Every year, about a third of the weddings I shoot are city hall nuptials. As such, I’m happy to pass along some insight into getting hitched in the city I proudly call home.
Let’s Start with the Basics
When you say you are getting married at City Hall, you are actually getting married at the Office of the City Clerk. You can get married at any city clerk office in any of the five boroughs, but the most popular office is in Manhattan [and for the sake of this blog posting, I’ll refer only to the Manhattan office]. The hours and location for the Manhattan office are as follows:
Hours: 8:30 am to 3:45 pm, Monday through Friday (walk-in hours until 3:45pm)
Location: 141 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013
Subway: Brooklyn Bridge Station on the 4, 5, & 6 lines; Park Place Station on the 2 & 3 lines; City Hall Station on the N & R lines; Chambers Street Station on the A & C lines
Buses: M1, M6, M15, M22, M103, B51, & express buses serving City Hall area
Locations and hours for the other city clerk offices in the other boroughs can be found here.
NYC is not Vegas
The first step in getting married in the city of New York is to obtain your wedding license. To do so, simply fill out the proper form (you can find all forms here) and walk on down to the city clerk’s office to pay your $35 fee. The license you receive is valid for 60 days afterwards so that you have time to get hitched, but note that there is a mandatory 24-hour waiting period between obtaining your wedding license and actually saying ‘I do’ – hence the reason why NYC does not have any drive thru wedding chapels. By the way, NY State does NOT require either a physical exam or a blood test.
Saying ‘I Do’ at City Hall
After the 24-hour waiting period, you are now ready to say ‘I do.’ When you show up at the city clerk’s office for the second time, simply check in at the information desk. The clerk will assign you a number on a small slip of paper and the waiting begins. Be vigilantly watching the screens posted all around the city clerk’s office for your number. When your number is called, approach the window with your corresponding number in order to fill out your paperwork. It is at this time that you pay your $25 fee and show your identification. Remember: you, your spouse-to-be, and your witness all have to show ID.
With your paperwork filled out and your fee paid, you will now have to wait again for your number to be called. When your number shows up this time, it is time to hit the chapel. You will be going to the middle section of the city clerk’s office behind the large desk. In the back are two chapels (east and west) where marriage rites are conducted constantly. The chapels themselves are very plain (and very pink), and there are no religious symbols anywhere. The only decorations are some hideous flower paintings and the old New York record books displayed in glass. These record books are lovely, and it’s an exciting thought to know you will be part of the long history of couples who have been married on this very spot.
The ceremony itself is very quick. After you have said your vows, that’s it…you’re married!
Timing is Everything
The most popular question I get with every city hall wedding is, ‘how long can we expect to wait?’ The answer is that it depends. The bare minimum it takes to get married at city hall on any day of the week from start to finish is one hour. The most popular time to get married is Friday afternoon. If you (and everyone else) are planning to schedule your wedding to coincide with the start of your weekend, then expect a two to three hour wait. If, on the other hand, you are flexible, then try to get married at the start of the week – or even better – in the morning. And in case you were wondering, there are no reservations or call ahead seating.
Don’t Forget Your Identification
When you come to the city clerk’s office to get married, you must bring ID with you. That means that everyone involved – spouses AND witnesses – must provide identification. The forms of ID accepted are as follows:
- Driver License with photograph (from the United States of America or any of its territories)
- Non-Driver Identification Card with photograph (from the United States of America or any of its territories)
- Learner Permit with photograph (from the United States of America or any of its territories)
- Active United States Military Identification Card
- United States Certificate of Naturalization (good for 10 years after date of issue)
- United States Permanent Resident Card
- United States Employment Authorization Card
By the way, you will need to bring at least one witness with you. Photographers do count, however, and I have served as a witness for a wedding.
Personalizing Your Ceremony
In all of the city hall weddings I have had the pleasure of attending, none of my couples have ever customized their vows. That said, the officiants are very kind, and will allow you to make personal statements during the ceremony. The key is that you have to keep your vows quick, as the officiants have many other weddings to attend to. Also, feel free to bring rings and have these be part of your ceremony.
Last Minute Items
Let’s say you forgot your flowers. Fret not! The city clerk’s office has generously provided a gift shop within the office. Here you can buy (very tacky) bouquets and tons of tchotchkes that say ‘Just Married!’ There is also usually a guy selling flowers on the sidewalk just outside the city clerk’s office. In addition, the city clerk’s office is located at the back of Chinatown, so you could pick up most anything here if need be.
Photos, Photos, and More Photos
Just because you’re getting married at city hall this doesn’t mean you should skimp on good photos. As a photojournalistic wedding photographer, I love hanging out with clients as they nervously anticipate having their number called. And as I’ve mentioned before, this entire process from start to finish takes about two hours. I usually meet my clients at the information desk inside the city clerk’s office, and then shoot the couple and their attendees on the sly throughout the wait and, of course, during the ceremony.
After the ceremony, it’s always nice to get a few portraits, and you have several options. The first, and cheesiest, option is to take a fun photo of everyone in front of the NYC city hall mural, located within the city clerk’s office. Basically, it’s a niche in the wall with a huge photo of NYC’s city hall. You’ll note, however, that the mural is slightly askew. I find the whole ‘faux city hall’ thing hilarious, and encourage clients to be as zany as possible for this shot.
For some more serious photos, I always like to photograph my couples in front of the bronze doors as you exit the back of the city clerk’s office. The doors are epic in size, and bear the insignia of the city of New York.
There is a little wedding garden located across the street from the city clerk’s office, and this is a great place to take portraits. Depending upon how many people are getting married at the time, you may see a crowd of couples and photographers in the area. The spot is also popular with the office lunch crowd, so keep that in mind.
Aside from these nearby spots, my favorite places to shoot around the area are City Hall itself, City Hall Park, and Battery Park. City Hall provides a background of monumental architecture, and it has a real feeling of power and importance. Close by is the federal court building that is also an impressive location with its huge set of stairs made popular in many episodes of ‘Law and Order.’ One word of caution: for those of you thinking of shooting at the Brooklyn Bridge, be warned that this is a horrifically crowded location. I would only recommend shooting here early in the morning or late at night in order to avoid the tourists and bicyclists.
I’ve included throughout this blog photos from a recent shoot with the lovely Petra and Matthijs. Petra and Matthijs are from the Netherlands, and they decided to show their love of New York (and one another) by tying the knot at city hall. Congrats to them both!
If you would like to view more happy couples, such as Petra and Matthijs at their NYC City Hall wedding, please visit my website portfolio.
Are you free to photograph our wedding at Manhattan city hall on Friday, July 19th? We are planning to be there before noon.
If you are available – can you tell the cost?
Thanks so much for your email. Unfortunately I will be in Florida with my family from July 13-23. I would recommend contacting an alternative photographer through either the WPJA or NY Magazine Weddings website.