A civil wedding is a legal marriage completed, registered and recognised by an authority other than a civil court. These authorities include the relevant state government and the institution of marriage itself. A civil wedding differs from a religious wedding in several ways, including who administers it and what it requires. Civil weddings do not require a rabbi or officiant; civil weddings are governed by common law and there are no rabbis.
There is nothing inherently different in civil wedding vows compared to traditional wedding vows. Both civil weddings use the same vows, which begin with “I do solemnly promise (or affirm) that I do solemnly believe…” The only real difference is where and how the vows are worded. Unlike traditional wedding vows, the wording for civil wedding vows does not end in the “and” keyword. For traditional wedding vows, the phrase “And here I promise”, is always used. On civil wedding day, couples can choose to start their day with a simple “Good morning” or “To the best of my knowledge” (which means they believe the statement to be true). The only exception to this is where one party wants to add “or” or “although” to the end of the statement, such as “I believe so is true”.
Many jurisdictions also recognise civil weddings under their legal systems. In Canada for example, marriages that take place in a courthouse are technically not civil weddings, and therefore not legally required to have the same legal consequences as civil ceremonies. However, most municipalities around Canada still require civil wedding ceremonies, and some will even allow them to take place on the courthouse steps. These weddings can take many forms and are usually easier to organise than weddings performed in a courthouse.
Some states require couples to get a judge's approval before conducting a civil wedding. This is referred to as a ceremonial marriage and can take many forms. For instance, in many states it is compulsory for people who wish to get married to obtain a state-issued marriage certificate, prior to getting married. However, for religious or Jewish couples, the only legal requirement is to have the consent of a recognised religious body, and provide proof that they both belong to that religion.
Some other states still require couples to get a judge's approval for a civil wedding, regardless of whether they want to get married in a courthouse or not. In these states, there is no legal obstacle to couples getting married in a courthouse if they wish to do so. The judge's decision is legally binding on both partners. However, for those couples wishing to get married in a courthouse, it may make sense to arrange for a nonreligious ceremony, in order to avoid any legal problems.
It is also quite common for families who cannot afford a wedding ceremony to organise a nonreligious wedding day, at least on the big day. In these situations, friends and relatives often hold the wedding party, which is then attended by the immediate family. The cost of arranging a wedding party on such a large scale is not cheap, but for most people it is an affordable alternative to a courthouse wedding. It is usually enough to just pay for one or two people to come over, and the cost of food and entertainment can be shared among the guests, making it much cheaper than a regular wedding.
In some cases, when neither a civil nor a traditional wedding ceremony is allowed, people might choose to exchange marriage vows in a separate room, rather than in a courthouse. For many people, a wedding party does not make sense in this case, since exchanging your vows in a separate room is not a necessary feature of your wedding day. Even if you do not wish to get married in a separate room, it is still quite common for many people to choose to exchange their wedding vows in a more casual setting, such as at a family member's home.
Regardless, of which option you choose, planning for a civil wedding ceremony can be very similar to planning for any other kind of wedding ceremony. It is important to choose the venue carefully, since a popular trend for these days is to have your wedding ceremony held anywhere within the city, instead of at a courthouse. The location will also dictate many of the other details of the ceremony, such as where you will be getting married. However, in the past, most couples have generally chosen to get married in a courthouse, regardless of whether it was civil or traditional. This is usually because it is the easiest way for them to get married in the area. Most civil ceremonies today are held in city halls, since they are generally cheaper than courthouse weddings and in some cases can even be held at the same time that a traditional wedding ceremony is held.