Choosing a civil officiant for your wedding need not mean a city hall marriage. In most jurisdictions, there are a variety of possible civil officiants for your wedding, including not only the traditional justice of the peace but also court and county clerks, judges, notaries, and even council members and mayors. Religious officials are also authorized to perform civil wedding ceremonies.
The first step in choosing a civil officiant for your wedding is to learn from authorities in the jurisdiction in which you are to be married which specific civil officiants are authorized to perform weddings. The clerk of court may be able to provide you a list identifying the names of authorized civil wedding officiants.
Which civil officiant is right for you may depend in part upon the type of wedding you prefer. If you are planning a large gathering or intend to have your civil wedding ceremony and reception in one location, for example, the court house probably is not a viable option. You will want to find out if a prospective officiant will travel to the location where you want the wedding performed and what the charge is for doing so. Of course, determining that the officiant is available on the date and time you plan to hold the wedding is critical.
If you are considering using a religious officiant for a civil wedding, it is important to determine upfront whether their expectations are agreeable to you. Some religious officiants expect couples to engage in premarital counseling, and that counseling may reflect the religious tradition of the officiant.
If you are planning to write your own vows or design a unique ceremony, it will be important to meet with a prospective officiant and determine his or her comfort level with your approach. If the match is not a comfortable one, you can then find an alternate officiant.
Of course, you want your civil wedding to be legal, so make sure the officiant you choose is able to clearly specify exactly what documentation is required as well as any other prerequisites to marriage, such as a blood test and witnesses to the marriage.
One of the advantages of a civil ceremony is reduced cost. Finding out what a few different prospective officiants charge can aid your decision on which one to hire.
Finally, you may want to consider such issues as how clearly the officiant enunciates, whether he comes across as empathetic and whether he is well-groomed. He will be standing with you and your beloved when you take your vows, after all, and will present in many of your wedding photos.