A Couple’s Guide to Getting Married During the Pandemic
2020 was a hard year for everyone, a year of heartbreak and health scares and, for many, loneliness. But for some couples, it's also been a testament to coming together, a chance to affirm that they're in it together. No matter what life or a global pandemic throws their way, these hard times have only made them stronger.
You're one of those couples, and in these trying times, you've also found moments of joy. And now you're ready to take the next step.
Every couple has a lot to think about on their big day. You and your fiancé have more to think about than most. Whether you originally planned to get married in 2020 or you got engaged during the pandemic and hope to be married, you've been forced to reconsider your wedding plans.
For some couples, that means postponing their plans. Some have decided to formalize the commitment now and save a big party for brighter days. Others have decided to adapt to the unusual circumstances.
Unfortunately, until most of the population is immune, a wedding will require creativity. So how do you get married safely during a public health crisis while still giving your love a fitting celebration? Here's a complete guide to ensure your wedding is both safe and joyous.
Pros and Cons of Getting Married During the Pandemic
Before you move forward with the wedding, you have to consider one simple question: whether or not you want to get married during the pandemic.
It is quite possible to organize a safe, enjoyable wedding, even during these uncertain times. There are even benefits to planning a wedding during times like these that you might not have under ordinary circumstances. However, it will require a high degree of flexibility and several precautions. Whether or not couples proceed is their choice.
Here's a look at the pros and cons to help you decide.
Traditionally, engagements can last anywhere from ten months to two years, largely due to the time it takes to plan a wedding. And since wedding etiquette typically dictates sending invitations six to eight weeks in advance of your wedding date, the bare minimum time to plan a wedding is usually two or three months, largely due to the meeting place of vendor booking and guest planning.
The pandemic flips that rulebook on its head. Since many couples are opting to have their weddings at home, you don't need to worry about booking vendors—which means you have more time to plan!
But regardless of whether you have a wedding at home or at a venue, you will have stronger standing with your wedding vendors. Since there's significantly decreased demand, many vendors are slashing costs to keep their businesses going. Your wedding budget has never been happier.
In addition, while you might be sad to cut down on your guest list, your budget benefits from social distancing guidelines as well. The fewer guests, the fewer costs you have to account for.
Finally, it is possible to do online or hybrid weddings. Your budget still benefits from fewer in-person guests, your guests don't need to worry about travel, and you can still have all your loved ones there to celebrate with you.
With that in mind, there are some significant downsides to be aware of if you and your fiancé choose to move forward with the wedding.
The most obvious risk is the risk of contracting the coronavirus in a group setting. It is entirely possible to have a safe gathering with all the necessary precautions, but no event is completely immune. That's a risk that couples have to accept and plan for.
Another major risk is the uncertainty of availability. Even with the vaccine, it's still going to be awhile before we can return to pre-pandemic life, which means that until everyone is vaccinated, the availability of locations, vendors, and guests remains up in the air.
What to Consider Before Organizing the Wedding
For couples who decide to move forward with an in-person event, you're going to have to plan around pandemic concerns. It can still be a fun, joyous occasion, as long as it's counterbalanced with safety. You'll also have to keep your eye on the ball (er, the virus) when planning.
Here are a few ways to prepare the wedding and things to pay attention to.
Worldwide Guidelines on Organizing Events
What's your preferred bridal Bible? Martha Stewart? The Knot?
In 2020, it's the Centers for Disease Control.
Before you begin planning your big day, check CDC guidelines on large events and gatherings. This page covers almost every aspect of planning a social gathering during the pandemic, from promoting healthy behaviors to maintaining hygienic environments.
You can also check guidance from the World Health Organization for further advice, particularly if any of your guests may be considering international travel.
Local Guidelines on Organizing Events
That said, broad-ranging national or international guidelines are based on the whole picture of preventing community spread and are not tailored to your specific community. With that in mind, it's equally important to check on your local guidelines, including state and local guidance.
Keep in mind that there may be significant variation between national, state, and local guidance, particularly between non-affected areas and areas experiencing a resurgence of cases. Localities experiencing a case surge may institute travel bans, while areas with minimal cases may allow residents to move freely.
To that end, pay careful attention to the current guidelines in your local area and in your state, including guidelines versus legal orders. If there is variation between two guidelines, the safest option is to plan for the stricter guideline.
Number of Guests
One thing you can do to keep everyone safe (and reduce the risk of your wedding being cancelled or shut down) is to strictly limit the number of guests. Keep it to a smaller guest count with only family or close friends.
The CDC and WHO do not offer hard number limits on gatherings since it only takes one infected guest to create a cluster. Instead, they advise event planners that an event is safer if all attendees can maintain six feet of distance between them at all times. However, the number should be even lower if your guest list includes high-risk individuals, such as seniors or those with chronic health conditions.
Find Locations That Match Your Guest List with Distancing Requirements
The hunt for a wedding venue always involves balancing budget and space with headcount.
During the pandemic, however, the bigger concern is finding a location that matches your guest list with social distancing requirements. A safe venue is one that allows guests to maintain at least six feet between them at all times. If in doubt, ask the venue what their maximum safe capacity is while maintaining strict social distancing.
However, it's important to keep in mind that indoor events are far riskier than outdoor ones, and in areas that experience all four seasons, that brings many couples into uncharted territory. Ideally, you should try to keep your event outdoors, but if the weather won't allow it, limit your guest list and ask high-risk guests (like the grandparents) to join virtually.
Prioritize Proper Social Distancing and Hygiene During the Wedding
Then, there's the event itself.
While social distancing is critical, it is not a replacement for other prevention practices. That means everyone should still wear a mask, even if you're six feet apart.
In addition, the venue should be rigorously cleaned and disinfected beforehand. Any high-touch surfaces (such as doorknobs, handles, tabletops, chairs, and light switches) should be cleaned and disinfected at least once per day or between each use. Shared objects should be disinfected between each use.
You should also emphasize the importance of hand-washing to all guests—remember, hand-washing actually removes germs from your hands, making it more effective than hand sanitizer. However, hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol in the venue is still important, particularly if guests do not have ready access to bathrooms.
Consider Planning a Virtual Wedding
If you're worried about keeping elderly relatives safe, another option is to plan a virtual wedding. Think Zoom, but made elegant and chic.
This option is great for couples who don't want to take any risks with their guests, especially elderly relatives, or for couples who don't want risk stranding anyone due to travel restrictions. That said, it requires a bit of finesse, good camera work, and of course a strong Internet connection.
Another option is to go hybrid—have an in-person event for guests who are comfortable traveling and offer a virtual option for farther-flung relatives or high-risk guests.
Requirements in Getting Married
Sadly, as all couples learn, weddings aren't just about the fun stuff. They're also about checking the right boxes.
During a global health crisis, that's a more pressing concern than usual. Here's what the wedding party should keep in mind.
File the Necessary Documents
One of the most important boxes to check for your wedding is filing the necessary documents, namely the marriage license and the certificate. A marriage license is a legal document obtained by a couple prior to marriage. Think of it as an application to get married. Once it's signed and your officiant hands it over to the county, you're issued a marriage certificate.
The easiest place to get a marriage license is your county clerk. Unfortunately, that's more complicated than it used to be thanks to COVID-19. In fact, it's one of the most complicated parts of getting married during the pandemic thanks to closed county clerk offices, reduced hours, and limited in-person visits.
The best way to handle this is to file the marriage license and obtain your certificate in advance to avoid pandemic-related delays or crowding. Check with your local civil registrars on their revised schedule (if they have one).
Check with State and Local Guidelines on Marriage During the Pandemic
Remember when we said there may be significant disparities between local, state, and national guidelines for group events?
The quickest and most reliable option to handle the legal side is to get married at the same time your marriage certificate is issued. A county employee can officiate and in some cases another employee can serve as witness. It's not terribly romantic, but it gets all the legal paperwork signed ASAP and leaves you free to do the romantic, symbolic parts on your own time.
If you want a ceremony beyond what the county offers and would rather have a religious figure handle the actual ceremony, that's where things get complicated. The best option is to regularly check with your church, synagogue, mosque, or even your local courthouse about current guidelines.
Check the Safety Precautions of Your Chosen Venue
If you do opt for a venue, rigorously check all of its safety precautions. These include things like disinfection schedules, proper ventilation, modified layout, and modified public areas to accommodate social distancing.
Always check your venue's safety precautions against CDC recommendations. Any venue worth the money won't take any risks and will follow those recommendations to the best of their ability.
Make Sure to Know Your Marriage Celebrant
Last but not least, it's important to make sure you know your marriage celebrant, i.e. the person who conducts your ceremony. A priest or other religious figure may serve in the role, but a formally certified celebrant is not a religious figure.
The key point is that celebrants in most locations are authorized to stop marriages if the ceremony does not follow safety protocols. That's why it's critical to know your celebrant in advance and communicate regularly to ensure you're on the same page.
What to Do If You're Considering a Postponement
Unfortunately, there may be cases where the wedding cannot proceed as planned. Maybe your venue was cancelled at the last minute. Maybe your celebrant pulled the plug. Maybe you're facing processing delays with the county clerk. Maybe you yourself decide to push it back and play it safe.
Whatever the reason, here's what to do if you're considering a postponement.
- Communicating the Cancellation to Your Guests
If you know your wedding will be postponed, the responsible thing to do is to let guests know as soon as possible. Send an email as soon as you know and let them know you'll send further information once you've solidified details.
Once you've got the wedding on track and can announce the new date, you can send a follow-up email or send formal announcement cards if you'd like. Just be sure to over-communicate rather than under-communicate.
What to Do If Your Vendor Cancels
In some cases, the postponement may not have been your decision at all, but the vendor's. There are plenty of reasons this could happen—a government order, an infected employee, even force majeure or acts of God.
The best way to handle this is to plan for it in advance. That means reading your contract's fine print with extreme care, including the vendor's policies regarding force majeure, government orders, and acts of God. Get crystal clear on the vendor's refund policy and iron out the exact details beforehand.
Ideally, you should negotiate with the vendor in advance in the event of a postponement to avoid added expenses on both sides (cancellation is far more expensive than postponement).