Amid mandatory shelter-in-place orders and instructions to avoid contact with others as much as possible, the idea of holding a wedding with hundreds, or even dozens, of guests is largely untenable.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended canceling all weddings and other large gatherings until further notice.
Couples now face the prospect of either postponing their weddings or entirely reimagining them. Wedding planner Jutta Lammerts said she and her clients have been re-evaluating things on a week-by-week basis as the pandemic has unfolded.
“The long and the short of it is that all my events from the first half of the year have been either postponed or canceled,” said Lammerts, who is based in San Mateo and has worked with Los Altos couples. “For the second half of the year, there is still this uncertainty. I mean, nobody knows how long this situation will draw out.”
For those with weddings planned in the coming months, the best thing to do is contact all of the vendors and find out what is possible in terms of changing plans, said Julie Conde, who runs Celebrations By Heart, a Los Altos wedding and event planning company. She noted that it’s sometimes possible to apply a deposit toward another date.
“It’s really about figuring out what’s possible and not getting so worried about all the what-ifs,” Conde said. “The more information you have, the better decisions you can make.”
Lammerts said it’s important to reach out to venues and vendors to understand your options. Everyone has their own refund rules, but Lammerts said vendors may be accommodating – even if they aren’t contractually required to offer a refund.
“They want clients; they want to keep their clients,” she said. “It might be more diplomatic to be flexible. But this is a gray zone and you cannot force them to do that.”
Her advice to couples is to negotiate, adding that “it never hurts to ask.” Conde similarly said how refunds work differs on a case-by-case basis, with vendors and venues likely to be understanding given the present circumstances.
Because the venue is the “backbone” of an event, Lammerts said contacting the venue is the first thing to do when looking to reschedule. Next comes the catering and bar, unless those come with the venue. All of the other vendors are easier to replace, she noted.
For those overwhelmed and looking for some help, Lammerts and Conde both suggested contacting a wedding planner, at least for a consultation.
“It’s unprecedented for us wedding professionals as well, but since we’ve been in the industry and have known the ins and outs for so many years, it’s easier for us to navigate it,” Lammerts said.
After connecting with vendors and finding out what your options are, the next step is determining how to move forward. For those who don’t want to wait to get married, Conde said it’s still possible to have an authentic, meaningful and memorable celebration.
“It’s about really figuring out what is most important to you right now,” she said.
One option is to host an intimate gathering now, potentially inviting guests via Zoom, and then host a more extravagant party later, Conde said. Lammerts had a similar suggestion.
“I have advised quite a few of the couples to do an intimate ceremony, something like an elopement right now – and be married,” Lammerts said. “And then throw a huge party when all this horror is over.”
Ultimately, Lammerts said that everyone’s safety must come first. Although some couples have been concerned guests will feel excluded and hurt if plans are canceled, she doesn’t think that’s likely to happen, especially if the wedding is being rescheduled.
“They thought their guests would feel disinvited and snubbed if they scrapped the party right now,” Lammerts said. “I would disagree with that – everybody understands, everybody knows they have to stay home.”
Obtaining a marriage license
For those who cannot or will not postpone their weddings, there are still ways to secure a marriage license while complying with shelter-in-place guidelines. A marriage license can be obtained via an online application process, which is valid for 90 days.
Saundra Anderson, an officiant and wedding planner, works closely with couples to walk them through the online licensing process, wed them in an elopement-style ceremony and submit their wedding license directly to the county drop-box.
Alameda County is the only county in the state currently accepting and processing new marriage license applications. As a result, that county is receiving a large influx of applications, Anderson said, slowing down the licensing process.
Obtaining a marriage license is a somewhat involved process but can be completed in the following 10 steps.
• Step 1. Navigate to the webpage for the Alameda County Clerk Recorder’s Office (acgov.org/auditor/clerk).
• Step 2. Fill out the Marriage License Application. You will need to already have an officiant and a wedding date confirmed, as the application asks for both the officiant’s address and phone number. Double check all information to avoid having to start the entire process over, Anderson cautioned.
• Step 3. The clerk recorder’s office will review the application and mail it to you via snail mail.
• Step 4. When you receive the application, the officiant and both partners must sign the application.
• Step 5. Traditionally, both partners would appear at the office to sign the application, at which time the clerk would ask for your IDs and witness your signatures. But because the office is closed, your signatures must be notarized and a notary must be issued instead.
• Step 6. The officiant must sign the notary.
• Step 7. The officiant drops the notary and signed application in the drop-box in front of the clerk recorder’s office.
• Step 8. The clerk reviews the application and, if approved, mails you the official marriage license.
• Step 9. Get married!
• Step 10. The officiant will sign the license and mail it to the county to save for its records.
Using this process, Anderson, who worked as a deputy marriage commissioner for Alameda County for one year, wed one couple in an elopement-style ceremony last month.
Anderson said she stood 6 feet from the couple and wore gloves throughout the ceremony to maintain compliance with CDC guidelines. After the ceremony, the couple handed their marriage license to Anderson in a sealed envelope to sign and deliver to the Alameda County drop-box.
“I know people are frustrated, and the only reason I don’t say this is a catastrophe is because love conquers all, as cheesy as that sounds,” Anderson said. “People can still get married – elopement style.”
To contact Julie Conde, visit celebrationsbyheart.com; for Saundra Anderson, visit idoxtwo.net; and for Jutta Lammerts, visit daylikenoother.com.