Non-traditional wedding ceremonies could be on the rise

By Polina Marinova

Wendy Salle and her husband-to-be will not be the only ones standing at the altar on their wedding day.

The couple’s kids will also walk down the aisle and accompany their parents as the newlyweds say their vows.

“Part of our ceremony will be that we’ll be giving our daughters rings as well,” Salle said. “The idea is that we’ll be uniting our two families rather than just uniting two people.”

Salle will have a non-traditional wedding with her husband-to-be and kids in October.

But Salle’s future wedding is just one example of something that could be part of a bigger trend — couples tailoring traditional vows or just doing away with the ceremony completely. Finances also play a role in the decision to take the alternate route.

The cost of US weddings skyrocketed in 2011, according to an annual survey done by TheKnot.com and TheWeddingChannel.com.

The average wedding last year cost $27,021, including a reception, an engagement ring, a wedding gown, a ceremony site, a cake and party favors.

But the new “trend” is that many couples are choosing to spend the money elsewhere and are having courthouse weddings instead, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A couple, featured in a blog called “The Offbeat Bride,” got married at the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse in June 2010.

Nina Kelly, the bride, said money was a challenge so the couple kept decorations to a minimum.

“Money was of course a challenge, and we overcame it by having a courthouse ceremony and renting out a room at a local restaurant instead of dealing with a separate venue, catering,” she said in the blog.

In Athens, judges of the Magistrate Court perform up to four weddings per week — two per day on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Sometimes it’s a full week, and sometimes we only have one or two,” said Kim Melton, deputy clerk at the Athens Magistrate Court. “Usually, it’s done in one of our courtrooms.”

If a couple wants to get married at the courthouse, they do not need to have any witnesses — it could be just the judge and the couple. And as long as they present a valid photo ID and their marriage license, they can be married within an hour.

“I would think it’s for financial reasons — I can either spend my money on a wedding or on a house,” Melton said. “There is no limit to how many guests they can bring, and we don’t charge anything to do the ceremony.”

Today’s economic climate could be a reason many couples are choosing to pursue the non-traditional route.

“Weddings today are so expensive,” Salle said. “It’s a big business. For example, I was trying to simplify things so I went on this website, and I was inundated with emails and phone calls. It’s overwhelming.”

But even though Salle and her fiancé are one of many couples that want to steer away from the traditional wedding craze, their unconventional ceremony will still come at a price.

The overall cost to host the wedding will be about $12,000 to $15,000.

“It all adds up,” Salle said. “Before you know it, you’re like ‘Oh my gosh.’ I feel for young people, but this is a big business. It really takes the shine of off the wedding because it’s so commercialized.”

Even though getting married at a courthouse seemingly comes at no charge, the county still gets revenue from local newlyweds.

Each couple must apply for a marriage license, which costs $67 and $43.80 of that fee goes to the county. The remaining portion of the money goes toward the judge’s retirement and Georgia’s Children’s Trust Fund.

However, there are discounted rates for couples that complete six hours of pre-marital counseling and present a certificate of completion. The discounted rate for the couple would be $27 and $11.80 would be dispersed to the county.

“I would say 30 percent of couples get the pre-marital certificate,” said Sarah Cook, deputy clerk and bookkeeper of the Athens Probate Court.

Cook said the county issued 932 marriage licenses in fiscal year 2011, and 555 licenses thus far in fiscal year 2012. Though the figures for the current fiscal year are still incomplete, Cook said the county typically issues 1,000 marriage licenses per year.

In contrast, the University of Georgia Chapel only hosted 25 weddings in 2011.

For a typical Saturday, the Chapel charges $850 for the venue rental and $150 for a security deposit — a total of $1,000. For a Sunday, the couple can get a discounted rate of $750.

“Most people who call me want a traditional ceremony,” said Erin Tatum, facilities and house manager of the UGA Performing Arts Center and Chapel. “Most ceremonies are about 30 minutes long and a lot of people do a unity candle and some readings and bible verses.”

But even the Chapel is hosting some non-traditional weddings.

An older couple recently requested a couple of hours on a Sunday with only 20 to 25 guests.

“It was a second go-around, and they had both been married before,” Tatum said. “We host maybe two or three weddings like that per year. I would call those non-traditional.”

Salle and her fiancé are working with Rev. Sam Mixon to plan just that — a non-traditional wedding ceremony. They will shorten their vows and incorporate their kids in the wedding.

Mixon, an ordained minister who performs weddings in Athens, Atlanta and Northeast Georgia, offers couples alternate religious and civil services for a customizable wedding ceremony.

“I would say about 60 percent of my services have some sort of religious element to them,” Mixon said. “A lot people want a religious service, but not over the top. If the couple isn’t particularly a religious, they might want to have a moderately religious ceremony to please their family.”

Salle’s ceremony will be non-denominational but her husband is Baptist and she is Irish, so they will incorporate some personal and religious elements.

“I feel that there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance in a wedding,” she said. “People are so caught up in saying traditional vows that they don’t really know what they even mean.”

Kelly echoed the sentiments in the bridal blog, and said the civil ceremony was “truly the most meaningful” to her.

“Since we got married at the courthouse and chose not to write our own vows, we didn’t have a rehearsal or anything,” she said. “So, while I had heard those same words before, I didn’t realize how moving it would be to say them for myself.”

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