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Love Stinks
Rising fees, declining rates of wedlock. Our brief review of matrimony in the metro area will break your heart.

Photo from Shutterstock

Each Valentine’s Day – or the business day closest to it – couples empty their pockets, wade through security and declare their undying love for each other at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, before God, family and court officials.

“We do as many as 40 weddings on that day,” whenever it falls, says Joseph Czarnezki, Milwaukee County clerk. “[Staffers] usually dedicate a special courtroom with flowers to make it extra-special for the couples.”

And that’s not all. “Chief Judge [Jeffrey Kremers] even comes out and does a few,” the clerk says.

More and more couples are choosing this bare-bones option, even as the overall number of marriage licenses issued in Milwaukee County is on the decline, according to Czarnezki. In 2012, the county issued just 4,842 marriage licenses, down from 5,931 in 2007, suggesting that when the economy is high, so is the likelihood of marriage.

Courthouse weddings are cheap at $110, the cost of a marriage license from the county, but this ticket to matrimony is priced among the highest in the country. Dane County’s happens to be higher ($120) and on par with others on the astronomical end of the spectrum, including Hennepin County, Minnesota ($115) and the fee for a “confidential” license from Santa Barbara County, California ($111). On the low end is New York City ($35), and it doesn’t get much cheaper than that. Wisconsin counties are required to charge at least $45.50 in state court fees, with the rest of the funds typically going to defray local administrative costs. In Milwaukee County, the remaining $64.50 covers only 80 percent of the local burden, according to Czarnezki, and the rest comes from property taxes.

In the final calculation, it’s small potatoes compared to the average cost of a wedding in the city, which marriedinmilwaukee.com pegs at some $25,000.

This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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