Florida is a popular spot for destination weddings with the romantic appeal of our beautiful beaches and the presence of a number of notable theme parks. I have officiated destination weddings for couples from other areas of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, the Caribbean (though you would think they would have their own incredible beaches), Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Japan, and Ghana. I could start my own Wedding World Cup!
But what exactly is a "destination" wedding?
It simply means travel for everyone attending the ceremony and festivities. If the couple and their guests will be spending more than a few hours on the road, boarding a plane or train, or embarking on a ship to get to the wedding venue...it's a destination wedding. Consequently, the destination is usually a romantic or exotic local ~ somewhere couples would opt to go on holiday or for their honeymoon.
These do not tend to be huge affairs. The couple are not obligated to pay anyone's travel expenses, so guest lists for destination weddings are usually fairly modest. Not all of us can afford the trek from Leicester to Melbourne Beach for a friend's wedding. The destination weddings I have officiated have been attended by about four to twenty guests; on rare occasions perhaps ten or so more than that.
I recommend hiring a local wedding planner or package provider such as Florida Beachside Weddings when arranging for a destination wedding. The expertise, experience, and local knowledge will prove invaluable and can truly help avoid potential problems the day of the wedding.
The beach is not the only appeal Florida holds for destination weddings. We have gorgeous inland natural settings, popular theme parks, historic old homes, and elegant urban venues. In the Orlando area for example, I have officiated destination weddings at Walt Disney World, the Grand Bohemian (hotel), 310 Lakeside (restaurant), Casa Feliz (historic home), Paradise Cove, and the Kraft Azalea Gardens.
Florida is an excellent place to combine weddings, family reunions, and honeymoons!
There are several important things you should consider when planning a destination wedding in Florida: the weather, unique challenges associated with beach weddings (if appropriate), and the marriage license.
Some times of the year are simply more comfortable than others here. If you think an outdoor wedding in Toronto in February is a bad idea, than you have to accept an outdoor wedding in Miami in August is not terribly bright either. Miserable is miserable whether you're shivering or sweltering. Florida is a long narrow state with profoundly different weather in Jacksonville and Key West. Check out average temperatures and rain fall patterns in the area of the state you are interested in for the wedding.
The beaches in Florida can be very different depending upon whether you are on the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, or in the Keys. If you have not been to your destination before, look up pictures and request information from the locals. You should familiarize yourself with sunrise/sunset times and tide schedules. Click here for more information about beach weddings on the Atlantic coast in Central Florida.
3. Marriage License
You can obtain a marriage license in any county in the state and it will be valid everywhere else in Florida. However, you must obtain a license in Florida if your ceremony is to be held here and you want it to result in a legal marriage. You can obtain the marriage license through the mail (a matter of a few times mailing paperwork back and forth), or go to a courthouse in person once you arrive. The three day waiting period is waived for out-of-state residents, so it will be valid the day you get it. All you need is photo i.d. (driver's license or passport for example) and an appropriate method of payment. You will have your license in hand in a matter of minutes once it is your turn at the counter. Your officiant should be able to help guide you through this process. Click here for more information about the Florida marriage license.
Above left: Shannon Perez of Simply In Love Photography
Above right: Gift of the Bride and Groom
As I have mentioned in previous columns about the marriage license, there is a distinction between the legality of getting married and the ritual of the wedding. In the United States, the two events often happen at the same time. Which understandably leads to the perception that weddings are the only time at which a marriage should be solemnized.
This is not the case in a number of other countries and is becoming increasingly more common in the U.S. I do not have a global list at my fingertips, but I am aware that in a number of European and South American countries the civil ceremony and the wedding are two entirely separate events. A trip to the courthouse or registrar is followed by the wedding later the same day, or days, weeks, sometimes even months later. Most couples who do this in such countries tend to do it for religious reasons. The subsequent wedding is typically held at a house of worship, but not always.
Although not entrenched in the culture to the same degree, a legal marriage solemnized at the courthouse followed by a social wedding in the United States is actually not all that uncommon. Couples choose to do this for any number of reasons ~ military deployment, financial circumstances, health concerns, etc. I have encountered objections to the practice, but these are usually based on a misunderstanding of the concept of a wedding and the assumed motives of the couple.
A wedding is a ritual ~ a communal event that invests emotional meaning into life's transitions. Some people object to the use of the term if the occasion is not also the moment at which the marriage is solemnized, but that's quibbling. Whether you refer to the ritual in these circumstances as a Celebration of the Marriage, Vow Renewal, Commitment Ceremony, or Wedding...your guests are pretty much sitting through the same thing. I prefer the use of the word 'wedding' simply because it evokes the traditions and etiquette guidelines with which we are most familiar.
Many people look at the first definition of the word 'wedding' in the dictionary and don't make it to the second. 2. "the anniversary of a marriage, or its celebration:" (emphasis added) ~ Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013. Okay, some may assert the dictionary is saying the term is denoting the celebration of the anniversary rather than a general celebration of the marriage. But really, when is the last time you heard the word wedding used with an anniversary celebration? The grammar in the definition also makes it pretty clear. We can safely conclude that a wedding is a celebration of the marriage, which to me indicates we can meaningfully and beautifully do so at any time.
A social wedding following a legal marriage in no way devalues the concept of marriage nor should it be considered a "gift grab" or plea for undeserved attention. For one thing, friends and family are never under any obligation to give gifts for both the occasion of the legal marriage and the wedding, or either for that matter. That's absurd, and the couples I have met who have done this have never expected such a thing. I also cannot grasp the idea that just because a couple was married privately at the courthouse they are now prohibited from the ritual of a public wedding and are barred from using the term because their courthouse ceremony was their wedding and they are "double dipping." Um, no it wasn't and no they aren't. I honestly cannot follow any of the arguments I have seen and heard that promote this prohibition. They are nonsensical.
I do encourage couples who choose this option to be completely honest with their friends and family. I would never advocate a "secret marriage" followed by a wedding at which everyone else believes the marriage is being solemnized. Deception is never a good idea. So if everything is out in the open? Happy WEDDING planning!
NOTE 1: This particular column has generated a surprising amount of email and not all of it has been kind. I find the phrase "Pretty Princess Day" to be rude, spiteful, and ignorant and will be delighted if I never hear it or see it in print again.The only requirements for a legal marriage are a couple in possession of a valid marriage license, an officiant authorized to solemnize the marriage, and in some locations witnesses. Therefore, any woman planning more than that for her wedding day has no call to be accusing anyone else of unwarranted attention seeking. In other words, pot meet kettle.
Photo Attribute: Kristen Wynn Photography
Witnesses signing a marriage license
The couples I serve may feel I begin to sound like a broken record given the number of times I remind them about the marriage license. But I cannot emphasize enough how important this document is if you want your wedding ceremony to result in a legal marriage. No valid license? No marriage!
Shopping for wedding dresses, picking out flowers, and tasting cake choices may be more fun, but you absolutely cannot overlook this task. Nor can you delegate it to anyone else. The couple shoulders complete responsibility for obtaining the proper license and ensuring it is valid for both their wedding date and in the place where they are solemnizing their marriage.
They do not have to go it alone however. Officiants should know state marriage law concerning the license as well as they know the backs of their hands. I encourage couples to partner with their officiant. Never be afraid to ask questions about the marriage license. It is the very first thing I talk to my couples about when we meet at our initial consultation!
Alas, upon arriving for a wedding, I have been presented with:
Read carefully! Each state is different.
You can obtain a license in any county in Florida and it is valid for a ceremony anywhere else within the state. I believe ceremonies in New Jersey must be performed in the same county or township where the couple got the license (but don't hold me to that, I don't live in New Jersey and haven't officiated a wedding there in at least six years). Florida licenses have a very clear 60 day window in which the ceremony must be held. Licenses in Washington, DC never expire. Florida is extraordinarily lenient concerning who can officiate ceremonies and what can be said during a ceremony. Other states retain tighter control over officiants and have specific requirements that must be included in the ceremony.
Please educate yourselves and know the law. There is almost nothing worse for an officiant than to be handed an invalid license and thus have to break the news to the couple their wedding will not mark the beginning of their lives together as legally recognized spouses. It breaks out heart to have to break yours!
Jen and Brandon's non-denominational Christian wedding at the Porcher House.
In the United States, the type of wedding has no bearing on whether the ceremony results in a legal marriage. Provided the couple has obtained a marriage license in the state in which the ceremony is behind held and the ceremony occurs during the valid dates, the couple is married no matter what kind of service they choose to have. Likewise, either kind of ceremony without a license will result in a symbolic commitment rather than a legal marriage.
People tend to associate religious weddings with houses of worship and civil weddings with a trip to the courthouse. They assume if a member of the clergy presides over the ceremony it is likely to be religious while a secular officiant such as a notary or clerk of court presides over civil ceremonies. While these may be common expectations, they are not entirely accurate. Especially since so many weddings are now held at venues that are not houses of worship or courthouses. I have officiated weddings for many couples on the deck of the Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront, for example, and would estimate that about half are religious and half secular.
The content of the ceremony determines whether or not the wedding is considered religious or civil (secular). Religious ceremonies reflect the faith or faiths of the couple and typically include prayer, scripture and rites specific to the particular faith community. Civil ceremonies are every bit as lovely and meaningful, but simply use secular language and rituals rather than religious. Many couples today opt for a middle ground and choose a “spiritual” ceremony in which a religious feeling is evoked, sacramental language such as “sacred covenant” or “holy matrimony” is used, but no specific religious doctrines concerning marriage are referenced.
When seeking the services of an independent officiant, the couple should first decide what type of ceremony they feel is most appropriate. Knowing this in advance will help narrow down the field of suitable officiants. Some members of the clergy are perfectly happy to preside over civil ceremonies and some civil officiants are entirely comfortable performing religious ceremonies. But some are not, so this is a question that should be asked when hiring an independent officiant. The couple's expectations for their wedding absolutely must come first, so an officiant not willing to accommodate their preferences should be ruled out immediately.
Whether the ceremony includes a passage of scripture or a secular poem, "Ave Maria" or "All You Need is Love," a Christian Unity Candle or a secular Sand Ceremony, ends with the Breaking of the Glass or Jumping the Broom; the focus of the wedding should be on the couple - their unique personalities, love for one another, and decision to create a life together.
Photo Attribute: Lisa Marshall Photography
<And again, the names are changed to protect the guilty!>
Cindy and Josh, from out-of-state, had a destination beach wedding at one of our oceanfront hotels. I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet them prior to their wedding day and found them as delightful as their phone calls and emails had indicated they would be. They were exuberant, warm and funny people. This was, however, one of those occasions where I desperately needed the wedding to start promptly because Josh and his groomsmen were hanging out in the bar. They weren’t sloppy, but they were definitely making a beeline to rowdy. Up in the hotel suite, Cindy and her bridesmaids were not far behind. This was a wedding party with a party attitude.
When all was said and done, the wedding itself was not particularly remarkable. That’s actually a good thing, because when there is something to remark upon it’s usually because something went wrong or someone did something embarrassing. Cindy and Josh had a perfectly normal ceremony. They didn’t have anything to remark upon until later, as in the next day later.
Once it has been signed by the officiant, anyone may return the completed license to the courthouse for certification and filing. I encourage couples to let me take that responsibility because I know the process, my children are on soccer fields almost next door to one of our county’s courthouses almost every day of the week and, all right I admit it, I’m a bit of a control freak. I prefer to know for certain the license was filed within the required ten days following the ceremony. I give couples a choice and most do opt to have me return the license to the courthouse, thereby saving them one more task. Cindy and Josh wanted to do it themselves.
On Monday, I received a phone call from Cindy asking me where I had put the license when I was done with it. I told her Josh had asked me to give it to him. Fifteen minutes later another slightly more panicked phone call, “Josh can’t find it. Did you see what he did with it?” I told her I hadn’t, but if necessary I could meet them the following day at the courthouse located near the highway on their route home. She told me they would look some more and get back with me. I kept my cell phone by my side knowing it would ring before the afternoon was over. Within an hour, we made an appointment to meet at the courthouse first thing Tuesday morning so they could be on their way.
I had difficulty reconciling this contrite young man with the playful groom of Saturday evening. Josh could not look me in the eye and then Cindy started in with “tell her, you have to tell her.”
Josh mumbled, “I found the license.”
I was wondering why they hadn’t called to let me know it wasn’t necessary to meet them at the courthouse if they'd found it when he pulled a grey ball from his pocket and handed it to me. He had obviously found what used to be the license. I can imagine the look on my face, raised eyebrows and a questioning smile, because he blushed and blurted out the details. After I had given him the completed license he had jammed it in his pants pocket and then forgotten about it. A memory that might have come in handy when he decided to cavort in the ocean waves with his groomsmen after the formal picturing taking was over. A party indeed! Once again proving beyond any reasonable doubt, the combination of salt water and paper does not lend itself well to scanning and copying.
And yes, we got them a new license and everything worked out just fine!
Photo Attribute: Cheryl Clermont, Space Coast Photographer
This particular wedding party is NOT the couple in the story.
<Names Changed to Protect The Guilty>
My county has several locations where marriage licenses are processed. I have learned over the years which one to go to depending upon my needs. This time I needed someone who could help me out with a straight face.
Mindy and Mitchell planned a lovely ceremony at the far end of a long dock out over the river with just close family in attendance. The day was simply gorgeous with moderate temperatures, beautiful blue sky and a nice breeze. The sun made the river absolutely sparkle. We should have paid more attention to that breeze and less to the sparkly water.
I understand Mindy had experienced some frustrations related to the wedding earlier in the day, but the ceremony itself went off without so much as a hiccup—until we signed the marriage license. I made the mistake of having the parents sign Mitchell and Mindy’s legal license and keepsake certificate right there under the pavilion at the end of the dock, failing to immediately take repossession of the license and tuck it in my briefcase for safe keeping. One of the fathers decided he wanted a picture of these documents and placed them on one of the benches at the edge of the dock. I had my back turned and didn’t see a thing until the screaming and pointing started.
A gust of wind picked up the license and blew it right into the river. Of course it left the meaningless keepsake certificate well enough alone. Fishermen who heard the commotion came running up and tried to nab the soggy license in their nets, but the current was having none of it. I wanted evidence and took a picture of the license floating away. Mindy could do nothing more than roll her eyes and mutter, “figures.” I guess she really had had a tough day.
I assured them everything would be fine and I’d meet them at the courthouse on Monday to obtain a duplicate. This was the first time the above mentioned clerk got me out of a jam and it would not be the last. I seek him out whenever I run into a wrinkle. You know someone is worth their weight in gold when they are kind enough to refrain from bursting out laughing when you show them a picture of a license floating down the river. Yes, I really did take the picture in to the courthouse to show the clerks exactly what happened.
It really was a simple matter of the clerk pulling the file up in the computer system, hitting the print button, having all of us sign the new license and then issuing the certified copy. The couple’s anniversary date wasn’t affected. Going by the paper trail alone, it’s like the incident never happened. So don't worry if something happens to your license before it can be filed with the clerk of courts. People are always willing to help and problems can always be solved.
I left the picture with the clerk and wonder to this day if he’s got it hidden behind his desk to remind him how stupid officiants can be sometimes. I know I would be tempted.
Rev. Ann Fuller
The commentary on this blog is my own opinion developed over years of officiating a wide range of wedding sizes and styles. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.