Elopement: First choice or last resort?

A couple kisses after getting married in Gretna Green, Scotland, famous for elopements performed by "blacksmith priests" since the 1700s.  See more pictures of potential elopement destinations.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A lot of harried couples planning a wedding simply joke about running away to marry in secret. For others, it's a very real option. When a couple decides to elope, they head to a courthouse or romantic locale where they can tie the knot in peace and forego the trappings that have become part-and-parcel of a traditional wedding. The often-spontaneous decision to elope has been around for decades -- since the days of 18th century England, certainly, when a law was passed that couples under 21 needed parental permission for marriage. This prompted young lovers to head for Scotland where no such law existed. Many times a blacksmith performed the wedding in lieu of a priest and were called "anvil priests." Even today, elopements continue to be popular with brides and grooms alike.

While there are no clear-cut statistics about how most U.S. marriages begin, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate more couples are opting to elope than ever before. An increasing number of popular wedding destinations now offer "elopement packages" at a fraction of the cost of a traditional ceremony. Plus, a private or civil ceremony foregoes the often-complicated family dynamics many brides and grooms bring to the table. After all, the whole idea of eloping is to launch your new life as a couple as fast, fun and carefree as possible. Looking for a few more good reasons? Then, you'll want to read the next page.

Reasons to Elope

You can save on time, money and hassles with an elopment.
You can save on time, money and hassles with an elopment.

A private marriage ceremony means fewer expenses and hassles than its traditional counterpart, and you can focus on starting a life together rather than planning an event. You won't have to spend hours writing thank-you notes or planning a reception so your 200 closest friends can eat, drink and be merry on your dime.

Eloping can save a lot of money. What if you took that $24,000 (currently the average wedding cost) and deposited it into an interest-bearing account or invested it in the stock market? Kind of makes spending $300 for a wedding chapel package a little more attractive, doesn't it?

A private, civil ceremony allows greater attention to starting your life together rather than planning an event. For Sande Fowler and her husband, Branon Martindale, exchanging vows at the Henry County Courthouse in Georgia averted a possible family meltdown over religious differences, too. Anything else "would have caused conflict with my family, and I didn't want the emotional upset to ruin what should be a special day," Fowler says. "Granted, there's not much that's 'special' about a courthouse, but it doesn't have any negativity associated with it, either."

Fowler and her soon-to-be husband simply went to the courthouse after work one Friday, still wearing business casual attire, and wed -- with Fowler's 10-year-old son as the only attendant.

Reasons Not to Elope

Not all surprises are good ones. If you suddenly return from vacay as man and wife, your family and friends may feel left out in the cold. The best (although not easiest) bet is to give them a heads up. We're not suggesting you ask permission, but rather explain your rationale for wanting an intimate ceremony.

Chances are, everyone just wants you to be happy. But don't be surprised if you encounter some doubts about not letting others witness your rite of passage. For many people, the shared memories of attending a wedding ceremony are a way to bond. You may even have mixed feelings about getting married without your father to walk you down the aisle or without a few special moments with your mother or grandmother.

And when vows are said and done, you won't have a bevy of wedding photographs depicting attendants and extended family. Fowler, who skipped professional photographs of her courthouse wedding ceremony altogether, admits her parents (who are wedding photographers) would have preferred a few evidentiary mementos.

Things to Consider Before Eloping

Forgo the trip to Vegas: Many beach resorts offer elopement packages.
Forgo the trip to Vegas: Many beach resorts offer elopement packages.

If you do run for the nearest padre with your beloved, you'll still need to mark a few things off your "to do" list. Check state (or international) marriage laws, filing times (some have waiting periods) and other details, such as blood tests or residency requirements. You'll both need official birth certificates, so if those aren't handy, factor in the time it takes to get them. You'll also need to establish a budget and destination.

You can tie the knot closer to home if a Bali beach wedding is out of your budget. Sure, Nevada doesn't require a waiting period or a pricey, hard-to-get marriage license, but a Vegas chapel isn't your only option. Head to nearby Reno, where public parks make good use of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (can you say scenic backdrop?). Or Ernest Hemingway's old stomping grounds in the Florida Keys where you can say "I do" in a dolphin-filled lagoon on Duck Key, a private island that's a favorite spot to get hitched.

And if you're worried about the long-term consequences of hurt feelings among family members, consider planning a party or reception to mark your return. It's a great way to launch your new life. That's what Fowler did. After their courthouse marriage, she says, "We had a huge party and got on with our lives together."

Related Articles


  • Daily Wedding Planning Tip. "10 Reasons to Elope." (March 26, 2011) DailyWeddingPlanningTip.com. http://www.dailyweddingplanningtip.com/engaged-now-what/10-reasons-to-elope/
  • Fowler, Sande. Personal interview. March 28, 2011.
  • Let's Run Off. "Elopement Checklist." (March 29, 2011) LetsRunOff.com. http://www.letsrunoff.com/elope.php?page=ad-elopement_checklist
  • Libaw, Oliver. "Stressed-Out Americans Embrace Elopement." April 23, 2011. (March 29, 2011) ABCnews.com. http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=91726&page=1
  • Shaw, Scott. "Let's Elope: The Definitive Guide to Eloping." (March 26, 2011) Bantom, 2001. http://www.amazon.com/Lets-Elope-Definitive-Destination-Weddings/dp/0553380826
  • Ward, Terry. "Sexiest Places to Elope." (March 26, 2011) TravelChannel.com. http://www.travelchannel.com/Places_Trips/Travel_Ideas/Romance_And_Honeymoons/Sexiest_Places_To_Elope