Courthouse weddings offer simplicity, cost-savings, couples say

bpurser@macon.comJune 15, 2013 

PERRY -- Tawana and Reggie Snead tied the knot in a simple ceremony that lasted less than three minutes in a small Houston County courtroom.

She wore a sharp pink dress with a tailored black jacket. He wore a black suit and a tie.

Their best friends, a married couple, made a video of the wedding and took photos with an iPad while three of the Sneads’ children watched. One of the children also filmed the ceremony on his cellphone.

The couple met at church and were engaged in February.

“We love each other, and we know we’re meant for each other,” 30-year-old Tawana Snead said.

The Sneads, of Warner Robins, said they chose the May 20 courthouse ceremony to save themselves the expense of a costly traditional wedding and instead expect to spend the money later on a honeymoon. They also planned a June reception with friends and family at a Peach County fire station where 33-year-old Reggie Snead, an information technology specialist, has done some work.

The Sneads are among as many as a third of those marrying in Houston County who decide to say “I do” before a judge rather than a minister.

Probate Court Judge Janice Spires, who’s performed hundreds of courthouse weddings since she took office 16 years ago, said the reasons vary among couples.

“It could be love at first sight,” Spires said. “They’ve fallen head over heels and don’t want to wait. Anything is possible.”

Noting the proximity to Robins Air Force Base, Spires said it’s not uncommon for couples facing deployment to wed at the courthouse. Many plan larger, traditional weddings later, she said.

Some couples come in full wedding regalia with friends and family in tow. Or the groom may wear a nice suit and the bride a pretty dress. Others have come in shorts and flip-flops. Some do not bring anyone to witness the wedding.

Most couples choose a religious ceremony, though a civil ceremony or simple pronouncement is also an option.

The cost for a marriage license is $77 unless the couple has had premarital counseling, Spires said. That knocks the fee down to $36.

It’s not uncommon for couples to take care of other business while getting married at the courthouse, Spires said. Some have picked up a weapons permit from her office, and others have headed down the hall to renew vehicle tags.

A wedding snapshot

As part of a personal project, Spires said she went over the wedding applications issued in Houston County during a 13-month period from June 2011 through June 2012 to determine how many couples were married in Probate Court.

Spires said she normally doesn’t track how many are married at the courthouse, but she does initial the marriage applications in which she performed the ceremony. She had to go through each application one at a time to come up with the snapshot, she said.

Of 1,309 marriage licenses sold during that time, 1,258 of those couples married, Spires said. Of those who married, 427 couples tied the knot before the judge compared with 831 who married elsewhere. Also, 311 of the couples who purchased marriage licenses during that time period had premarital counseling, she said.

Comparing how those numbers stack up elsewhere is difficult because each county handles marriage licenses and courthouse weddings differently, said Sherri Lanford, chief clerk for Bibb County Probate Court.

In Bibb County, while an appointment can be made for the Probate Court judge to perform a wedding, most of the time couples pick up a license from Probate Court and head down the hall to a magistrate judge to be married so they don’t have to wait, Lanford said.

Also, the court doesn’t break down or keep records beyond the total number of marriage licenses issued, she said.

No regrets

Occasionally, Spires hears again from a couple she’s wed.

One couple emailed her to say they’d planted a magnolia tree to commemorate their wedding. Before the courthouse moved to Perry Parkway, Spires sometimes married couples under the magnolia tree at the former location in downtown Perry.

After their courthouse wedding May 17, James Parrish Jr. and his wife, Janet, were thrilled with the experience. They chose the courthouse because they don’t have a church home, James Parrish said.

“It was perfect,” 41-year-old Janet Parrish said.

She moved from Arkansas to Houston County to marry 35-year-old James Parrish Jr. after the couple met on the Internet.

James Parrish noted, “She’s the perfect match for me.”

They enjoy the same activities, the same heavy metal music and finish each other’s sentences, he said. They share a favorite movie, “The Return of the Living Dead.”

For the wedding, he wore a black shirt and dark pants. She wore a short dress with skulls and crossbones that her sister picked out. His mother attended and snapped photographs.

The Sneads said they were happy with their choice of a courthouse wedding.

As Spires pronounced the couple husband and wife, Tawana Snead did a little dance.

“You can tell when a couple is really in love,” Spires said with smile.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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