Initially, your grand wedding plan was to have your BFF get ordained online. But now, a few months out, you and your fiancé have decided that you’d actually prefer a bit more pomp and circumstance behind “I do.” But how do you begin the search for a wedding officiant outside of a traditional religious institution? Here, a super-handy guide.

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Figure Out the Type of Ceremony You Want

First things first: Nail down the expectations for what you and your fiancé want in your ceremony. Do you want it to be traditional or modern? Will there be any religious aspects? What about the length of time? (For example, you assumed “I do” would be short and sweet whereas your hubby-to-be wanted it to have a variety of readings.) Compare and contrast recent weddings you’ve attended—and family expectations—to be sure you’re on the same page.

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Then Ask Around for Recommendations

You’d be surprised: Your photographer (assuming you’ve booked one) can be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the best local officiants to call upon. Think about it: In their line of work, they’ve seen it all. You could also consult a wedding planner or a friend or family member with a ceremony you loved.

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Or Read Reviews

OK, so you struck out with personal recommendations. Google is another option, for sure. (Just search the name of your town, plus the word “officiant” and start wading through.) What’s most important here is that you read all the online reviews. You can’t trust all of them, that’s for sure, but it will give you a general sense of the person’s style/general vibe and you can go from there. (Bonus points if you can find a video reel of their work.)

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Interview Them Before You Book

Your officiant typically receives an invite to the reception, so if you can’t imagine having a conversation with them later over a glass of wine, you probably want to search for someone else. Sure, they don’t have to be your BFF, but it’s important that you don’t feel awkward or uncomfortable around them.

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And Make Sure They’re Qualified to Sign Your Marriage License

Do some research (aka another Google search) to see who can legally marry you in your city and state (for example, NYC has different rules than New York state). Once you know what’s required, ask the officiant if he or she meets those standards. (In some situations, you might be required to get legally married elsewhere, like city hall.)

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Be Clear About What You Want From the Ceremony

No matter who you hire, make sure you’re crystal clear about how you want your ceremony to go down. This includes anecdotes you want mentioned, how to pronounce family members’ names (that’s a biggie) and any phrases you’d prefer left out. Most officiants will talk you through what they’re going to say, but the more questions you ask—and restrictions you voice—the better.

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And Ask About Their Expectations, Too

Maybe your officiant double books weddings on the same day, so she needs things to run on time. Or she expects only a few miscellaneous family members outside of the wedding party present at the rehearsal. Just be sure you ask her about her needs, so you’re up to speed ahead of the actual ceremony. After all, the whole thing can’t really happen without her.

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