What is Eloping? | A Beginner's Guide

By: Rob Franklin

So What Does Elope Mean?

While the image of elopement is one of suddenness and secrecy (a rush in the middle of the night to the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas), the word has evolved into a wider, more modern definition. Today, any intimate wedding (often attended by only the couple, their officiant, and a witness or two) can be called an elopement, even if both families (and closest friends) are clued into the plan and the event is planned well in advance.

Who Can Officiate My Elopement?

First answer the question: do you want your elopement to be legally binding, rather than a spiritual or symbolic union? If so, check the requirements for being legally married in your state. You’ll need a marriage license, so research where to receive one, how long it may take, and any fees required. Also check if you need witnesses and any required credentials.

One of the most essential components is a legally ordained officiant. While at courthouses and commercial elopement facilities, one will be provided, many couples prefer to be married by someone they know personally, like a friend or family member.

And that can be arranged! As long as this loved one is or can become ordained (which they can do through denominations like the Universal Life church in under 20 minutes), they can legally perform your marriage. The beauty of this option is that, even in the absence of dozens of friends and family, someone who knows and loves you can witness your moment (even if it's at the courthouse!), and offer a few remarks as a personal touch.

Whether you want a friend, family member, or a county clerk to officiate your elopement, you can have a personalized ceremony script. Learn more here.

Or, you can click here for a guide to getting legally married by a friend or family member.

Why Do Couples Elope?

For some, the benefits are mainly logistical. Elopements, given their small size, typically require a smaller budget and less planning than a traditional, mid-size wedding.

They may also create more opportunities for personalization. Without the pressure of booking a venue months in advance, many couples choose to elope in places of personal meaning or natural beauty, from scenic parks to remote beaches. Eloping may be a particularly appealing option for couples who want to plan a destination wedding but are hesitant to ask all of their friends and family to shell out the cash necessary to attend. Alternatively, some sentimental locations — the cafe where you met, the garden where you had your first date — may not lend themselves to large events but are ideal for an intimate gathering.

Beyond venue, eloping removes many of the logistics necessary for a traditional wedding, along with the accompanying stress. No need to agonize over a guest list, select the perfect flowers, or foot the bill on a dinner for hundreds. Removing these logistics and costs has the added benefit, for some couples, of re-focusing the ceremony on themselves and their love. After all, this is a promise between two people. And it can be incredibly romantic to proclaim vows for an audience of one.

For this reason, and many more, many couples opt to elope. Some may even choose to do so in anticipation of a bigger ceremony, making the marriage legal beforehand so they have one less thing to worry about on the big day. This option may offer additional flexibility to plan a second ceremony that prioritizes symbolic gestures, community gathering and moments of meaning.

While eloping may minimize planning and cost, some planning is still necessary. Below you’ll find the key considerations to make when planning an elopement.

Where Can I Elope?

The simple answer is, well, anywhere. One of the benefits of an elopement is that it can be performed wherever you like, as long as there’s an ordained officiant and a witness present — in essence, the couple plus two friends. You can find a guide to being married by a friend or family member here.

Destination Elopements and Places of Personal Meaning

As mentioned, you can elope wherever you want, whether that’s a scenic destination or a place of personal meaning. Are there locations that played a crucial role in the development of your love? Are there places you’ve always dreamed of going together?

If so, you might consider these for your wedding venue. And depending on the location and the size of your elopement, you may not even need to book (or pay for) it! As long as you have an ordained officiant and witness present, you can elope almost anywhere, so be creative and feel empowered to select untraditional venues that feel unique to you and your partner. Many couples also choose to combine eloping with their honeymoon to create a strong connection to a new place, save on costs, and add an element of adventure.

Regardless of where you choose to elope, you may want to pre-game with a little trip down to City Hall. Applying for your marriage license in the city where you actually live allows you to minimize headaches on the day of your elopement, maximizing vibes.

Courthouse Elopements and Last-Minute Elopements

Some couples, hoping for a more spontaneous elopement, may choose to head down to the city courthouse, which offers the benefit of being married and signing the marriage license in one place. However, given many courthouses require couples to book appointments well in advance, they’re not always ideal for last minute moves.

So if you want to get married at the courthouse for those picturesque photos without needing to book in advance, you could always have a friend or family member get legally ordained and officiate there.

Alternatives may be commercial wedding or elopement chapels in your city, which often offer walk-in or same-day appointments. While the most famous is likely the aforementioned Little White Chapel, many mid-size and large cities have their own versions (which may or may not allow you to be married by an officiant dressed as Elvis). Daretodream.nyc, for instance, offers fast turnaround packages that allow couples to be married at iconic city locales from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty within 24 hours.

Who Should I Tell About My Elopement?

In the social media age, it may seem natural to simply announce your elopement to friends and family with a “just married” post on Instagram. But relationship experts and wedding planners encourage couples to approach these communications with a little more intention. After all, your loved ones may feel disappointed that they weren’t present on your big day.

In deciding who to tell when, it’s helpful to interrogate why you chose to elope.

In some instances, it may be prudent to inform all family members beforehand and actively encourage them to contribute, whether with culturally-specific rituals, recordings of readings, or other family blessings. That way, they can be involved, even if they aren’t physically present.

For others, there’s a desire to keep the decision private until after the fact. In these instances, experts agree that it’s most considerate to inform friends and family in person, over video, or via handwritten letter afterwards — before any big announcements on social media. While you don’t need to “defend” your decision to elope, providing context may help the news go down a bit easier.

You might also consider celebrating with friends and family directly after the elopement or at a later date, whether it’s with a big family meal or an all out house party. Some couples may opt for a “hybrid wedding,” with an intimate elopement followed by a more traditional reception. Not only does this allow couples to celebrate with their community, it may cut costs significantly.

What Should My Elopement Include?

While you may pare back many of the elements of a traditional wedding ceremony, your officiant should still plan to include the key components, particularly those which are legally required:

  • The Declaration of Intent: Also known as the “commitment statement,” this is the moment where the officiant asks each member of the couple to affirm that they wish to be married — followed by their reply, “I do.” While the phrasing can vary (you can find examples and customize using our ceremony design tool here), this verbal affirmation is legally required to make the marriage binding.
  • The Pronouncement: Also legally required, the pronouncement is the officiant’s verbal declaration, following the “I do’s”,  that they affirm your marriage under the jurisdiction or church that ordained them.
  • Vows: While not legally required in most US jurisdictions, the “vows” have become so central to our idea of Western weddings that many will feel incomplete without. The specific commitments you make to one another are entirely up to you. Some couples go with traditional phrasing (”for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”), while an increasing number choose to write their own — allowing their personalities and the specificity of their union to shine through. You can see our guide to writing personal vows here.
  • Rituals and Readings: These are also not legally required but are an excellent way to personalize your elopement ceremony by incorporating each partner’s cultural or family traditions. Asking for contributions from friends and family members may allow you to involve them in the process, even if they won’t be present on the big day. To get started selecting rituals and readings that are right for you, you can search our global library in the ceremony designer here.
  • Personalized ceremony script: This is not legally required, but whether you're having a county clerk, Elvis package, or friend/family member officiate your elopement - make the ceremony feel like you. Go to Provenance.co/elopment to learn how.

While the image of elopement is one of suddenness and secrecy (a rush in the middle of the night to the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas), the word has evolved into a wider, more modern definition. Today, any intimate wedding (often attended by only the couple, their officiant, and a witness or two) can be called an elopement, even if both families (and closest friends) are clued into the plan and the event is planned well in advance.
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