Eloping? In Iowa? ....really??

However you came to the conclusion, you and your partner have decided that eloping is the way to go. And while it may seem like buying a plane ticket to Vegas, a reservation in a National Park, or running off to some exotic location are your only options, eloping doesn't mean you need to pack your backs and cross state lines.

Eloping is definitely a more laid back, low maintenance way to get married, but there are a few logistics you'll want to be sure to take care of before saying "I do." (And honestly, even if you're not eloping, this has a lot of relevant information for any couple getting married, so worth taking a look.)

The most romantic part of eloping: paperwork

While you and your partner are more than welcome to say "I do" and run off into the sunset together, you'll stiiiiill need a marriage license to make it legal. You can apply for a marriage license at your County Recorder's office, but there are a few things you'll need before you go:

  • A witness 18+ years old who knows both you and your partner
  • Photo IDs for you, your partner, and your witness
  • $35 for the application fee
  • Depending on your County Recorder's office, an appointment time

If you're unable to head to your County Recorder's office, you can request an application be mailed to you—or, better yet, check your County Recorder's website to see if you can download an application. This is especially helpful if your partner doesn't live in the same city/state as you at the time you apply; they'll be able to sign, notarize the application locally, and send it right back.

Once you've completed and turned in your application, there is a mandatory three day waiting period in Iowa, so keep that in mind when planning your ceremony. But come day four you're ready to roll.

Ledges State Park | Boone County, Iowa Elopement

Can I get a witness (and officiant)?

Like applying for your marriage license, you'll need a few people as witnesses on your wedding day, all 18+ with forms of identification. But this time you'll also need a third party who can, you know, legally marry you.

In Iowa, wedding officiants are not required to register with any government office, so your options include:

  • a leader of either partner’s religious faith
  • a person ordained through a religious faith
  • judge of the supreme court, court of appeals, or district court

Folks who CAN'T act as your officiant:

  • a federal judge
  • a judge serving in another state
  • a seminary student
  • a riverboat captain
  • someone who is not ordained/leader of your faith

Since judges (outside of regular courthouse hours), religious leaders, and professional officiants can charge a fee and require appointments for their services, the most popular option is having a friend or family member become ordained through an online course such as the Universal Life Church. Most classes are short—some even instant!—so once they finish their course they're able to officiate immediately. If you plan on going this route, check out this little handout from the Iowa Department of Public Health to make sure you're dotting your i's and crossing your t's.

And a little note if you go this direction: make sure your officiant returns your marriage license to the County's office by the next business day. Marriage licenses must be filed within 15 days of your date of marriage or they will not be accepted, so best practice is getting it returned the next day.

Goin' to the chapel...or wherever

Since your elopement doesn't have to take place in the same county as where you submitted your application, the state is your oyster, as they say.

There are a LOT of options in Iowa—and I'll dig into these a little deeper in future blog posts—but for now let's just look at the bigger picture to get an idea of what makes the most sense for you:

  • Courthouse
  • City or State Park
  • Small + Non-traditional wedding venues
  • Your home/backyard
  • Favorite restaurant/bar
  • Your mosque/synagogue/church/religious facility

Just be sure that wherever you ultimately decide, you have the proper reservations or permits in place, if any. The last thing you want is getting fined, or worse, kicked out!

Waterworks Park | Des Moines, Iowa Elopement

Do you

At the end of the day, no matter what you decide to do, listening to your needs and what makes sense for you and your partner are what matter most. Want more privacy? Do private vows and a quick marriage ceremony + license signing with your officiant and witnesses. Want something more fun? Say I do on paddle boards in the middle of the river before having a cookout with friends and family at the park near the take-out point.

Whatever you decide, as long as it feels aligned with you and your partner's values, you're doing the right thing.

Need ideas or inspiration for your Iowa elopement?