Thinking about getting married in New York City? Stop thinking about it—do it. Let’s get a few things straight right off the bat.
- You’ll be getting married in an amazing city (duh).
- The minimum wait time after obtaining your marriage license is only twenty-four hours, which means you can accomplish this over a long weekend.
- Since you can do this in a long weekend, you can even make the city your honeymoon destination.
Getting married in our fair city is amazingly simple and can run the gamut of just the two of you in the park, to renting out the St. Regis. But there’s one venue that is incredibly unique and actually the easiest option of all—City Hall. The potent combination of friendly government employees running an efficient marriage bureau and the singular people-watching joy of the other couples getting hitched, always makes for a memorable wedding day.
In 2013 I shot seventy-five elopements, of which a majority were at the Manhattan City Clerk’s Office Marriage Bureau. Whenever I shoot a NY City Hall elopement, I get a similar range of questions from couples, so here’s a neat little guide I’ve assembled for those getting married there.
What’s the general process for getting married at City Hall?
First you’ll have to apply for a marriage license, which costs $35 (you can fill out the paperwork ahead of time online). A solid twenty-four hours after you’ve obtained your license, you can return to the marriage bureau to have the ceremony performed, which costs $25 and takes place in either the East or West Chapel within the building. There are no reservations available, you simply walk in and take a number and wait until you are called.
When should we arrive to minimize the wait time?
The marriage bureau is open from 8:30 AM to 3:45 PM Monday to Friday, except for major holidays. Wait times are notoriously hard to predict and can range from in-and-out in thirty minutes to around three hours on the busiest days, but generally speaking the best time to go is as early in the morning as possible. You should definitely try to avoid the lunchtime rush from twelve to two in the afternoon; Fridays during the summer can also get fairly packed. The bureau closes at 3:45 PM, but this actually just means you have to be in the door and past the front desk by that time. As long as you’ve received a number to wait in line, they will get to you.
How do we obtain a marriage license?
Both you and your partner must appear at the marriage bureau at the same time and complete the application in person (you can fill out the paperwork ahead of time online to save a few minutes). Valid photo identification is required, but you do not have to be a New York resident to apply (for international couples, you need your passport). Your marriage license will be processed while you wait and you will take it with you upon leaving the office. You must then wait twenty-four hours until the ceremony can be performed.
Do we have to bring a witness? How many guests can we bring?
Only one witness is required, but you can have up to two. If you’re hiring a photographer to cover your day, they should be more than happy to act as your witness (I always am!). Otherwise, you can grab another bride or groom going through City Hall to act as your witness. Your witness(es) must be over eighteen and have valid photo identification.
I’m not aware of any strict guest limit imposed by the bureau, but the waiting area can get crowded on busy days and the chapels are not large rooms. I’ve had a group of twenty people go through with no problems; if you’re starting to get toward thirty people I would suggest considering other options.
Who will marry us?
One of the marriage officiants with the marriage bureau will perform your ceremony. They have a few in rotation, of which the most well known is James Mitchell (before I knew his name, I just referred to him as “that mustache guy” and everyone knew who I meant). All of the officiants are great to work with!
What transportation options are available?
The Manhattan marriage bureau is located at 141 Worth Street. The best options for arriving are either via taxi/private car or by subway. If taking the subway, the closest stops are Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall on the 4/5/6 and Chambers St on the J.
Any other advice for couples getting married at City Hall?
Enjoy yourselves! Your experience at City Hall is what you make of it. Use the wait time to people watch, chat with your guests, or just to reflect on the occasion with your soon-to-be spouse. If you’re getting married in the summer, bring in a bottle of water. While there are restrooms inside, there are no water fountains.