OK, you’ve decided to get married in New Hampshire. Maybe you’ve also set the date and chosen a venue. But if you’re not getting married in a church (or sometimes even if you are), you have an important decision. Should you use a NH Justice of the Peace? Or have someone you know, like a family member or friend, marry you? And what is the process if you decide to use a Justice of the Peace for your New Hampshire wedding?
For this blog post, we’ve reached out to the experts. Read on to get various perspectives from amazing New Hampshire Officiants and experienced wedding planners. But before we get to that, let’s go over the basics.
Who can Officiate a NH Wedding?
Besides religious officiants, here are a list of persons who can officiate a wedding in New Hampshire:
- A Justice of the Peace commissioned in New Hampshire
- Those living outside New Hampshire if authorized to perform marriages in their state of residence with a license and fee.
- Certain judges residing in New Hampshire with a license and fee.
- Any individual can obtain a temporary special marriage license for a fee.
Find more details on New Hampshire marriage license requirements here.
What is a NH Justice of the Peace?
What is a Justice of the Peace? Well, that depends on the state. In Louisiana and Texas, for example, they are more like judges. In New Hampshire, they can be a witness (for signatures, etc.) in addition to being able to perform marriage ceremonies. The process to become a Justice of the Peace also differs by state. In Massachusetts, the Governor appoints you. To become a NH Justice of the Peace, you must be a NH resident, have a background check, pay a fee, and interestingly, you must be a registered voter in New Hampshire for at least three years.
Asking the Experts About Using a NH Justice of the Peace
To get the best advice about using a New Hampshire Justice of the Peace, we’ve asked the experts. We reached out to wedding planners and officiants in New Hampshire to get their advice. And we received such thoughtful answers, that we’ve included them in full below.
A Good Overview On Choosing an Officiant From Events by Sorrell
One question every couple must consider before the big day: who’s going to officiate the ceremony? The two most common choices are to hire a NH Justice of the Peace or to have a friend or family member who is licensed officiate the ceremony for you. Having a loved one officiate the ceremony can be a wonderful embellishment to an already wonderful occasion, and will make your nuptials even more personal and dear. Find the requirements and procedural information for obtaining a license con your local Secretary of State website.
However, not every couple has people in their lives that might be a good fit for officiating. After all, it is a very big responsibility! Sticking with a professional will ensure that you’ve got a smooth ride ahead. Of course, there is the cost to consider. Hiring a Justice of the Peace in New Hampshire typically will run you $350-$500. While the fee for the Justice of the Peace license is $75 (for a 5-year commission). These are all important things to consider while making your decision, so don’t wait until the last minute.
M+E Forever Events’ Preference for Having a Loved One Officiate a Wedding Ceremony
If a couple is trying to decide between a NH Justice of the Peace or a friend/family member we would advise them to choose a friend or family member. We understand that some couples lean towards hiring a Justice of the Peace. But there is something to be said about asking someone special in your life to marry you. There are several pros to this:
First, if a couple is particularly nervous about their wedding, it can help to have someone leading the ceremony that they feel comfortable with and who knows them on a personal level. It will help ease some of their nerves and allow them to feel more relaxed.
Second, choosing a friend or a family member perform the marriage creates for a more organic and personal ceremony. While a justice of the peace only knows what a couple tells them, a friend or family member knows the couple on a more intimate level and can speak more to their relationship. Not to mention they can interject with some personal anecdotes that can take the ceremony to another level.
Finally, when a couple asks a friend or family member to perform their marriage, it allows them to incorporate another member of their lives into their big day that they might not have been able to honor otherwise
A wedding by M+E Forever Events, Photo cred: @simplyperfectphotography
Elizabeth at Wedded Shares Her Thoughts on Wedding Officiating and Engaging a Justice of the Peace
A Little History Behind Wedding Officiating
Before the 20th century there was less to consider in regards to who will pronounce a couple husband and wife – it was most common to be married in a church by a minister or pastor. But when, as a culture, there was a shift away from structured religion, more people decided to get married outside of churches and places of worship increasing the need for a Justice of the Peace, Celebrants and other individuals dedicated to presiding over rituals and ceremonies.
Due to the increase in availability of online ordainments, many couples opt to have a family member, friend, or mentor officiate their wedding. The idea is that because there is history between the couple and the chosen individual the ceremony will have more meaning, and in some cases that may be true! But there are some things to consider when choosing between having someone you know marry you, or invest in an officiant.
Things to Consider When Deciding to Engage a New Hampshire Justice of the Peace
- Ask any officiant or celebrant, I am sure they have a story about being approached by a couple days before their wedding because their friend or relative whom they had originally chosen to officiate backed out last minute. Planning and dreaming about that special moment is exciting, but when it comes time to write and perform the ceremony – many people feel overwhelmed by the weight of the task and/or are uncomfortable public speaking. Not to mention the unforeseen scheduling conflicts or illness/injury that may interfere with their ability to take part in the event.
- Choosing to have a friend or family member officiate can increase your overall to-do list. Should the couple desire to have readings, rituals, or special additions in their ceremony it will likely be up to them to do the research, plan the order of events and coordinate the pieces required to perform each. During the rehearsal and even the day of the wedding couples will be wearing two hats, one as a participant and the other as the overseer.
- Finally, after the vows are taken and the kiss has sealed the marriage there is paperwork to do! Many people are unfamiliar with the process of what happens behind the scenes to finalize the nuptials or it will be left to the couple to complete the process. Paperwork can easily be lost or forgotten in the blur of the reception and honeymoon causing a headache no couple needs.
Elizabeth’s Final Thoughts on Choosing an Officiant
When you choose to work with a New Hampshire licensed officiant or celebrant, you are allowing yourself to be fully present to take in and enjoy every part of your wedding day. You and your most loved family, friends, and guests can be thoughtful participants in the joy and excitement of the celebration because you know everything else will be taken care of. As a celebrant or officiant it is our single mission to ensure your ceremony goes smoothly and your marriage starts off on the right foot. We will research rituals and readings for you, coordinate with DJs and other vendors, organize your ceremony elements and your bridal party, and submit legal paperwork so you don’t have to.
Elizabeth at Wedded is a licensed New Hampshire Justice of the Peace and Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who creates custom wedding ceremonies for couples looking for an elevated experience. Check out more from Wedded here.
Vivianna at Gateway Celebrations Speaks to Officiating a “Different” Ceremony
I’m a firm believer in savoring every last drop of these one in a lifetime moments because of course, they only come along once. The truth is, they fly by faster than you could ever imagine. When planning for one of the biggest days of your lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of wanting your wedding day to “hurry up and get here already!” but there’s something to be said about being intentional with your time together leading up to this momentous occasion…
Who Will Officiate the Marriage Ceremony is Sometimes an Overlooked Decision
Something that I’ve discovered over the years is that couples who may not have a religious affiliation or who may not feel called to get married within the church, are left with this modern-day void of true support in their journey to marriage. So here you are, making one of the biggest and most rewarding decisions of your life but you’re not sure exactly what you’re doing because chances are, you’ve never done this before and it’s possible that you’re realizing that there is so much more to consider than you initially anticipated.
Unbeknown to them, many couples are left with the cookie cutter variety ceremony, not knowing that there are other options out there that can truly reflect your individual personalities and identity as a couple. You might be ahead of your planning and have already prioritized your vendor preferences, only to find that you have no idea who is going to perform the ceremony and legally what is and isn’t required to do that.
For Couples Who Want a “Different” Wedding Ceremony
As a New England based professional wedding Officiant and a licensed Maine notary public (authorized to Officiate ceremonies in Maine and New Hampshire), I provide an organic opportunity for couples to invest deeper into their relationship during their engagement period, through the entire process of creating and preparing for their wedding ceremony. Couples come to me knowing they want a ceremony that’s “different” but they don’t know what that could even look, sound or feel like yet. In short, you get full permission to nix the dry, boring stuff and infuse personality and authenticity into your experience. It’s my job (and not one I take lightly) to go beyond the surface level layer that everyone else sees and dig deeper into your story because yours is unique and that alone is worth celebrating!
How to Work With a Professional Wedding Officiant
Whether it’s the time I spend really getting to know you, helping each of you write your own vows, creating a ceremony that is tailored to your relationship, coordinating your rehearsal, setting a positive tone for the day, inviting your guests to feel connected to this moment in your lives or ensuring the legal process is done with great care, I’m able to take away the stress of the unknowns and provide couples and their hired vendors with peace of mind that the ceremony will be delivered with exceptional grace and ease, allowing for you and your love to be fully present in the moment and reflective of true emotion and comfortability.
When it comes to making the decision of who will perform your wedding ceremony, you’ll want to consider how important those things are to you, as there are gaps in what someone without this level of experience can provide. Hiring a professional who is experienced in this field simply elevates every aspect of the ceremony and all of the time, energy and money you’ve invested into it.
Vivianna at Gateway Celebrations is professional wedding officiant that travels across New England to officiate wedding ceremonies and helps couples from all different backgrounds create a one-of-a-kind wedding ceremony experience that invites everyone to feel connected to this moment in their lives. Checkout more from Gateway Celebrations.
Kelly Hayden-Wimpory Breaks Down the Pros/Cons of a using NH Justice of the Peace
So, you have your venue, your photographer, your florist, your cake baker, your DJ, your make up and hair team and lots of details wrapped up. And, one of the last things to decide is who is going to marry you. There is a real trend right now around people asking a special friend or family member to officiate their ceremony. You think how awesome it would be to commit your love and devotion to each other with a special person in your life up there with you saying all the perfect, sentimental and love filled things while you say “I do”. And, it could be… but, there are several things to consider when making this very important decision.
If you were to ask couples about how their ceremony went with their loved one officiating you would get responses that the range from it was utterly fantastic to it was completely horrifying. And, if you were to ask wedding vendors what their experience has been working with officiants stepping up to plate for their friend or family member’s big day without previous experience you might be in for some eye opening conversations.
Pros/Cons of a Having a Loved One Marry You
Let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of having your loved one officiate for you. First the pros:
- It is bound to be a personalized and meaningful ceremony with the perspective that comes from the heart.
- It is another way to include someone you love in your ceremony
- You feel you have control over what is said in your ceremony
- It saves money
Next the cons:
- Your loved one may not know what they are doing. You may have picked a friend who does public speaking a lot but, officiating a wedding is much more than public speaking. And you add the emotion of the day into the mix and it may be a recipe for disaster
- It can be a lot of work for you, your fiancé and your loved one to work through the development of the ceremony and all the parts and pieces. Let’s face it – you do not get married every weekend so your resource pool may be a little shallow and there is only so much you can find on google or Pinterest.
- Nerves, anxiety and stage fright – it is a lot of pressure to be in the officiant role for someone that means so much to you.
- There are a thousand little details that add up to a great ceremony. Having someone officiate for you that does not have the experience leads to the question how many of those details are your willing to have overlooked?
- And probably the most important – Legality issues. The last thing you need to find out is your marriage was not legally executed and/or paperwork was not filed properly.
I am not here to tell you should not have a friend of family member officiate for you. Truth be told – that is exactly how I got started as a Justice of the Peace. I became a New Hampshire Justice of the Peace to marry some very dear friends of mine. It was not only a huge honor to do so but, also a turning point in my life where I discovered something I was meant to do. What I am here to help you with is making the decision that is best for you and your dream day.
Where to Find a NH Justice of the Peace That’s the Right Fit
If you are worried about not belonging to a religious community, not wanting a stranger to officiate your ceremony or wanting to be sure you have control about what is said at your ceremony then I say NO PROBLEM! Here are some fabulous resources to help find the right officiant for you.
Ask your venue for recommendation – many venues have a preferred vendor list that they will offer to their couples. Venues do not take their recommendations lightly. And they know working with a good officiant will not only make the couple happy but, also make the day flow more smoothly. Many venues know their recommended vendors well and will know who will be a good fit for the couple’s vision.
Ask your other vendors like your photographer, videographer, DJ or wedding planner for recommendations – These vendors work hard to make your day perfect and they see lots of officiants and their work. Some of my biggest compliments have come from photographers, videographers and DJs. It is a team effort and I have been privileged to work with many of the best.
Ask friends – Did you attend your friend’s wedding and you were impressed? Ask who they used. Or ask what they liked to did not like about their officiant. Ask them about what they wished they knew then that they know now. Check our regional wedding sites and social media – lots and lots of active wedding groups with fellow couples very happy to share their experiences. Check our reviews and on line presence. Make sure you like what you see.
You’ve Found a Potential NH Justice of the Peace, Now What?
Then after all of this – reach out to your potentials and set up a time to meet in person, talk on the phone or on video. It is a bit like an interview. You want to feel a connection to the person you choose. And you want to make sure you feel comfortable with their resourcefulness and flexibility. And pay attention to their reaction to your story and your wishes for your day. Also, ask if you can see samples of previous ceremonies. I often share samples with my couples and it is extremely helpful to them.
The right Justice of the Peace will help guide the process, provide lots of resources, share ideas and come up with the perfectly customized ceremony for you and your love story that you will be over the moon excited to share with your friends and your family on your big day.
Engaging a New Hampshire Justice of the Peace to Provide Coaching
If you choose to move have a friend or loved one officiate, you can still engage a NH Justice of the Peace to provide coaching for your chosen officiant. Then you have the best of both worlds. Your loved one can officiate your special day and you also get the professional guidance and resources provided by a seasoned Justice of the Peace.
I’d been asked a lot recently to fill in at the last minute for an originally chosen loved one officiant. Either because the anxiety got too high for the loved one, or they didn’t fill out the paperwork correctly. As a result, I began offering a coaching service to make sure that the loved one was a successful officiant. It’s been a great success. My view is that it’s your day and it should be exactly the way you want it. This service is just one more way to help you get there.
Kelly Hayden-Wimpory is a licensed New Hampshire Justice of the Peace from Jefferson, NH who has the distinct privilege of officiating many weddings every year all over the White Mountains of NH. And as she proclaimed, “I love what I do!” Checkout more from Kelly here.
Final Thoughts on Whether to Use a NH Justice of the Peace
After hearing from the experts, here are the takeaways. Using a loved one has the potential for a huge upside. It can make your wedding ceremony even more special. But there’s also a bigger downside and potential for disaster. So unless you have the perfect loved one in mind who you know will do a good job (and not create extra work for you!) . Leave it to the experts – engage a NH Justice of the Peace!