proxy marriage

Although the pandemic might’ve seen a rise in interest in proxy marriages, the concept has existed for a while. However, just because a virtual wedding is possible doesn’t mean that USCIS will recognize that wedding for the purposes of a marriage-based green card. Learn the intricacies of having USCIS recognize virtual weddings, proxy marriage state rules, and more through this post.

What is a Proxy Marriage?

A proxy marriage is one way individuals who wish to get married but cannot be present in the same physical location at the same time can tie the knot. A person will stand in the place for the person not physically present and say the vows on behalf of the person missing either through a video call, telephone, or other internet-based technology.

If both people cannot be present, then an officiant will be where the marriage is held, and the other individuals will be present virtually.

Proxy marriages are only legally binding in states that recognize them. The global pandemic has substantially increased the prevalence of proxy marriages/virtual weddings around the globe due to international travel and quarantine restrictions. In any case, you should first research your local/state laws regarding marriage validity if you are hoping to obtain immigration benefits for a spouse. Not all states will allow entirely virtual wedding ceremonies and consider the marriage legal for immigration.

Utah was the first state to issue a marriage license to a couple who had an entirely virtual zoom wedding ceremony due to the pandemic.

How Does a Proxy Marriage Work?

In all U.S. immigration marriage cases, the burden falls on the applicant to establish that the marriage is bona fide. A proxy marriage is one in which one of the individuals in the relationship cannot be present. A double proxy marriage is when both individuals cannot be physically present. This is common when one person in the relationship is in the military and is deployed, so they cannot be physically present for the marriage.

For the purposes of USCIS, a proxy marriage needs to be consummated for immigration officials to consider its validity. Having children before the marriage takes place does not satisfy the consummation requirement either. It is important to mention, however, to further establish the relationship timeline.

Section 101(a)(35) of the Act provides that the term “spouse”, “wife”, or “husband” does not include a spouse, wife, or husband by reason of any marriage ceremony where the contracting parties thereto are not physically present together at the ceremony, unless the marriage has been consummated afterwards. (Note: Consummation of a marriage can only occur after the ceremony, there is no such thing as “pre-consummation” of a marriage.)

To recap, a proxy wedding will not be considered a lawful union for citizenship purposes unless the couple consummates it after the marriage union. Therefore, you do not need to show images of you “consummating” the marriage but instead submit an affidavit affirming that it was along with proof that you were together in the same place.

Proxy Marriage States

Before the pandemic, proxy weddings were typically used for service members who were deployed and needed to have their marriages legally binding before coming back to the United States or could not get travel leave.

Proxy marriages are only currently legal in the following states:

  • Montana
  • Colorado
  • Texas
  • Kansas
  • California.

For the proxy wedding to be allowed in Colorado, one person must be either out of state or incarcerated. By California laws, only members of the military deployed for war are allowed to marry by proxy. The state may also charge fees for a proxy wedding service that acts as the officiant. Again, you should contact your local government if you are unsure whether a proxy marriage is legally recognized and inquire about fees.

Documents Needed for Proxy Marriage

One of the foremost ways to show evidence of a bona fide marriage is by presenting valid documents that a relationship existed before the marriage including:

  • An affidavit
  • Photos,
  • Hotel or plane ticket receipts,
  • Written statements

So, for example, if you were married by proxy virtually and then both met in the Bahamas for your honeymoon, it would be important to show pictures, receipts, etc., from your time together there.

What Marriages Are Not Valid?

For immigration purposes, the validity of a marriage is based on the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage occurs. Thus, for example, if a same-sex couple gets married in a country that does not recognize same-sex marriage, it would not be considered a valid marriage for immigration purposes. The same goes for all other forms of marriage.

The burden of proof to establish the validity of the marriage falls on the applicant. For most cases, a marriage certificate is sufficient to submit as evidence to the U.S.

There is a list of marriages, however, that USCIS does not recognize at all. Those include:

  • Polygamous marriages
  • Civil unions, domestic partnerships, or other relations not recognized as marriages in the jurisdiction it occurred
  • Certain marriages which violate public policy where the couple resides (i.e., incestuous marriages, underage marriages)
  • Proxy marriages unless the marriage has been consummated (this cannot be bypassed by pre-consummation of the marriage)

Frequently Asked Questions

Is proxy marriage legal in the U.S.?

Yes, single proxy marriage (one person in the relationship is not present) is legal in several states (Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and California) across the U.S. Double proxy marriage is allowed in Montana.

How does a proxy marriage work?

A proxy marriage works by someone standing in place (with power of attorney) for the person not physically present and saying the vows on their behalf. If neither of the individuals can be present, then it is considered a double proxy marriage, and the officiant will be where the marriage is held. The other individuals will be present virtually.

Does U.S. immigration accept proxy marriage?

United States immigration will accept the proxy marriage as long as the couple consummates the marriage afterward through sexual relations. This stipulation cannot be avoided by having pre-marital sex, even if a child is born out of wedlock. The other requirement is that the marriage is not for the sole purpose of obtaining immigration benefits like a green card or citizenship.

How can I prove consummating the wedding?

An affidavit or statement confirming the consummation is typically sufficient.

How can I get married without being present?

You can get married without being present via proxy marriage.

Are proxy marriages recognized by the military?

A double proxy marriage is allowed if you or your fiance is an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces or you are (or your fiance is) a resident of Montana. If your fiance is a foreign national and you are an active service member or resident of Montana, you can still have a double proxy marriage. You do need an Apostille document if your spouse is a foreign national. This document is considered a form of authentification for the marriage.

What states allow proxy marriage?

Proxy marriages are legal in Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and California. Virtual weddings are allowed in Utah. Each of these states has different requirements to satisfy, however. For example, for the proxy wedding to be allowed in Colorado, one person must be either out of state or incarcerated. California only allows members of the military deployed for war are allowed to marry by proxy. You need to contact your local government to determine whether a proxy marriage is legally recognized there.

When can I file an I-130 after the proxy marriage?

Since USCIS will not legally recognize the marriage until after consummation, you should file the I-130 petition after that point.

What can I do if I want to marry my fiance in person?

You can apply for the K-1 fiance visa so your partner can come to the United States and get married within 90 days. After getting married, your spouse could apply for an adjustment of status (for a green card) and a work permit.  Should you not get married in the 90-day window, your partner must return to their home country.

Who can I consult about my proxy marriage case?

Our office has handled thousands of marriage green card cases, and we boast an incredibly high approval success rate. If you are unsure whether to go through with a proxy marriage or instead apply for a K1 fiance visa, our team can help! Give us a call to schedule a consultation, and we can explore your options together.