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Everything you need to plan your elopement ceremony



March 26, 2021


Valerie Savercool


Have you ever wondered what the heck you actually do during your elopement ceremony?

So you’ve decided you want to elope – you opted for an intimate, meaningful wedding day experience where you actually get to spend time with your partner in a space where you are totally free to be yourselves. You’ve picked an incredible location and maybe planned some activities for the day, you’ve hired your photographer, and you’ve chosen your attire. So now it’s time to figure out how you actually want to do your elopement ceremony.

The beauty of eloping is that you get to throw out the rule book and do things your way. But as freeing as that can be, it can also be intimidating. So don’t worry, we’ve got you.

Is an elopement a legal way to get married?

Yes, absolutely! You don’t need a fancy venue, a DJ, and 100+ guests to get legally married. In most states, all you need for a legal wedding is the two of you, a marriage license, an officiant, and two witnesses. But that doesn’t mean you just have to get married with a judge at a courthouse. You can have a legal elopement ceremony while having an adventure somewhere breathtakingly beautiful.

Church of dirt elopement in park city utah

Do I need an officiant to elope?

Not necessarily! Yes, it’s true that in most states if you want your actual ceremony to be fully legal, you need signatures on your marriage license from an officiant and two witnesses (Colorado is an exception – you don’t need an officiant or witnesses, and your dog can even sign your marriage license. Yes, really)

We (Michael and Valerie) are both ordained through the Universal Life Church, which means either of us can legally sign your marriage license as your officiant (or as witnesses, of course) but most of the time when we sign, we still don’t actually facilitate the ceremony. But you don’t need to do all the paperwork on the day in order to elope – plenty of couples choose to have a commitment ceremony instead, especially if they’re having a destination elopement.

Two grooms get married at an intimate Oregon coast elopement ceremony

Wedding ceremony vs commitment ceremony – What’s the difference?

A commitment ceremony is a symbolic wedding ceremony. Everything is the same as a typical wedding ceremony with one exception – you don’t do the legal paperwork. Couples choose to have a commitment ceremony rather than a legal one for all sorts of reasons. Even if you intend to make your marriage legal with the state, having a commitment ceremony on the day of your elopement and doing all the paperwork afterwards offers more flexibility in planning your elopement, especially if you are getting married out of state, in a remote location that requires a lot of hiking, or out of the country.

Wait – so how do I have an elopement ceremony without an officiant?

It’s ok, there are no stupid questions. This is one of the most common questions we get from couples at our initial consult call!

In fact, only about 15% of our couples end up having someone actually officiate their ceremony.  So what happens the other 85% of the time?

Most of the time, our couples choose to facilitate their own ceremony by reading letters and personalized vows or promises to one another, followed by a big kiss, much like a traditional wedding ceremony. But we love seeing all the unique ideas that couples come up with for their elopement ceremony.

Bride and groom share vows at an elopement ceremony in front of a waterfall in Oregon

Curious what you should actually do for your elopement ceremony?

Here are some of our favorite unique elopement ceremony ideas:

  • Read each other love letters with personalized vows or promises (you can write them together or leave it as a surprise for your partner)
  • Take a celebratory drink of your favorite beverage
  • Have your friends and family write letters or record a video for you to read/watch as part of your ceremony
  • If you sing or play an instrument, serenade your partner with “your song” or one you wrote
  • Create a piece of art together
  • Dance to your favorite song
  • Challenge one another to your favorite game
  • Do some sort of unity or culturally relevant ceremony, like a handfasting, planting a tree, combining different beverages into one, lighting a candle (where safe and allowed), etc

What about elopement ceremonies with guests?

If you’re having guests at your elopement, you have a few options for how to do your ceremony. Of course, you can hire a professional officiant, but that’s not your only choice. You can have one of your friends or family members get ordained and officiate the ceremony themselves. It’s super easy to do so online with the Universal Life Church – it’s free and takes just a few minutes.

If you’d like to do something a little less traditional, you can choose to read letters or vows to one another in front of your guests without having someone formally officiate, or you can include all of your guests by having each of them read lines of a ceremony script in turn (you can find pre-written ones online if you don’t want to write your own from scratch), or have them share some kind words or well wishes before you read your vows to one another.

Elopement ceremony with two guests on the coast of Portland, Maine

What you do for your elopement ceremony is 100% up to you 

The best thing about eloping is that you can take as much time as you need and make your ceremony as personalized and intimate as you’d like, without judgment or 100+ other people listening in on your vows if that idea makes you cringe. Make it special, and make it your own. It’s a symbol of you committing your lives to one another, after all!




Looking for more resources to plan your epic elopement? Check out our comprehensive elopement planning guide here.

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