NYC Elopements at City Hall vs. Everywhere Else: A pros and cons list

elopement advice for New York City

Where should we elope?

City Hall, or somewhere else? Those are your two options for eloping in NYC.

I've been photographing elopements in New York City since 2011 and have seen dozens of both, and my personal opinion is that it's up to you. From a purely logistical standpoint, getting married somewhere else is usually easier because you have more flexibility with your timing, and if you have your ceremony and portraits in the same general area, you eliminate travel time between the two.

Other benefits to having it elsewhere include that you can pick a creative or interesting place to get married, and take the time to write a meaningful ceremony, whereas in City Hall there is no flexibility in how your ceremony goes. With the "elsewhere" option, you and your officiant will work together to craft words and pick readings, and you can read your own vows or borrow from various traditions. Most elopement ceremonies in this style last ten to twenty minutes.

For a lot of my clients, though, this isn't the priority. Having a "meaningful ceremony" can feel like a lot of pressure, or just plain uncomfortable if you're a person for whom expressing emotion via ceremony feels disingenuous. Or you might want heartfelt vows, but feel weird sharing them at that moment so you want to do them later that night, or early in the morning of your wedding while brushing your teeth together before hair and makeup begin, or over celebratory champagne. Or you might be too emotional to get through extensive vows without "ugly crying" and don't to be blotchy and cry-faced for wedding photos.

Please allow me, Amber Marlow - wedding expert, lover of all things nuptial, emotionally intelligent human being, giver of zero fucks when it comes to other peoples expectations on what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life, and photographer of over 150 weddings - to tell you: it is okay. 

You do not need perfectly written vows at your wedding ceremony to have a wonderful, healthy marriage. You can have them if you love them and it makes you excited to think about them. But you don't need them. The only things you need to get married are two people in love, an officiant, a marriage license, and a witness, which can be me. After that, add as much extra, or as little, as you'd like.

The difference between City Hall Weddings and a private ceremony

A pros and cons breakdown!

1. Pricing. City Hall ceremonies at $25, and an officiant will charge you a few hundred dollars. My husband, Marley Jay, is a professional writer who occasionally moonlights as officiant for my couples. He charges $300 which is right around the going rate.

2. Ceremony length. City Hall wedding ceremonies take about sixty seconds. All you say is "I do." though on a slow day they might invite you to say a few secular words. You will always be allowed to exchange wedding bands if you have them.

Like I mentioned before, a lot of my couples really love the quick, no-fuss ceremony, and others are left feeling disappointed, like hardly anything happened.

With a private officiant you can choose your own readings and wording, and make it religious if you'd like. The ceremony will have some depth, personalization, and sentiment. For some people, this is a lot of pressure. Some officiants will guide you in this area, and others will leave it mostly up to you.

You'll have to talk to each other and figure out which sort of couple you are.

3. Privacy. At City Hall, ceremonies are in private chapels. You can invite your friends and family, and close the door behind you. If you're getting married at Central Park, you'll draw some attention. Depending on where and when you get married, this could be one little old lady off in the corner watching, or an entire tour group cheering you on, and this might be your worst nightmare or the best thing ever. You can also choose to get married in your hotel suite on the balcony.

4. Planning. You'll have to do more legwork for planning if you want to get married elsewhere. If you don't want a City Hall wedding but can't think of where else to go, I can help you pick a spot that is just right for you, or help you find an alternative, private venue (I literally day dream about perfect elopement itineraries, and have a ton of places in mind.)

5. Timing. City Hall is a government office, so waiting for your wedding to start can take fifteen minutes, three hours, or anything in between. It's very unpredictable - with the hands down best people watching in the City. I do offer my City Hall Clients my "only an hour" rule, which is that no matter how long we take at City Hall, it won't count for more than an hour of your time with me. I would never end the time early just because the lines at City Hall were long.

With a private officiant, you know exactly what you're going to get and can go on your own schedule and at your own pace.

So there isn't really a "better option"?

In my opinion, no, not really. A good wedding is one where you end the day married and happy. It's really what works for you as a couple. I'm always happy to chat with my clients who are wrestling with this, since the most important thing is that you make the best decision for your brand new family.