35 Questions To Ask Before Hiring Your Wedding Officiant -The FAQ's
What are you looking for in a wedding officiant? The truth is, you might not know what you are looking for. As a professional wedding officiant, I provide a number of different services, from quick, easy, legal wedding services to fully customized wedding ceremony packages. Where I live and work in Indiana, same day Justice of the Peace Style wedding officiant services are very popular. Those couples generally don't have any questions beyond how much do you charge and where and when are you available? Some couples just need a person to perform their wedding ceremony and sign their marriage license. Honestly, the ceremony really isn't that important. Other couples are looking for the perfect person to marry them and they have a lot of questions.
What Are You Looking For In A Wedding Officiant?
If you don't know what you are are looking for in a wedding officiant or if you need help articulating your feelings and thoughts into questions, here is a list of questions for you to consider asking your officiant. I am a professional wedding officiant in Indiana - you can find my personal answers to these questions here.
Explanations of the questions can also be found below. It's always a good idea to clarify your questions. I've found that often, me and the couple I'm meeting with are coming from the questions with a different intent. We may already have assumptions about each other. Some couples are really nervous about meeting a wedding officiant. They may equate a wedding officiant with a pastor or priest they have had an uncomfortable experience with. They may not yet fully understand the freedom they have when they are hiring a professional wedding officiant. I know I became a wedding officiant so that I could give couples options. You don't have to jump through religious hoops or bow down to the whims of a church leader. You can read my story here.
The Perfect Wedding Officiant For You
I think the most important thing to remember when considering the questions to ask a prospective wedding officiant is that you are looking for the perfect wedding officiant for you. When I was putting together the information for this article I drew mainly from my own experience. I've married thousands of couples. I've put thought into the questions that I ask each couple I meet with. I've come up with so me off the wall questions simply based on experiences. Like, "Will you be drunk during your ceremony?" I ask that because I've learned that if the couple is going to be drunk we need to prepare for that ahead of time. Some couples will say yes! And that's OK. (I'm that kind of wedding officiant.) With that information I plan a wedding ceremony that will be fun and fit into the atmosphere and mood they already know will be set. I'm not going to point them in the direction of a solemn, traditional ceremony.
The point I want to make is, a weird question like that is probably not a question you are going to find on a major wedding industry blog. The wedding industry puts forth a beautiful picture of a wedding trying to draw you in. Many of the pictures you see aren't real weddings, they are styled photo shoots. Your wedding is real. You are real people I've had couples want to meet me to make sure that I'm going to be OK with whatever crazy they may have at their wedding. I became a wedding officiant so I can officiate those types of weddings! It's my hope that you can find a wedding officiant that you can be comfortable being genuine with.
Some couples just want a nice man in a suit because that fulfills their expectations of what a wedding officiant should be. Even if he makes them perform a boring and archaic wedding ceremony they don't even like, they won't question it because that's just what they expect. It's totally OK to think outside of the box! There are young and old wedding officiants. The year I had a new tattoo behind my ear and a nose piercing couples LOVED it!! The year I had bright red hair, I had couples that loved that! On the other hand, some couples hated all of the above. But they were free to choose another officiant. Now, I wear black suits and dresses and look conservative, most of the time but I also know that pretty much whatever a couple asks for, I can most like accommodate them with no problems. The nose piercing closed up but the tattoo is always going to be there.
You May Want To Ask...
These questions are in no particular order. Take what you need and leave the rest. I think it can be better to have too much information to choose from instead of missing something. When I end a meeting with a couple and and I know they are meeting with other officiants, I always let them know if someone else asks questions I didn't, please just ask. I'm always happy to help.
Here is a quick PDF download of just these questions if you'd like to take it to meeting with you or have nearby as you are calling wedding officiants.
35 Questions to ask your wedding officiant:
What does it all mean?
While most of these questions can seem pretty obvious, it doesn't hurt to have some clarifications. I try my best to include my experiences in my explanations.
Are you available on my wedding date and time?
By asking this first, you can save yourself a lot of time. Since the answers to your questions might vary widely from officiant to officiant you will want to make sure this particular officiaint is available first. This should be the first question in your first email or telephone call.
Do you travel to the place I’m getting married?
Some officiants don’t travel or will only travel a certain distance. You may be getting married at home and some people decline to go to private homes. They may be available at the time of your ceremony but might have scheduling conflicts due to the time it would take to get back and forth to your wedding. This is on the top of my list of things to look at when I look at my schedule. My prices include travel within an hour of my home - in any direction. That could mean a 2 hour drive inbetween weddings. Some days, I only want to travel within a certain distance from my home because of family obligations.
Do you charge an extra fee to travel to my venue?
The regular price for a wedding ceremony with the officiant may be very affordable. If they have to travel several hours to get there, the price is going to go up and, it could, go up substantially. I get inquiries for locations hours away. They are excited when they see my reasonable prices but when I have to charge extra for the time and travel the cost can easily double.
Will you marry us?
This is a very relevant question. This question is a little different from literally wanting to hire someone to marry you. You can’t just assume a wedding officiant will marry you. Some people are wedding officiants because they are full time pastors or ministers. They may have certain criteria you need to meet for them to agree to marry you or to even be allowed to marry you in accordance with their religious affiliation. As a non-denominational minister for the sake of being a professional wedding officiant, many couples come looking for me when the pastor at their church says no.
You may be asking questions to decide if you want a certain officiant to marry you. It can go both ways, the officiant may be deciding if they want to marry you. Some couples also assume that just because you run a business that you will do anything for a client. A venue may charge you $5000 or more just to rent their rooms. They are making a lot of money. If your wedding officiant is only charging you $100 there may be certain things they really aren't will do to for that price. They may not come right out and say, the regularly advertised price is $100 but for BRIDEZILLA'S the fee is $500!
Ultimately, you are looking for a perfect fit. Someone you like and someone who really gets you as a couple. There have been couples I've met with that I'm glad I never heard from again. I knew we simply would not be a good fit.
Do you perform LGBTQ weddings?
I’m sure if you are part of the LGBTQ community, this is the first thing you will ask, but maybe not. I have it on my website that I marry anyone but some religious people could say that to lure you in so they can witness to you. If you are going to have LGBTQ people in your bridal party or participating in our wedding you might want to include the question in your conversation. An overly religious wedding officiant could react badly to LGBTQ people being present. You don’t want to find this out at your rehearsal. Religious zeal can be unpredictable. I once got a call asking if it was OK that both the bride and the groom had twin siblings and they were all transgender and all in the wedding party. I said it was AWESOME and we went on from there. (Literally, what are the odds?)
Do you perform interracial weddings?
I was literally shocked when I received a call about interracial marriages. The groom said he had called 7 people who said no before he called me and I said yes. I still find this a really weird question but, where you live, it might be relevant. It's not politically correct, but where you live, it might be.
Do you perform interfaith weddings?
Some religious wedding officiants might not perform interfaith wedding ceremonies, either for personal religious reasons or because they don't want to adjust their ceremony. Some professional wedding officiants may not want to go out of their way to educate themselves on the different customs. I LOVE IT!! Researching something new for a ceremony is interesting to me.
Will you perform a non-religious wedding ceremony?
Some pastors and ministers will only perform a Christian Ceremony. On the other hand, many professional wedding officiants will only perform non-religious wedding ceremonies. When I first started performing wedding ceremonies atheist couples were thrilled to find me! The majority of weddings I perform are completely non-religious. I know my bible pretty well though so, if you want, let us pray...
What do you require from us before you will marry us?
Some officiants will want to meet with you first, others won’t care. Some require a number of meetings or counseling sessions. I once performed a quick, legal wedding for a couple who said I was so much easier then their local judge who required a meeting before scheduling the actual wedding, which was just a civil ceremony and a signature on a piece of paper. I would have assumed a judge or magistrate would perform a quick civil ceremony with no questions asked, but that can depend on the judge. That judge might have seen enough divorce requests that his personal requirements before marrying a couple make him feel better about performing a wedding.
I have met many couples on their wedding day. Some barely even spoke with me. They just needed someone to marry them.
Do you offer premarital counseling?
You might want counseling or you may not. One thing to keep in mind is counseling is counseling. There are qualified, trained, and licensed counselors available if you need one. I have a childhood friend that became a pastor and he said he would meet with couples before marrying them as part of the requirements of their religion, but he was not a trained counselor. He explained to me right away he is not a qualified marriage counselor. His church, like many churches, require you to take classes or read books, and meet with the pastor several times. That’s also not counseling.
A religious officiant might offer counseling in accordance with their religion, meaning they will counsel you as to what their interpretation of scripture says about marriage.
A secular officiant might be able to refer you to a qualified counselor. Personally, I refer couples who ask, to a pre-marital coach. She has a program that literally coaches couples on relationship building and how to do it in a healthy way before problems arise. Check out Rachel Lamson. She's an awesome premarital coach!
If you simply want your officiant to get to know you before marrying you so they can personalize your ceremony, that’s not counseling. That’s a consultation.
How much do you charge?
This might be a question you as up front to make sure you don't waste your time with someone you can't afford.
You will want to know if you can afford the wedding officiant. Prices can really vary from officiant to officiant. They may simply ask for a donation or have set prices. Keep in mind, the price may or may not indicate how good they are at their job. I've adjusted my prices several times as the market for wedding officiants in Indianapolis has changed. I also have different prices for different services to offer something affordable for every couple.
What’s included in the fee?
Don't assume that the rehearsal is included. There may be a non-refundable deposit due to hold your date and time. It may or may not be included in the price quote. Prices can really vary. I’m very cost conscious. I have several different priced options so customers can pick and choose what they really need and want to pay for. I have couples who are happy to pay for my most expensive package because they know they need everything it includes and it’s worth it, to them. Others just can’t afford it so I’ve gone out of my way to offer as much information as I can for free. All you have to do is read. Couples can then just pay me to do what they need me to do.
Are there hidden fees?
Some officiants might charge extra if you start late. I literally state how long your appointment is and how long you have to get married. I explain it takes 5 minutes to complete the license and a certain amount of time to perform the ceremony. At the end of the 15 or 60 minute appointment, I’m done. My premium package gives you up to an hour past your scheduled start time to start your wedding. Some wedding officiants may charge you $50 for every 15 minutes past your scheduled start time. Some wedding officiants may charge a transaction fee, depending on how you pay. If you have a contract, read it. Sometimes an officiant will reserve the right to charge you extra fees if your wedding runs late and then send you into collections if you don't pay.
Is a consultation included?
You might assume a consultation is included but ask to be sure. Some people assume there are always free, no-obligation consultations. That might not be the case. When I first started, I would go out of my way to meet with a prospective couple. After bending over backwards for nothing, I finally had to set one place, close to me, where I'll meet couples. I went out of my way one too many times for couples who just wanted my information but had no real intention of hiring me. You can read my website, call me, send me email. I always answer. Hiring a babysitter and driving across town, nope, I put an end to that. In fact, it seems every time I decide to bend my own rules because I'll be in their area of town it turns into a much bigger hassle then it should.
Is the rehearsal included?
This might seem obvious, but it’s not. I charge extra for a rehearsal. It takes time to get to the rehearsal, and actually perform the rehearsal. It's as much time and travel as the actual wedding. It used to be standard to have a rehearsal on Friday for a wedding on Saturday. Now, weddings can happen on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That makes for some very crazy rehearsal times!
Is there a written contract?
Some national wedding officiant organizations require the wedding officiants that want to join to have written, legal, contracts for all their weddings. Personally, I offer last minute weddings and quick, cheap weddings. An actual contract would be silly for those transactions. If you are booking a formal wedding, I have a written service agreement. It's not a legal document I've approved through a lawyer but it is a rundown of what I promise to do. I've been in business for a long time and I have a reputation and online reviews. I don't want to mess that up. I would never enter my mind not to do what I promise to do. I don't get this question very often and couples are always happy with my answers to this question and the service agreement. I do have a written payment policy and it's included when couples book through my online scheduler. Booking through the scheduler and/or making an appointment over the phone is, in itself, a sort of contract
What happens if something happens to you and you can’t officiate our wedding?
I’m going to be honest. For the most part, there are no absolute guarantees. Accidents and emergencies happen. Some people think if you book the pastor of a church the associate pastor will just step in if something happens. That’s really not the case. You may book through a wedding officiant service that books several wedding officiants. That doesn’t mean they will have someone available last minute.
I tripped and broke my ankle between weddings a few years ago. I didn’t know it was broken and I kept going and everyone got married that day. After the x-rays, I was off my foot for a long time. If I couldn’t get there on crutches or with a knee scooter, I had to find someone else to perform the wedding. I know for a fact, there are other people who wouldn’t do that. They will just call and cancel, albeit with a valid excuse. Keep in mind, they may not be able to call. I had an emergency appendectomy several years. Everyone still got married. If it had been a bigger emergency I may have not had that option.
This is a good question to ask, just to see how the person answers it. That will tell you a lot about them. I used to say I would find someone, at no extra charge, to perform the ceremony we already wrote and agreed upon. I stopped this because I realized I really couldn't guarantee it. I would still try really hard to do it though.
For formal weddings I have ceremony documents for each of my weddings. The ceremony and rehearsal are well organized in the document, usually weeks, before the wedding. Anyone should be able to pick up that document and run your rehearsal and perform your ceremony. Each couple has access to the document.
Who will perform our ceremony?
This seems obvious, but it’s not. There are plenty of wedding officiant booking services out there. They may be located in another state and just subcontract to someone in your area. You could also be talking to a local business that books weddings and then sends a random officiant to perform your ceremony. This is truly not a bad thing. You might not care who performs your ceremony, but if you do, ask to be sure.
Keep in mind some booking services charge you a premium fee and only pay the officiant that performs your ceremony a fraction of that. You might pay $500 and then booking service will keep $300 of it, or more. They will charge you as much as they can and pay out as little as they can.
Several years ago, when I first started officiating weddings I was a stay at home mom and I would book other moms in the neighborhood that wanted to make some extra cash. I would meet with the couples and personalize the ceremonies and then someone else would go and perform them. It turned out some couples were becoming emotionally invested in the process and didn’t want a different person to marry them. It became an understandable problem, so I stopped.
What I learned when I booked other officiants to perform weddings is they really weren’t as invested in it like I was. I had an officiant cancel on a HUGE formal wedding last minute. She had literally already confirmed the details personally with the bride and it was less than a week before the wedding. I found another officiant to fill in but decided I would never to that again. It’s too risky. It’s not that it’s too risky for me, it’s too risky for the couple getting married.
Do you have a selection of ceremonies for me to choose from?
This is the reason I became a wedding officiant, to offer couples choices. Not every officiant is going to offer you that, if they do, they may charge extra. I have cost conscious packages that allow a couple to choose from pre-written ceremonies, but I always allow them to write their own ceremony and vows if that’s what they want. If a couple wants me to personalize their ceremony with them, I charge more. It’s a lot more time consuming then you might think.
Keep in mind, just because someone says they personalize every ceremony it doesn’t mean they do. They might have a few ceremonies they use, they just don’t tell you that. I decided to put all my ceremony information online to choose from. I can usually point you to the information that might be best for you.
Can we write our own ceremony?
I think it’s great that you want to write your own ceremony and are just looking for someone to perform it. Not every officiant may be OK with that. They may have one wedding ceremony memorized and that's all they perform. Some wedding officiants may only perform the wedding ceremony approved by their religious affiliation. They may not be open to new and different ideas.
How long will the ceremony be?
This is soooooooooooooo important! Some venues are on very tight schedules. They may stipulate your ceremony can be no longer than 30 minutes. Some couples simply want a short ceremony. Very rarely, couples will want a longer, more substantial, ceremony that compares to a church service. The trend is definitely going to shorter and shorter wedding ceremonies for couples who are taking control of their own wedding ceremony and hiring a professional wedding officiant.
Can I read the ceremony ahead of time and control what is said?
This questions could mean any number of things. Maybe I could reword this differently and ask, “are you going to give a long boring sermon about something nobody cares about?” You might want to make sure that sermon won't offend anyone. How about, “Do I have to say the word obey?” I still laugh when people ask that. Of course not! We generally don’t ask if there are any objections either. Some couples want to make sure that no one is offended during their ceremony. Many couples have stories about things they hated at other weddings and want to make sure it doesn't happen during theirs.
What do you wear?
I get this question from time to time and usually, the reason a couple asks is if they are having non-religious wedding they want to make sure I don’t look religious in a robe or religious garment. Sometimes, they may not want me to clash.
Usually, for a formal wedding, I’ll wear black, because it looks good in pictures, unless a different outfit would be more appropriate. Some couples prefer me not to wear black.
I’ve started asking couples what I should wear because sometimes I’ll show up to a bargain elopement on a Tuesday in an everyday dress and they will have on a wedding dress and tux and have a professional photographer. Other times, I’ll show up dressed for a formal wedding and end up hiking across a large property in a completely inappropriate outfit. Some couples don't care what I wear. Others do.
I used to offer to wear a robe but the subject has literally not come up in years. One couple was having a civil ceremony and the groom had pictured a person in a black judges robe performing the ceremony. I have a black robe so I wore it. He appreciated it!
Are you qualified to marry us?
This is an interesting question. You would assume that if someone were advertising themselves as a wedding officiant they would be legally able to perform your wedding. Usually, I get this question when someone is calling to inquire about a bargain wedding. I have very low priced options for basic services and sometimes it seems too good to be true. Whomever you ask should be able to explain their qualifications. If they are ordained online they should be able to provide you with a copy of their ordination certificate. You can call your local marriage license office and ask about the qualifications. I live in Indiana. An online ordination is perfectly legal and extremely common.
Can you accommodate our wishes?
f there is something you want that’s out of the ordinary, ask to make sure they will do it. There are some things people just aren’t comfortable with. Better to know ahead of time what those rules are.
Do you have a video I can look at so I know what my wedding will look like?
I have mixed feelings about this question. Let me explain why. What sort of video would I have to show you? Can I videotape your wedding and share it with strangers? How could I get an authentic video of me performing a wedding? If you have a videographer at your wedding they might have me in a few seconds of the final product, and it might just be my voice or me standing next to the groom watching his bride walk down the aisle.
It’s my job to personalize your wedding ceremony. I may use the same words I’ve used a hundred times before, but this is the first time I’ve said them for you, surrounded by your family and friends. The venue is decorated for you. The two of you and your wedding are something amazing and spectacular that’s never, ever been done before and will never be done again. It’s a feeling I want to invoke. It may be lighthearted and funny with children running around. It could be a deeply moving, family affair where you father walks you down the aisle knowing he has a few more months left to live. It could be a deeply spiritual time or the moment you’ve been waiting for your entire life or since your very first date and very first kiss.
I recently spoke with a videographer that has a video of me performing an entire wedding. He is going to let me have a copy of it - once the couple signs off on it. The couple has been married over 6 months and isn't responding to him so he can make the final cut on their copy of the wedding before I can have a copy of it. That particular wedding is not a typical wedding for me. I was hired because I was the perfect fit for the couple and their family. As a professional, I did what they asked me to do. Typically, my weddings would be a lot more fun that that one and that video really is not a genuine representation of what YOUR wedding would be like.
Ask your videographer to see their videos. Ask your photographer to see photographs. Ask your caterer to taste their food. Take a few minutes to talk with your wedding officiant and ask them questions and decide if you get along and you feel comfortable together. I feel like if we spend an hour talking and you don't know if you want me to perform your wedding then I don't know what the difference a video would make.
Will you work with my photographer and videographer?
Some pastors and priests are very particular about photography during a wedding ceremony. I know that during my wedding ceremony they could only take pictures from a distance during the actual wedding out of respect for the church service and the church itself. I don't have any stipulations like that. I actually go out of my way to work with your photographer. If you aren't centered and lined up after your procession I will have you move around a little to make sure the scene is set for the photographer. I actually get out of the way before I pronounce you married so my head isn't in the middle of your first kiss. I don't want you to spend the rest of your life looking at off-centered pictures thinking "couldn't you have said something?" Or it was the most fabulous moment of our first kiss but there is this big wedding officiant head in the middle of it. If these things are important to you. Say something. Some couples really don't care.
Can you project your voice?
You want to have someone who can keep the attention of the room. Maybe a person will need a microphone so everyone can hear but you do want someone who knows how to talk to a room full of people - if you are having a large wedding - if you are having a smaller, more intimate wedding, it may not be necessary. Sometimes we will decide the day of the wedding if we will use a microphone. It depends on the weather if the wedding is outside and the acoustics of the venue.
Can we have friends and family participate in our wedding ceremony?
You might have friends or family that you want to participate in your wedding. You may have a grandpa that wants to offer a prayer or a friend that want to share a poem they wrote or sing a song. I think all these things are perfectly OK. I've always assumed that this was a normal part of a wedding ceremony but I heard another wedding officiant bring the point up so I decided to include it here.
Have you performed a wedding in our venue before?
Some venues have preferred vendors they use that are familiar with the facility. They choose to have preferred vendors so they know that everyone is familiar with their procedures. It makes it easier for everyone. I don't think it really matters when it comes to a wedding officiant but it can be very helpful. I always like to be able to tell a couple what to expect during their ceremony or things about the venue that may be helpful. If you aren't hiring the officiant for the rehearsal, knowing they know the venue and the people who work there can put your mind at ease. I know that some venues in the Indianapolis area take such great care of their couples and their rehearsal and ceremony that I know don't need to be at the rehearsal if the couple can't afford it or I'm not available. I will also let some couples know what to be aware of at some venues based on my own experiences.
How many weddings have you performed?
How many weddings an officiant has performed may or may not be important. It really depends on your wedding. If you are having a friend or family member perform your wedding ceremony it is probably their first time and they'll do great! If you are comparing wedding officiants it might be important.
I've performed over 3000 weddings. This is definitely not typical for a wedding officiant. I live in Indiana and you can't get married at the courthouse like you can in just about every other state. I spent several years performing simple civil ceremonies just about every day. Realistically, not all weddings are formal affairs. A backyard wedding is not a formal wedding in a fancy hotel or venue. I might walk through a nature preserve with a couple to find their perfect spot. I also might marry you by your grandmother's hospital bed in the cancer ward of the hospital. It's not the number of weddings performed. It's the person performing the wedding.
What time will you arrive?
This can be very important! Some wedding officiants arrive 15 minutes early, others arrive an hour early. I have different packages for different weddings. Obviously, if you are having a small wedding in your home, 15 minutes early is fine. If you are having a large formal wedding you want your officiant to be there earlier.
I was hired by a couple that asked this questions and it was important to them. Another officiant said she would arrive 15 minutes early and then move on immediately to the next wedding. I totally get that, however time has shown me you can cut it too close! I'm always too early and hang out nearby. What about traffic? what if a wedding runs late? I literally rearranged my entire scheduling process to make sure every couple gets the time they might need. I used to have budget weddings that were only 30 minute appointments. Too often at that price point, the couples would run late and that would leave me rushing to the next appointment. I now schedule for that.
Have you ever missed or cancelled a wedding?
I wonder if anyone would be honest with this question? I mean, why would you say, "yeah, I just blew this wedding off...." But you can certainly ask the question and see how the person reacts. Life happens, how do you deal with it? They may have had a very good reason they cancelled and provided a positive solution to the couple that shows they go the extra mile.
Will you help us deal with family conflicts?
I actually ask couples about this. I've had couples come to me with a laundry list of potential problems. Step parents, drunk uncles, how to make religious parents happy with a non-religious wedding ceremony. There can be a lot of issues with families during a wedding ceremony. You can simply not invite people who might make trouble at your wedding but you generally can't not invite your mother-in-law. In these situations, I invite parents to meeting to meet me ahead of time. I definitely suggest hiring me for the rehearsal too. I generally don't attend rehearsal dinners but if I'm invited to one where I know there are family issues, I will go and get to know everyone a little better. I find it does help.
Victoria Meyer, founder of Marry Me In Indy! LLC has been a wedding officiant in Indiana for over 9 years and married over 3000 couples. She shares her experiences and is happy to be your "Wedding Officiant Insider"