What to Know Before Hiring a Wedding Officiant

Photography by  Ava Maria Photography , Vow Booklets by  Paper Plum , Ribbon by  Honey Silks & Co.

Photography by Ava Maria Photography, Vow Booklets by Paper Plum, Ribbon by Honey Silks & Co.

As a professional officiant myself, I would like to offer some advice and answers to questions you may have about hiring an officiant for your wedding.

What does an officiant do?

In my opinion, the ceremony is the most important part of your wedding. After all, the union is the reason everyone is gathered together as witnesses. Your officiant is more than a person that stands up to speak for twenty minutes. As the Master of Ceremonies, the officiant will help expertly coordinate your wedding party so that everyone knows exactly where to walk and stand. They will ensure everyone has flowers, rings, etc. before the wedding begins. They will create a personalized ceremony that speaks to your relationship. A professional officiant will understand how important “The Kiss” photos are to the couple, and will move effortlessly out of the frame during this special moment.

Most people choose to personalize their ceremony. A personalized ceremony script should be written with the two of you in mind. A professional wedding officiant will ask you the right questions to delve into your relationship, picking out nuggets of information that really help personalize your ceremony to be all about the couple and their relationship.

A wedding ceremony is more than the introduction, vows and kiss. It is a story. YOUR story. It is about how you met, what it was about that fateful day that attracted you to that person and about the day-to-day stuff that you appreciate about your partner. It is a timeline of your first date to your final day as a single person and your first day as a married partner, ready to embrace your new life together as a couple. What are your hopes and dreams as a couple? Your aspirations? Where do you picture yourselves in 10 years?

A professional can also help you choose readings, unity rituals (such as a sand ceremony or candle lighting ceremony) or give you insight on trending wedding ceremony ideas that will help illustrate the symbolism of your partnership.

The officiant will also act in an official capacity in order to ensure your ceremony runs smoothly, which can include stepping in to avert problems that arise as necessary, such as when the ring bearer drops the rings or any number of minor things.

Finally, the officiant is responsible for ensuring the witnesses are signing the legal documents correctly, that they themselves are filling out the paperwork correctly, then mailing the license to the proper authority within the specified timeline.

What type of ceremony do you envision?

Every officiant offers different packages, but the three main ceremony types are usually an elopement package (which is strictly signing the papers and verbalizing the union), a pre-written ceremony and a customized ceremony. It is up to you how in-depth or personalized you want your ceremony to be. Some couples may wish to have the papers signed and be legally married within a couple of minutes, while other couples want the ceremony catered to them as a couple.

What should I expect to pay a professional officiant?

Your wedding is an investment. When you consider that, your wedding officiant is one of the least expensive elements of your wedding.

There is more to the officiant's job than showing up thirty minutes before the ceremony and reading a script. An officiant will usually meet with a couple for an hour or more and write a ceremony script to include everything the couple wishes to include. It is time spent answering emails and phone calls, editing scripts, answering questions about the ceremony process or paperwork needed and much more. Then, the officiant arrives at the ceremony location early, touching base with the other vendors on duty for your wedding, performing the ceremony, staying for wedding photos and ensuring all paperwork is completed and sent in.

Pricing varies greatly by location. In the Antelope Valley and surrounding areas in California, an elopement will usually run around $150, a pre-written script will start around $250 and a customized ceremony will start around $375. Rehearsals are usually an added element, if you choose to have the officiant present. Most officiants also charge a travel fee.

When should I book my officiant?

My answer to this questions is always, “As soon as possible.” Many wedding companies, such as florists, larger DJ companies and linen companies, to name a few, are able to accommodate several weddings in one day. Officiants, however, cannot. They will usually only book one evening wedding per day, so plan ahead if there is an officiant you really want to book for your wedding day. Many officiants book out 6-12 months in advance, and sometimes even further on popular dates.

Do not leave such an important moment to chance.

In other words, do not have a friend officiate unless you are confident answering the following questions.

Is your friend or family member a great public speaker?

Your friend could be a popular person that gets along great with everyone, but can they speak fluently and easily under pressure in front of a large group of people they do not know? There is a lot of pressure to officiate a ceremony. A person must be well-spoken, with a clear, concise voice that can easily communicate the language of the ceremony in a way that is pleasant and well-received by you and your guests.

Friends and family members who have never officiated a wedding before may get nervous or emotional, stumbling over their words, skipping ahead in the script or experiencing long stretches of silence. Worse yet, they could go off-script about something that has nothing to do with your wedding day.

How will your friend or family member react when something goes wrong?

You can perfectly plan out every little detail, but inevitably, something will go wrong on your wedding day. It happens to the best of us. A friend or family member that does not have wedding experience may become flustered, but a professional will know how to respond or react to a potentially show-stopping experience, many times without anyone even knowing there was an issue. (What if the microphone stops working or the ring bearer drops the rings?)

Are they legally able to officiate my wedding?

The number ONE thing you should consider when deciding whether it is worth the cash to hire a professional wedding officiant is, are they "legally" able to perform the ceremony (meaning they are ordained, registered and approved by the state in which the wedding will take place) and do they know the ins and outs of both the marriage license and marriage certificate process?

What type of license do I need to legally marry in California?

Did you know that there are two different types of marriage licenses in California (Public and Confidential) and each have different rules? The officiant is legally obligated to return the marriage license to the correct recording agency within a specified timeframe, or the marriage will not be recorded, rendering you unmarried.

If the license is not filled out correctly, it will bounce back to the person who mailed it. That person will then be responsible for correcting any issues, submitting a fee, filling out a corrections form and re-submitting everything.

Do you know how to obtain your marriage certificate after the marriage? A professional officiant will be able to give you all the details, including how and where to obtain one (you will need this document if you buy a house as a married couple or wish to add your spouse to your insurance plan).

The marriage license filing is HUGE, and it determines whether or not the two of you were legally married. Let a professional wedding officiant handle the legal details for you so you can relax on your honeymoon as a legally wed couple!

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Author Bio: Hello! I’m Amber, owner and officiant at Antelope Valley Wedding Officiant. I am a traveling, non-denominational wedding officiant located in Lancaster, California that creates personalized, professional wedding ceremonies that both you and your guests will remember for years to come. Receive details on packages at www.avofficiant.com or check out my Instagram @avofficiant