Why can't I find a judge to marry us in a courthouse in New Orleans?
July 20, 2018 11:18 PM   Subscribe

We're planning on eloping, and just want to go to the a courthouse in New Orleans and have a judge marry us, no muss, no fuss. I was informed that you need to make an appointment in advance. I've called around all over the place and keep running into dead ends. Am I missing something?

We initially wanted to get married at the Algiers courthouse. I called. Their judge (singular) is not doing marriages at this time. I think it has something to do with a current scandal. So, I called the Civil District Court of New Orleans.

The person answering the phone cannot make these basic civil appointments, they gave me the number for one of the judges. I called and got their clerk. The clerk says their judge is not marrying people right now, but she can give me the number for a former judge who will do it for us. No, that's not what we want. We do not want an officiant, just a judge who can do this in the courthouse, legally, with a minimum of logistics and cost. I asked the clerk if I could be transferred to another judge, and no, I could not. I apparently have to call every single judge at the courthouse to find one who is willing to do this for us?

This seems insane. We do not live in New Orleans. We just want to show up at the courthouse at the appointed time (when we are already traveling to New Orleans), meet the judge there with our two witnesses, get married, and go get brunch.

Am I doing something wrong? I am usually really good at bureaucracy, but we can't spend the three days we have in New Orleans in August attempting and failing at getting married repeatedly, and our two witnesses can't just take three days off work to go on a bureaucratic adventure with us here.

What am I missing? What do I need to do here to get married on a weekday morning in New Orleans?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"just a judge who can do this in the courthouse" is probably the thing. Not New Orleans, but I was married at the drop of a hat (to a friend for financial aid reasons.... long story). There was no courthouse, we hit the YellowPages and went downtown to some Nth floor where there was some sort of judicial type to check paperwork and witnesses were provided. I'm sure there was an appointment of sorts (she did the legwork) but it wasn't trying to get married at the courthouse. Or do you just want JusticeOfThePeace of some sort officiating?

I'd bet courthouses and courthouse judges don't do that many weddings because there's much more important stuff to get done. And people who just want to get married go to some JOTP who may only really still do marriages (has the arch for pictures and everything). It's legal.. just not in the courthouse. good luck.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:13 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why a judge? Couldn't you get married at City Hall?
posted by peacheater at 2:35 AM on July 21, 2018

A few points:

Judges are busy people. Requiring an appointment is a reasonable thing.

Try a smaller town.

"We do not want an officiant." The person who marries you is an officiant. They have offered you a retired judge as a reasonable alternative. Why won't you accept it?

In most states there are other officials who can serve as officiant.

Ever since same sex couples were recognized to have the right to marry, many officials in the South have simply decided they will not marry anyone.
posted by megatherium at 2:35 AM on July 21, 2018 [12 favorites]

You know there's a 3 day waiting period after you get your marriage license right?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:26 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

DarlingBri, not for people from out-of-state wanting to marry in New Orleans. It's unclear if OP is from Louisiana or not.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:10 AM on July 21, 2018

Sounds like you have to make an appointment or hire an officiant. Judges have complicated schedules.
posted by yarly at 4:28 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you may have fallen between two stools. As far as I know, there are only two ways to get married. The wedding way, where everything is as elaborate or simple, as religious or not, as ecru and rosegold or come-as-you-are as you choose, happens at a specific place and time, and includes the people you want there. Then there’s the other way, the ticking-a-box way, the not-entirely-unlike-the-DMV way — the way I did it, and we loved each other for sure so don’t think I’m being critical — which is not that. You go where they tell you to go and do what they tell you to do and wait around for awhile and then, congratulations, that will be $37, you’re married. It was great, A++++, would marry again, but you see what I’m saying. It is a different conceptual framework. It seems to me you are looking for something in between, and I am not sure that exists.

How about just a super simple, super casual wedding?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 4:47 AM on July 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

When my wife and I were filling out the paperwork to get our marriage licenses, two different couples showed up expecting that they could get married right then, right now. Nope, not happening. There is paperwork to fill out, the judge has to have the time to do this available on their calendar, and there are a few other bureaucratic hassles to navigate.

Both couples were told that they could fill out the marriage licenses now, but that the judge (where I live it's the Probate Court judge who does the weddings) was only marrying people this week on Thursday afternoon after 3pm, and wasn't available to do weddings again until two weeks later on a Tuesday morning. You didn't need an appointment, but those were the only times the judge was going to be available. As someone mentioned above, judges have complicated schedules.

In a city the size of New Orleans there are certainly plenty of people who can marry you. Your options aren't limited to clergy or judge. In fact, there are several pages of Yelp reviews for New Orleans Wedding Officiants, using one of those might be easier/faster than trying to find a judge.
posted by ralan at 5:07 AM on July 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I got married in a courthouse and LOVED it. After much googling, it does seem that maybe since the judge got in trouble for the weddings, you are indeed out of luck. In Atlanta, there is also only one judge who does the courthouse weddings and only does this on one afternoon a week, so its not that unusual.

Its not exactly the same and has the potential to be not great, but I found this little wedding chapel which has something called the "short, sweet, and hitched" package for $200 and includes the officiant. I'm sure you also saw this. Its the information you need to get the license including the 72 hour waiver for non residents. Good luck! I hope something works out.
posted by stormygrey at 6:12 AM on July 21, 2018

Just in case "officiant" makes you think of the type who does traditional big weddings at churches or hotels, and that is turning you off, here is anecdata from Virginia (Fairfax County to be exact).

1. Show up at county clerk to obtain marriage license. Your identities are verified and you pay $30. We both sign, but we're not married yet. They don't marry people right then and there.
2. They gave us a list of "marriage celebrants" to make the marriage official.
3. Pick one, call and make appointment.
4. Show up at celebrant's office, sit around conference table, wait for celebrant to sign papers, pay $50 and leave. Now that an attorney has signed the papers, we're officially married. Took about 30 minutes.

So not quite as spontaneous as "let's get married within the next hour!" but still plenty doable within a short timeframe. We got our marriage license Dec 27 or so (last day gov't offices were open for the year) and booked the celebrant the same afternoon. We made it official Jan 2 (first day the celebrant was back at work).

Perhaps instead of specifying the type of person and the place where this happens (a judge, in the courthouse), you could call again and ask for what you asked here: How can we get legally married in New Orleans within 3 days? You might get better answers by stating your end goal, rather than the specific who and where!
posted by tinydancer at 6:26 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

We were married in Louisiana by a Justice of the Peace. This is what you want. And the wedding could most likely be anywhere public. There are thousands of places in New Orleans more imaginative for an eloped wedding than City Hall. Thousands!
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 8:34 AM on July 21, 2018

Cook County in Illinois does have a marriage court where, if you have your license and have waited the waiting period, you jut show up, wait in line and get married. BUT Cook County (Chicago) and Los Angeles County are the two largest court systems in the US (each have right around 3 million cases a year)--most court systems simply don't have the resources to assign a courtroom and a call to just marrying people all day every day. As noted above, court calendars and judges' schedules are complicated and people with emergencies requiring court intervention (like bail or protective orders) can't usually get seen the same day.

Basically, there is likely no way to do this without scheduling your trip around the court's calendar. If you want to be in the courthouse in a courtroom, I would call the retired judge. Ask if perhaps that judge can arrange to use another judge's courtroom during the lunch recess or the afternoon recess or before the call starts in the morning. Or perhaps the retired judge can arrange to use a conference room or semi-public space in the courthouse.
posted by crush at 8:49 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Call the retired judge, ask for an appt., and ask if the judge will be okay with doing the bare minimum civil requirements. if you really want the courthouse, ask if retired judge will meet you at the courthouse.
posted by theora55 at 9:34 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

We eloped to New Orleans in 1992 -- but we had to fill out paperwork, then go away (our honeymoon to San Antonio) for a few days, then come back and get married by the judge. Easy. But it does take a few days, or did then, for a judge to marry you.
posted by mmw at 10:49 AM on July 21, 2018

My courthouse wedding in Missoula MT went like this:
1) Called and set up an appointment after making sure I knew what we needed (I think they do same-day (??) but we had to set a wedding date). They did weddings after 4 pm - this is of course a smaller town.
2) Went in a couple weeks before to fill out the marriage license and pay the license fee and pick the paper it would be printed on.
3) At this point they handed us the license - we could have taken it to an officiant to complete and sign with witnesses like a "normal" wedding. Instead we took it upstairs for them to put in the safe ready for our courthouse wedding.
4) We arrived at the courthouse, waited a bit, paid our judges/justice fee, got married in a tiny court room and the judge had printed a standard set a vows customized with our names.
5) We walked downstairs with our completed marriage license to file it and become "official" in terms of the government records. Total cost: About $72

For yourself, once you have everything lined up and get the license and then you can go to an officiant.

Call and say, "We want to get married on X Date after traveling from Y Place, What are all the steps we need to do for that?" That will make it clear what you need for the 72 hour wavers, types of officiants, filing fees, etc.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:08 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you probably just need to call every judge to find one who will do this for you when you need it done, as the clerk suggested. FYI, the civil district court building is right next to City Hall and isn’t particularly attractive unless you like crumbling 1950s architecture (which I kind of do, but you may not). Also, it appears that there is no mechanism for getting married at City Hall, unless you count renting the old City Hall building (Gallier Hall) for a wedding.
posted by MadamM at 12:34 PM on July 21, 2018

If you do not get anywhere with the "call every judge" for the state courthouse, may I suggest the federal courthouse for the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit? It is truly gorgeous and would be a lovely place to get married. Ask for the en banc courtroom for the most impressive experience. Here is the contact info for the court -- the judges start on page 4 -- make sure you call only the judges with a New Orleans chambers address so you get someone who can actually help.
posted by *s at 11:57 AM on July 23, 2018

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