sure to get people riled.

As far as I'm concerned, thanks to everyone throwing a HUGE FIT, I'm married and that's that, and they can suck a lemon if they want to. We'll have a vow renewal ceremony sometime when I'm better able to handle it.

That said, I'm very happy we did it. It was small, it was intimate. Though our judge was very much the "let's get this over with" type. Do it. If you have fragile relatives, be prepared for possible consequences.

Becky and Sam said...

Just do it. When you know you've found your soul mate, you know. So get married.

We got married, one week before the whole prop 8 debacle in California, because we were worried we wouldn't be able to "legally" get married after the vote. Well we guessed right, and I am so thankful and happy we "jumped the gun" and eloped. We didn't have a ceremony until almost two years later as there was too much going on in our personal lives.. work, new career changing, etc...

It was the best ceremony/reception ever. ;) It was more relaxed, and we got to celebrate and ENJOY every person there. Our family and friends understood our struggle and we wouldn't have changed it for anything.

Katie Mae said...

We got legally married at the courthouse last year about three weeks before our wedding. It was partly for health insurance reasons, but primarily out of philosophical reasons - to us, state recognition and benefits are a separate matter from our public commitment to each other. I linked above to the blog post I published the day of our legalization/certification/whatever you'd like to call it; you can also check out the philosophy tab of the site to see why we did what we did.

Our families and friends handled it surprisingly well. We treated our wedding as a "real" wedding (since it was!) and they followed suit. Our parents didn't understand at first, but we wrote them a letter and talked to them and involved them in wedding planning and the ceremony itself, and they eventually appreciated it a lot.

There were a couple really nice things about separating the ceremonies. We could take care of the legal & official stuff ahead of time, which was convenient. Even better, not needing the ceremony to be legal meant we could do whatever we wanted. We ended up having a family- and community-centered wedding, with our union being recognized and honored by everyone present. This is of course possible in a legal ceremony too, but we were able to focus completely on that.

The three weeks where I was legally but not spiritually/publicly married were weird. We were in the final stretch of wedding planning, but I was so excited to be almost married that a few times I tried it on (calling myself married). I can't speak to being in that limbo for a long period of time, but other commenters have that covered!

Anonymous said...

This is such a personal issue that I truly believe you need to fully evaluate the decision for yourself. If it's important to you to have a ceremony with your family and you feel it might cheapen the vows you publicly give, you'll need to evaluate that. I know that most of this blog is about supporting your own happiness and doing what's right for you and your future family but you also need to recognize if part of who you are is not "pissing" people off and whether the decision to marry in a courthouse may hinder relationships you truly value. I agree with all the posts indicating you should do what you want. Just know that starting a new life with love and thoughtfulness towards yourself and others is going to put you in a much better place than a who cares attitude towards the "this is my day" day.

Anonymous said...

I get the insurance thing and understand that in some cases it makes sense for the people involved to tie the knot earlier than perhaps they expected to.

But if you are already married I don't see the point in putting on the big show for everyone else later on.
It wouldn't feel like a real wedding to me.

Karuna said...

I never felt like it was a "Show" when we had our community wedding. It was like it was just the other half of the equation. We had comitted to one another and then we stood up in front of our families and community and asked for their support and blessing. We had a quaker ceremony where the readings and the things that our community had to say were the "wedding". It felt very powerful and totally different than the elopement. Both had their purpose and felt very unique and important. I guess it takes all kinds to make a world go round.

Becky said...

I considered getting legally married prior to our wedding date, just to ease things. I have a licensed pastor friend who wanted to marry us, but his denomination does not allow him to perform weddings outside of his church region, since he's licensed but not yet ordained (we're getting married in a different state). My pastor friend asked me if we would be willing to get married at the courthouse first. I considered, but decided that I didn't want to be married pre-ceremony. I really want the whole community with us when we say our real, official vows.

I have a friend who did a courthouse wedding a few months before her wedding to make things easier regarding purchasing a house with her now-husband. I asked her on her wedding day if it was anti-climactic since she was already married. She said that it was. Knowing this helped me make the decision to wait and get officially married on the official wedding day.

However, I could see why for some people it just wouldn't be that important to have it all be the same day. In some cultures it's completely normal and expected to have a courthouse marriage a few days prior to the church wedding.

You've just got to figure out what YOU want.

Ivy said...

My partner and I got married after 2 months of being engaged because I needed health insurance. I went into the hospital and through the whole thing racked up $8,000 in medical bills. After this happened, it really felt like if we were planning to spend our lives together, saving for our wedding, and there was this option available, why not? Thank goodness we did, because I wound up back in the hospital only a few weeks after the paperwork went through!

This whole time we haven't totally been on the same page about what it means to have already been legally married. To him, we were good as married when we moved in together, so he's happy to consider us wed. To me, I don't want or need the state to validate my relationship. So I don't feel married, I feel engaged- the marriage comes when it happens with family and friends there, on my terms.

The hardest part has been our families. They're thrilled we're married and marrying again! But we've been getting a lot of jokes about "how many times ARE you getting married?" "why stop at 2?", and "well, we missed the real one so what's the point of another one?" I'm so tired of those comments-- 1.5 years that it's been like that!

But it's making the wedding day even more exciting- this chapter will finally happen! I can call him my "partner" because that's what I want to call him, not just because it's too confusing to label him as anything else. And it's making planning easier- there's no stress if we disagree about whether he's "the one" or if this is an open for what's to come. Too late, we have to fix it! = )

So I say go for it. It's disgusting that this country doesn't provide health insurance for everyone, and that people are pushed to do things like this. And since getting married, I'm not shy at all about why we did it- people should know what kind of decisions are being forced on people without health insurance!

Oh yeah, and I like him a lot. That was a good motivator.

Kerry in Colorado said...

My husband and I made the conscious decision to have a small courthouse wedding (just his parents and grandpa; my parents and grandma) in March, before our wedding party in August.
I have always hated the WIC (in fact I skip a lot of weddings I'm invited to b/c it's so irritating to me!), and knew neither my family nor his would be happy with however we decided to do things. Plus, I am a PhD student and he's in medical school, so we're both really busy.

So we did things completely unconventionally and it was perfect! We had our small courthouse ceremony in March, then planned our wedding party for August. I am so happy I did things that way. People were a bit confused, but who cares? We had a great time at our actual wedding, then our party in August was a wonderful celebration of love, but we were already very comfortable with being married and could just enjoy everyone instead of being nervous about the wedding aspect.
I would highly recommend it. Plus, we planned a family/friends backpacking trip after the party, since we'd already been on our honeymoon in March!

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH for having a constructive site about getting married before the wedding. My husband and I did this for health insurance reasons. My family completely understands as I have health problems and he wanted to be able to take care of me yet we really wanted a spring wedding 2012 (we got married in August 2011)....unfortunately, we didn't want to take the risk of holding out and going in debt with hospital bill = not our we wanted to start our lives together. We don't like the fact that we are keeping this a secret and we have told some of our bridal/groom parties and have gotten mixed feelings = "like what's the point." However even though the paperwork is done, the experiences that we want to share of friends and family are not over for us. Not matter what people say we should or should not technically call our wedding.....this day that we get to proclaim our love and celebrate with everyone will always be our wedding and how we really wanted it to be.

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