Eloping has become popular for couples looking to say “I do” quickly and affordably.

While eloping can be a great alternative for your unique relationship, you should consider the implications of rushing into your nuptials without adequately planning for your marriage.

First, let’s look at what it takes to elope in California.

What Is An Elopement?

A couple looking to elope in California

The definition of elopement has transformed over the past decade. An elopement was traditionally defined as a marriage ceremony conducted suddenly and secretly involving only a handful of people.

In the modern sense, eloping can still happen spontaneously, but it’s typically more thought out. For example, it’s become more common for couples to intentionally forego traditional ceremonies in favor of jetting off to a unique destination with only their nearest and dearest.

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Why Elope?

There are several reasons to consider eloping over a traditional marriage ceremony. To start, eloping with your partner can save a considerable amount of money. The average wedding in the US cost $30K in 2022.

Additionally, when you elope, you avoid complex family dynamics. Suppose you have a strained relationship with either side of the family or simply want to avoid the stress and drama characteristic of traditional ceremonies. In that case, eloping may be a desirable option.

Finally, having an elopement can be a wonderful and intimate experience shared between only the most important people in your lives. Some couples simply wish to preserve the intimacy of the moment for themselves.

Whatever the reason, eloping may be the right choice for you and your partner, with the caveat that you’ve properly discussed the implications of your decision to marry.

How to Elope in California

Elopement in the California mountains

Whether you have your sights on a simple courthouse ceremony or want to take advantage of the beautiful mountain, coastal, or desert landscapes, California is a great elopement destination.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning for a California elopement:

1. Get a Prenup

Contrary to their reputation, prenups aren’t just for the wealthy or the skeptical.

Establishing a prenup with your partner opens the door for important conversations about your values and priorities around money. This enables you to kick your marriage off on the right foot by making collective decisions that can have a profound impact on your relationship.

At its core, a prenup is a collaborative tool that gets you on the same page about finances and clears the way for a successful union.

2. Obtain a Marriage License

To be legally wed in California, you’ll need a marriage license. Requirements may vary from county to county, so research what you’ll need to bring to your appointment.

You can obtain a California marriage license from any County Clerk’s office in California. You and your partner will need to bring a valid form of government I.D. and a filing fee of around $100 to the appointment (in some cases, you can even apply online – again, research ahead of time.)

Once you’ve completed the application, the marriage license is valid for 90 days. After your license is completed, signed by you and the officiant, and filed, it becomes your marriage certificate. Note – a marriage license obtained in a different state will not be valid for an elopement in California.

3. Scope Out Your Elopement Location

Elopement at a California beach

Nothing kills a romance buzz more than inclement weather, unexpected noise interruptions, or a gaggle of nosy strangers.

Be sure to research elopement locations and confirm no organized events or sudden storms are projected for the area that day. Keep in mind that all California beaches require a marriage ceremony permit, no matter how small the ceremony. And this goes without saying but: no trespassing.

4. Find an Officiant

An officiant is required to validate your marriage license. The officiant can be anyone over the age of 18.

5. Invite a Witness

While you can invite as many or as few people as you’d like to your elopement, the State of California requires that you have at least one witness present for the ceremony (other than the officiant.) There’s no age limit for your witness. They’ll just need to be able to sign the marriage license.

An Elopement is Still a Marriage

Eloping couple holding hands

Even without the exuberance and fanfare of a traditional wedding, eloping is still a big deal. You and your partner are making a life commitment to one another that you should not approach hastily.

When you choose to elope, you may miss out on some benefits of a longer engagement. The time between your engagement and wedding day provides space for meaningful conversations about finances, family planning, and your collective hopes for the future.

Remember that marriage extends far beyond the day of your elopement ceremony. It is crucial to ensure that you and your spouse-to-be have thorough conversations about your expectations for your life together well in advance of signing your marriage license, as well as how your families may take the news.

So, Should You Elope?

Every couple’s circumstances are different, and there are many good reasons why eloping may be the best fit for you.

Whether you’re looking to avoid family drama or to save money, don’t skip out on the most important part of your marriage planning: effectively communicating with your partner about your plans for the future as a couple and as individuals.

It doesn’t matter how you marry; getting on the same page about your aspirations and financial goals is paramount to setting yourself up for a successful marriage.

Schedule a consultation with me today to learn more about how a prenup can facilitate this discussion and set you up for a healthy relationship with your new spouse.

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