Get Married at City Hall: NYC Elopement Photographer’s Guide
City Hall weddings are a uniquely great way to get married in NYC. If you’re looking to keep things simple, getting married at City Hall can stand on its own or be the start to crafting a beautifully intimate NYC wedding day. Over the past 8 years I’ve been through City Hall hundreds of times with couples from all over the world, and I hope this guide helps you as you plan your NYC elopement.
Where is City Hall?
While everyone refers to it as City Hall, marriage ceremonies are officiated at the City Clerk’s office located at 141 Worth St in Manhattan. There are also City Clerk’s offices in the other boroughs, with Brooklyn as the second most popular location.
Preparing for Your City Hall Wedding Ceremony
At least 24 hours before going to the City Clerk’s office to get married, you’ll need to obtain your license. See my essential guide to eloping in NYC for detailed steps on obtaining the marriage license. Basically you’ll go into the same City Clerk’s office the day before your wedding, or earlier, to complete this step.
Getting Married at City Hall
When you arrive to City Hall on your wedding day, you’ll first go through a security checkpoint. Then at the front desk you’ll show your IDs and marriage license paperwork to the clerk, who will give you a ticket with a number on it. The first time your number is called to sign the paperwork, along with your witnesses, and pay the $25 ceremony fee. Then you’ll be called up again to go in for the ceremony, which itself lasts a short few minutes. It’s important to note that you cannot personalize your vows or have any readings; everyone receives the same scripted ceremony.
Estimating and Minimizing the Wait Time
From the time you walk in to the time you walk out, the entire process at City Hall takes an average of 60-90 minutes. Wait times can be longer in the Summer, on Friday afternoons, or around any holidays or significant dates (7/7/17, etc). Because there are no reservations, aiming for the least busy times of the day can help minimize the wait as much as possible.
The City Clerk’s office is open from 8:30a-3:45p, Monday to Friday. Generally speaking the best time to arrive is before 11a or early in the afternoon. It’s a good idea to avoid the lunch rush, plus the staff rotates out so it goes a little slower until they catch back up by early afternoon.
Bringing Guests to City Hall
You’re free to bring guests with you to City Hall, and I’m not aware of any limit they impose. I’ve had a group of 30 people go through with no problems, but if you’re expecting more than that I would suggest making alternate plans. The waiting area can get crowded on the busier days and after a certain point the security checkpoint will take a long time to get your whole group through.
Select a Witness, or Two
Only one witness is required on your marriage license, and you can have up to two. If you are bringing guests they can serve as your witnesses, but if you won’t have any guests you can either ask your photographer or grab another couple nearby. Witnesses must be over 18 and have valid photo ID. Besides signing your license paperwork, your witnesses will also need to be in the ceremony room with you.
Who will marry us?
One of the clerks with the marriage bureau will perform your ceremony. They have a few in rotation and the most well-known is James (before I knew his name, I just referred to him as “that mustache guy” and everyone knew whom I meant). They’re all great and do their best to make a 2 minute ceremony feel as warm and personal as possible.
Embracing the Process
Enjoy yourselves! Your experience at City Hall is what you make of it. Use the wait time to watch other couples getting married, chat with your guests, or just to reflect on the occasion with your soon-to-be spouse. If you’re getting married in the Summer, bring a bottle of water. While there are restrooms inside, there are no water fountains.
Quick Notes on the Security Checkpoint
Everyone has to go through security, so if you’ll be arriving with a large group it can take a little time for everyone to get inside. Once inside it’s generally not a good idea to exit for any reason until we’re done with the ceremony, as you’ll have to go back through security to re-enter. Photos are no longer allowed at the front desk area by the checkpoint, so photography can only start once we’re inside with a number in our hands.
Hire a City Hall Wedding Photographer
Hiring an experienced elopement photographer for your City Hall wedding ensures you have amazing photos to remember the occasion. Contact me today about the NYC elopement you’re planning!