newly engaged?

beach hug
photo by Elizabeth Oakes

Congratulations on your impending nuptials!

Whether you're over the moon or overwhelmed--or both--we hope you'll find this handy start-up guide useful.


1. First: Breathe.

Getting engaged is exciting, but jumping into the wedding planning process without a clear direction leads to stress--the ultimate wedding buzzkill. Taking time to breathe, relax, and think through logistics *first* will save you energy, money, and frustration down the road.

Unless you have an urgent legal need--e.g. immigration deadlines, insurance or pension sign-up windows, health crisis--you don't have to rush--and you shouldn't rush. Take a breath, then discuss the basics with each other: preferred dates, locations, style, and size of guest list (if any).

HINT: Start a list of questions and gather some basic information--including ballpark pricing--about ceremony options and marriage licensing. Planning a wedding--even a small one--requires some preparatory footwork.


2. Do we have all our legal ducks for marriage in a row?

If you have legal concerns about debt, assets, previous marriages, SRDPs, immigration applications, or prenuptial agreements, consult with an attorney before you make any plans. Sometimes a waiting period before marrying is needed (e.g. after signing a pre-nup) so make sure you have your timing right.

Also, if you don't have a valid ID or dissolution papers for a recent divorce or annulment, you'll need to obtain them before you can apply for a marriage license--no exceptions.

WORD OF ADVICE ABOUT THE DOCUMENTS NEEDED FOR MARRIAGE (FROM EXPERIENCE): Do *not* make your honeymoon reservations or book a venue until your ID and divorce papers are current and in your hand. You can't rely on either the DMV or the courts to get you what you need on short-notice, and they don't care if you already bought your airline tickets. It's also against California law to have a wedding ceremony without a marriage license, so don't put yourself in a tough spot. Nobody will be happy if you have to cancel your wedding or honeymoon at the last minute, least of all you and your (non)spouse.

Many, many couples have fallen into this trap. You don't want to end up taking a very not-married honeymoon because your divorce decree didn't get to you on time. This happens a lot. Please be patient and realistic, and (especially in California) expect delays getting paperwork from the courts.


3. Discuss: What sort of wedding do we need?

Do we need to get married right away, or can we take some time? Do we want to elope or have a big wedding? Maybe one of each? What can we afford? What three core items are essential for us to have a satisfying wedding experience?

We can help you figure this out! We're happy to meet with you and brainstorm the perfect way for you to get married. We have a wide range of experience--from make-it-legal elopements to grand soirees. Call or email if you'd like to chat about your ideas.

HINT: If you're an introvert, would rather spend the money on something else, or really can't stand your relatives, you're under no obligation to have a big shindig no matter what anyone says.

If you love being in the spotlight, have a large and loving community to party with, and lots of money to spare, maybe an over-the-top wedding is right for you. You decide what's best for your personality types and budget.

HINT: Find ways to include your favorite things in your wedding day. Hate wedding cake but love pie? Can't stand dancing but adore surfing? Prefer sushi to surf-and-turf? Do it! You'll love those things even more as the years go by, and they'll be wonderful touchstones for your anniversaries.


4. Take another deep breath and start wedding planning.

This is where it starts getting real. Lock in a date and start booking the essentials. Location is usually the item you need to lock in first.

HINT: If you qualify for a confidential marriage license, you only need three things to be legally married: a marriage license, an officiant, and a place to stand. If you use a public license, the only other thing you'll need is a single witness (confidential licenses don't require a witness). Everything else is optional.

ANOTHER HINT: Some couples opt to have a small civil elopement first so they can obtain legal status quickly and enjoy a romantic moment to themselves, then plan a big community ceremony or reception later.

ONE MORE HINT: Smart couples never go into debt for the Big Day(s).


5. What about the marriage license?

To be legally married you must obtain a marriage license before your ceremony. For either a public or a confidential marriage license in the State of California, you must:

  1. be over 18,
  2. have a valid unexpired government-issued ID like a drivers license or passport,
  3. present proof of any marriage or SRDP dissolutions that became final in the last two years, and
  4. show proof of any legal name changes that did not occur through marriage.

You may also be required to show a birth or naturalization certificate for name verification.

To qualify for a confidential marriage license--the only kind that can be privately issued by a notary--you must also be cohabiting and have your ceremony in the same county as your license purchase. Please see our "How It Works" page for more details.


6. Finalize the wedding details.

Surf the endless sea of wedding webpages, get referrals from friends, or make your mom do all the calling, but start nailing down the services and stuff you need to make your wedding vision a reality.

HINT: To make your life easier, we've built several pages of wedding vendor links for DIY wedding planning, and we have some excellent wedding planners and coordinators listed too, for those who want an event expert on board.

FWIW: We're usually around for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and Valentine's Day weddings. Yeah, holidays cost extra but are super fun because costumes/pie/sparkles/hearts. Birthday weddings are good too!

Feel free to give us a call at 310.288.6658 or email us if you have questions. We can offer expert advice to help you on your way.


7. Lastly, and most importantly....

Go be happy forever, please. A wedding only lasts a day; though having a great wedding is a nice way to start, a great marriage through all the years is the best present you can give each other. We encourage you to plan your wedding with this greater gift in mind.

Drop a line if we can assist you in obtaining legally married bliss. We wish you a wonderful wedding and a sweet and long life together.