Ballpark estimate: $50 to $400
If you’re planning a civil wedding ceremony, you may want to hire a justice of the peace to make your union legal. A justice of the peace is an official who has the jurisdiction to perform civil marriages in their designated area. This can be a great alternative when you don’t want to use a clergy person, rabbi, or other religious figure to perform a traditional religious ceremony but rather, prefer to take more of a non-denominational approach.
When to Select a Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace can be the right option for people with a range of circumstances, styles, and needs. For instance, perhaps you and your intended come from different religious backgrounds and want someone to officiate who brings a neutral perspective, or who can help you blend traditions from both of your backgrounds. Or perhaps you simply desire a simple wedding held in a non-religious setting and want someone who can make the ceremony warm and personal. Or maybe you’re planning a same sex wedding and want a justice of the peace who can customize just the right service for your situation. Regardless of these details, whether you’re planning a small, private gathering, a big extravaganza for all of your family and friends, or something in the middle, it’s likely that you’ll be able to find a justice of the peace who can help you achieve your vision.
Hiring a Justice of the Peace
You’ve spent months shopping for the “perfect” dress, venue, band, and wedding cake, but remember that all of these details really pale when compared with the most important factor: hiring the person who will officially pronounce you husband and wife—or in the case of a same sex-wedding, whatever terminology you select. The best place to start searching for a justice of the peace is often online through some of the popular wedding directories such as TheKnot.com, the US Wedding Directory, and The Perfect Wedding Guide. You can also use specialized resources such as Find a Justice and the National Directory of Justices of the Peace. Or, ask your wedding planner or coordinator at your venue to offer their suggestions for a local justice of the peace.
Just remember that when searching for a justice of the peace, you don’t have to take the first person you find. Rather, you might want to do some research to identify someone who has a style and approach that you feel comfortable with and who will help your ceremony have the feel and tone you desire.
Requirements for the Role
What you can expect when you hire a justice of the peace varies depending on your region, since the training requirements can be very different in each state. For instance, some states require that a justice of the peace earn a juris doctorate degree, while other states may have no minimum requirements. Depending on the state, a justice of the peace may do weddings just as a part-time responsibility or may handle this role as part of a full-time government job.
In many cases, a justice of the peace also has authority that goes beyond performing weddings to also incorporate handling traffic violations, and other minor infractions.
What to Expect
With whatever justice of the peace you hire, the most important detail is of course whether he or she is available on your intended wedding date. Once you confirm that the timing works, you should talk to the person up front about your preferences and let him or her know how you would like to be involved in customizing the wording. Generally, a justice of the peace wedding will be simple and brief, unless you prefer to add some extra traditions into the event. Be sure to mention any special requests up front so the justice can incorporate them in the best way. In fact, some justices will plan one or more meetings with an engaged couple to go over the elements of the ceremony and to find out what your goals are and figure out how to incorporate them in your event. Sometimes a justice of the peace will also do some basic pre-marital counseling with the bride and groom to help prepare them for their big day. In addition, the justice of the peace will often attend your wedding rehearsal (if you are planning one) so that you can practice all of the details and make sure that things will proceed very smoothly on your big day.
Cost for a Justice of the Peace Ceremony
Before you book your justice of the peace, you’ll want to know what he or she charges to officiate on your big day. Also be sure to find out what exactly is included in the price. You’ll need to know what to expect for the cost of presiding over the ceremony, rehearsal (if you are planning one) and any meetings to design the ceremony and go over the logistics and details. Make it a point to ask if all of these things are included in the price or if there are any extra charges you can expect. Some justices also charge travel fees. If you plan to get married in your local courthouse, this won’t be an issue, but if you are having a ceremony that requires a little travel time, the justice may command a higher rate, or may add extra beyond a maximum mileage included in the set fee.
It’s also worth noting that some states have a schedule of what a justice of the peace can charge for different activities, while others leave it up to the individual. It’s worth finding out what the rules are in your jurisdiction so you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
On the lower end of the range, you might pay between $50 and $100 for a justice of the peace to perform a civil ceremony at your local courthouse. For a ceremony being held at a home, park, restaurant, hotel, hall, or other location, the average price for a justice of the peace can range from $150 to $400, depending on where you live, how far the justice must travel, how much experience he brings to the job (sometimes a very experienced person who is retired and performing weddings on the side might actually charge less than someone with less experience) and how much time is involved in the preparation and rehearsal. If you are having a wedding in a resort area or commercial location, you can expect to spend on the higher end of the range. (Note that you will also need to pay for the marriage license separately.)
A Word of Advice
It’s usually appropriate to formally invite your justice of the peace to your wedding reception. Therefore, plan to add him or her to your guest list and have an invitation sent.