For non-traditional couples, there are more options than just legal marriage. Explore the factors to help determine if you should have a commitment ceremony.

With spreading legality of gay marriage in recent years, many LGBT couples have been able to make the commitment to each other with the added benefits of marriage through the law. However, for those who may live in a country or area that doesn't allow gay marriage, there is an alternative to give that public commitment to each other: a commitment ceremony.

Commitment ceremonies are like weddings, but they are not legally binding. They instead give a couple the opportunity to commit themselves to each other and affirm their relationship. Whether or not you should have a commitment ceremony is a decision to make as a couple, but you should consider it before making any decisions.

How Does a Commitment Ceremony Work?

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A commitment ceremony has many similarities to a traditional wedding. There will often be a greeting, exchange of vows, readings, music, exchange of rings, and a reception.

One of the significant differences is that a commitment ceremony has more flexibility than traditional marriage. You do not need to follow the conventional format and can personalize the event to fit your needs and wants as a couple.

While there are the characteristic features of commitment ceremonies, the rest is customizable. It can be as big or as small as you want it to be. A friend can officiate the service for you, or you can have a religious leader perform the rites if you still want to incorporate your faith. How you handle the procession, the length of the ceremony, and whether you hold a reception afterward are all up to you.

Another defining feature is that a commitment ceremony is not legally binding in any way. You will not be considered married by law. As such, you cannot claim any of the benefits of marriage, and you should not fill out any forms as with a "married" status.

It is important to note that, while not being legally binding, a commitment ceremony is just that—a commitment to your partner. In your vows, they will hold the same weight to you and your partner as they would in an actual marriage. The level of commitment is the same, just without the law to back it up.

Benefits of a Commitment Ceremony

Part of understanding if you should have a commitment ceremony is knowing what the advantages and motivators are. Couples can have many reasons to want to affirm their relationship without a full ceremony—either through the legality of the situation or other factors.

LGBT Couples

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LGBT couples are the most likely to perform commitment ceremonies, mainly because of the restrictions placed on gay marriage. In some countries, like Australia, gay marriage is not legal, so commitment ceremonies give LGBT couples an alternative.

The desire on the couple's part to publicly celebrate affirm their relationship, regardless of the law, is a significant motivator for many to take on a commitment ceremony. They allow the couple the chance to enjoy the experience of a wedding, even without the law to back them up.

Flexibility

There is some flexibility available in secular weddings, which can take away religious restrictions on traditional ceremonies. Commitment ceremonies also provide a similar state of customization to this model, since the couple can make whatever decisions they want to affirm their relationship.

Commitment ceremonies range from private affairs with just the couple to full-scale events that match traditional marriages.

Married by God, Not by State

Some couples wish to keep their marriage as a religious effect without having any legality interfere. Commitment ceremonies also can serve this purpose, depending on the couple and their religion's beliefs and norms.

Money

Since you can make a commitment ceremony as big or as little as you want, no set financial line makes the service superior to a wedding. There are, however, other economic effects of getting married. Sure, there are the tax benefits that come from a legally recognized union, but there can also be detriments.

Social Security

For those with social security benefits, getting married can put a cut in the benefit amount they'll receive. Couples with medical issues or in older age brackets may not want to lose their SSI, and in many cases can't afford to. For these couples, a commitment ceremony means they can keep their much-needed benefits while still celebrating their relationship.

Financial Aid

While it may not be the first thing to come to mind for college students, being married can affect their financial aid. Since a legal marriage adds your spouse's income to your taxes, it gets reflected in financial aid applications.

Holding off on a wedding may be the first solution to come to mind, but if a couple doesn't want to wait, they can hold a commitment ceremony so as not to lose financial aid while pursuing their education.

A legal marriage can bring more financial effects than those mentioned here, so it's important to understand your monetary situation fully before you use it as a determiner in deciding if you should have a commitment ceremony.

How to Prepare for a Commitment Ceremony

If the idea of a commitment ceremony sounds appealing, but if you need more details before deciding if you should have one or not, try to consider these factors:

Staying committed

It's critical to understand that a commitment ceremony is just as emotionally binding as a marriage, even if it isn't binding legally. Don't go through with the union if you won't be taking it seriously.

Finding an officiant 

Since a commitment ceremony is nontraditional, you can have a friend or family member serve as an officiant. For those that still want to include religious elements, you will have to research to find a spiritual leader that is willing to perform for a ceremony, as some prefer only to do traditional weddings. Finding the proper officiant is also essential if your service will be a same-sex or LGBT union.

Planning 

Just because the ceremony doesn't have the name "wedding" attached to it, you can't avoid thorough preparation. With much flexibility to a commitment ceremony, you'll find you have a lot more details to hammer down before the event can become a reality. Even if you go simple, make sure to prepare as much as you would for a wedding, and try to have an event vision to focus your ideas around.

Writing Vows

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Many marrying couples take advantage of the chance to write their vows, but it has an added importance in a commitment ceremony since there's a lack of traditional structure. Couples who want to still include religious elements in their services can fall back on traditional vows, but it's likely you'll want to write your own to match the occasion. Think about what option is best for you as a couple.

Being open to your guests 

You don't want to give your guests any misleading impressions. You'll need to make sure everyone knows how your commitment ceremony will differ from a traditional wedding.

Budgeting smart 

This comes in two components. First, you'll need to make and stick to a budget, just like you would with a wedding. Second, you'll need to discuss how to pay for it. Since a commitment ceremony isn't as commonplace as a wedding, there may be less parental support. Make sure to talk both these elements over before going further.

Other Concerns

After thinking through the big picture, you may have decided that a commitment ceremony is right for you. Or there may be a few more questions keeping you from making a final decision. In either event, here are some other common questions about commitment ceremonies.

Can We Still Change Our Names?

A legal marriage automatically allows a couple to change their names. However, you can still change your names to match. In the U.S., anyone can change their name through court order. So it's an option if you have a commitment ceremony. Of course, you're also free not to do so.

Is it Okay to Have a Commitment Ceremony if We're Not a Same-Sex/LGBT Couple?

There is no doubt that commitment ceremonies are common for LGBT unions. You may find yourself feeling that, since you have the option to marry legally, you might as well do so instead of holding a commitment ceremony instead.

Even so, it is still okay to have a commitment ceremony, regardless of what type of couple you are. The flexibility may be a draw, or some of the financial reasons mentioned above could affect your decision. As time progresses, traditional couples and homes are becoming less prevalent, so there's no need to feel that you should get married just because you can.

In the end, choosing if you should have a commitment ceremony or a wedding is a decision best made by you and your partner after discussing all the elements. Be sure to understand how its best for your relationship, so that you'll be able to have a healthy and happy union.

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