The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Ever consider eloping?
The low-key way to get married

By Ryan Lessard

 If you are engaged to be married, you and your partner have probably been tempted throughout the planning process to save yourselves the hassle and just elope already. It can be done for hundreds of dollars instead of thousands, and all the headache-inducing decisions you have to make about decorations, catering and seating arrangements that began as fun ideas on Pinterest can simply disappear. 

Jeanne Pounder, a justice of the peace from Dover, says in New Hampshire it’s particularly easy to do just that. 
“Live Free or Die certainly applies here,” Pounder says.
She has officiated nearly 300 weddings in the state since she became a JP in 2008 and said there are two basic approaches to eloping. The first approach is a low-key ceremony, possibly at a symbolic or beautiful destination, with a few words spoken by the JP, vows exchanged and rings traded. The date and other details are worked out in advance but entirely in secret. This is the kind of service for which someone like Pounder is hired, and she’s performed many of them.
A different kind of ceremony
In May, Bill Endres and Corinne Vaillancourt of Derry hiked up Mount Willard in the center of Crawford Notch for their secret “I do’s.” 
“The whole family thing was not gonna work,” Vaillancourt said. “And we wanted it to be just what we wanted. So, we were like, you know, let’s just do it our way, the way we want to do it.” 
She and Endres had both been divorced and met online in 2011. Neither had expected to remarry and, in fact, Vaillancourt had told Endres not to propose. He respected her wishes, and in the end, it was Vaillancourt who proposed. Three years later, they were standing atop Mount Willard.
As they’d climbed, they’d collected rocks ranging in size from large to small. When they reached the summit, they met up with Pounder, who had climbed the mountain herself just 10 minutes prior. Pounder’s husband Richard was also there, ready to take pictures of the secret ceremony. They stacked their three rocks on top of one another forming a cairn for each and marking the place where they stood. The three stones represented the past, present and future. After they read their vows and exchanged rings, Pounder pronounced them man and wife.
“It was such a fitting way,” Endres said. “And that way nobody would bother us either.” Vaillancourt said they threw a party a few weeks later to announce their marriage to family and friends.
The technicalities
The ceremony was only part of the process. Before they could summit the mountain, Endres and Vaillancourt had to pay a visit to Derry Town Hall, where they filled out the application for a marriage license, displayed IDs and divorce papers and walked away with a blank marriage license. This process is virtually the same in every town, and one does not need to be a resident in either the state or the town to get a license.
JoAnn Ferruolo, the assistant city clerk in Manchester, says the marriage license needs to be signed, sealed and delivered by the officiant within 90 days. But ask Ferruolo about elopements and she’ll say it’s a moot point. 
“We don’t use the term ‘eloping’ here. It’s not part of the legal requirements here. We don’t ask them why they want to get married,” Ferruolo said.
Pounder echoed her sentiment. 
“This has been a discussion item in the officiant community,” Pounder said. “To elope can mean taking off hand in hand, going off in the sunset in clear defiance of everyone else’s intentions. It can also mean that it’s just two people who’d like to be on their own.” 
So, as a rule, Pounder doesn’t use the term “elopement” unless the couple use it themselves. 
“No matter what, it’s still a wedding,” she says.
To some, like Endres and Vaillancourt, the secrecy is what defines their elopement. To others, it’s spontaneity.
Town hall nuptials
Since couples need to go to town hall regardless of how they’re getting married, Pounders noted that, by far, the quickest and cheapest way to tie the knot is to do the whole thing at town hall. Most town halls have their own JP on staff who can sign your license on the spot. Manchester charges $85 for its JP and can even perform brief ceremonies. The only other expenses are $45 for the license and $15 for a copy of the marriage certificate.
Ferruolo recommends interested couples call ahead, just in case other weddings have been booked.
Pounders says she charges a flat rate of $175 per ceremony plus travel expenses. She estimates her price is right in the middle of the range of costs to hire a JP in New Hampshire.
Wherever and however you plan to marry, Pounder lends this advice: “Do it as big or as small as you wish. Make it yours.” 
As seen in the January 22, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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