Choosing who will help you say “we do”

Whether you've decided to have a big black-tie blowout or an intimate affair with your closest loved ones, there are still some boxes all couples have to check before saying those I do's. One of the most important decisions you'll make as you plan your wedding is choosing an officiant who best suits you to help make it legal. Sound overwhelming? It doesn't have to be. We've compiled an overview of what you need to know to make it official in Central Ohio.

Option No. 1: A Religious Professional

Cost and Timing: It's hard to generalize when it comes to religious wedding ceremonies, because they come in all shapes and sizes. Fees for a religious ceremony can vary widely in the Columbus area, with individual rules and fee structures in each house of worship—even those within denominations. However, there are some similarities across the board: You'll probably put down somewhere between $100 and $300 to secure your wedding date, and you'll want to contact your preferred religious institution up to a year in advance to reserve it. As a major bonus, you'll be booking the venue and the officiant simultaneously, taking at least one step out of the complicated wedding planning process. However, having your marriage solemnized at a religious institution can also add a few steps to your wedding planning. You may be required to complete a few sessions of premarital counseling with a member of the clergy, for example.

Perfect for: Those who have strong relationships with their faith or who were raised in a specific religion and want to pay homage to that upbringing

If you and your partner don't already have a house of worship that you regularly attend or are members of, take this opportunity to do a little soul-searching (no pun intended). Schedule visits to more than one venue, and listen to your instincts. Remember that the day is about you and your partner, so if the first religious venue and officiant you visit aren't giving you what you need, it's totally appropriate to visit a few more.

If you fall into the camp of people for whom religion is extremely important, you're probably in better shape than anyone else reading this article; chances are good that you're already an active member of a local congregation. But keep in mind that the more devout you are, the more hoops there may be to jump through on the way to the altar. Some religions have strict rules on who can and can't be married in their institutions—if you and your partner come from different faiths or one of you has been married previously, you'll want to ask early in the process if there's anything additional you need to do.

Option No. 2: A Nonreligious Professional

Cost and Timing: Fees for a nonreligious officiant in Central Ohio can range anywhere from $150 to $400, with additional fees for wedding rehearsals or travel outside of Franklin County. Most professionals will ask for a deposit to hold your date. The highest-rated wedding officiants in Franklin County and surrounding areas can get booked anywhere from six to 12 months in advance.

Perfect For: Nonreligious, nondenominational or interfaith weddings

If you've decided that a traditional religious ceremony isn't right for you and your partner, don't worry: Central Ohio is home to a wide variety of ordained professionals. If you can dream it, there's a wedding professional who can do it—from guiding the two of you through lighting a unity candle to officiating a pirate-themed ceremony in full costume (seriously, Columbus has a guy for that). You certainly won't have any trouble finding a wedding officiant if you take this route, but how do you make sure you've found the right one for your day?

“In choosing a wedding officiant, pick someone for you,” advises newlywed Kortney Belt. “Get to know him, help him understand your story, and don't be afraid to tell him what you do and don't want mentioned in the ceremony.” She and husband Andrew Belt selected Damian King of United Marriage Services to take the reins on their big day. “As soon as we met Damian, we knew he would officiate our ceremony,” Kortney says. “We knew whomever we chose to officiate the wedding needed to be vibrant and commanding in presence. He really listened when we spoke, and we liked that he came from a religious background similar to ours.”

Option No. 3: A Judge

Cost and Timing: Wedding ceremonies at the Franklin County Municipal Court start at $25 (on top of the marriage license fee). Courthouse marriages in Franklin County are performed Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9 and 10 a.m. and 2 and 3 p.m. If your schedule is flexible, you and your spouse-to-be can book an appointment about a month in advance, though more lead time is better if you have a specific date and time in mind.

Perfect For: Couples on a budget, eloping, out-of-country destination weddings (which require an in-country ceremony to make it legal)

Though courthouse ceremonies don't usually appear on Pinterest boards of picturesque weddings, they're a quick and easy way to make things legal. There are plenty of reasons why you and your partner might opt for this route, but certainly the convenience and the low price tag are pros. The cons? Well, you're not going to have a unity candle or a guy in a pirate costume bending to your every whim if you're paying $25 to get married at the courthouse.

Another low-cost, no-frills option for the couple with sticker shock or planning anxiety is to check out which nonreligious professionals in the area offer elopement ceremonies. Starting at around $75, this option offers more flexibility in both location and the wording of your vows. It's an option worth exploring if you want a more romantic ceremony, but wedding planning is sending you running for the hills.

Option No. 4: A Family Member or Friend

Cost and Timing: Getting ordained online is free, though in Ohio it costs $10 to register for a minister's license with the secretary of state. We suggest that your newly ordained officiant complete all requirements at least three months in advance of your wedding date.

Perfect For: Intimate ceremonies, non-religious couples and destination weddings

Kristen and Ryan Ross struggled to find the right officiant. Their ceremony was held in the same location as the reception: a barn in a town that neither of them was familiar with. Though the venue provided them with a list of local professionals, it didn't feel like the right route for them. “We wanted to create an experience that was personal and memorable,” Kristen says. “It seemed odd to have someone who didn't even know us lead such a special ceremony.” So the two started thinking of alternatives. After running through their list of desired qualifications, they realized Kristen's uncle Kevin would be the perfect man for the job.

“We asked [Kevin] at a family gathering, and everyone was so excited,” Kristen says. Though Kevin had never performed a wedding ceremony before, he got ordained for free online through Universal Life Church Ministries. “With some basic research, Uncle Kevin was able to figure it out on his own,” Kristen explains, describing the process as “very simple.”

“The actual ceremony was wonderful,” Kristen adds, describing an intimate and sentimental experience that the couple and their loved ones will cherish for years to come. “I couldn't have asked for anything better.”