A proxy marriage occurs when one or both partners are not physically present for the marriage ceremony. Instead, a stand-in takes their place for the ceremony. Proxy marriages are legal in some U.S. states but not in others. This article will discuss how to ensure your proxy marriage is legal under state law, when your marriage is considered legal for immigration purposes, and alternatives to proxy marriages that may make more sense for you, depending on your immigration circumstances.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated September 1, 2022
When Are Proxy Marriages Legal in the United States?
A proxy marriage occurs when two people want to get married but one or both members of the couple aren’t physically present for the wedding. For example, one member may be abroad due to military service. Instead, the stand-in will repeat the vows and observe the signing and notarizing of the documents. Afterward, this counts as a legal marriage.
Proxy weddings are only legal in certain states, including California, Montana, Colorado, and Texas. Montana is the only state where a double proxy marriage is allowed. In other words, both members of the union are not present and have stand-ins during the double proxy wedding ceremony.
However, there are often specific requirements for proxy marriages. For example, in California, one party of the marriage must be an active duty military service member of the U.S. military armed forces. They must be stationed abroad in a conflict zone and willing to give power of attorney to a proxy.
This type of marriage differs from a courthouse wedding, where a nonreligious legal officer presides over the wedding ceremony. For a courthouse wedding, both members of the union are physically present.
When Does the Federal Government Recognize Proxy Marriages for Immigration Purposes
A U.S. citizen can apply for their foreign national spouse to receive a green card. However, there are several requirements under U.S. immigration law. First, the couple must have a valid marriage certificate from anywhere in the world. Second, they must prove they have a bona fide relationship — a real marriage, not just one for immigration benefits.
In the case of a marriage by proxy, even if state law recognizes it, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has its own rules. The proxy marriage is only recognized by USCIS once consummated through sexual relations after the marriage ceremony. This requirement does not include consummation before the ceremony, so even having children together before the marriage does not count.
To meet USCIS requirements, if you had a proxy marriage, you must provide proof of consummation and evidence of a bona fide marriage.
Proof of Consummation
For proof of consummation, you generally just need to show that you were in the same physical place after your marriage ceremony. For example, evidence could include:
Hotel reservations or receipts
Photos of you and your partner together
You should also include written statements from you and your partner and other witnesses who can attest to your relationship. These witnesses should have seen your proxy marriage and your in-person meeting after the wedding. Witnesses could include:
Proof of a Bona Fide Relationship
To prove you have a bona fide relationship, USCIS considers the following to be the strongest forms of evidence:
Joint lease agreements or mortgages
Joint bank account
Joint ownership of property
Joint utility bills
Joint life insurance
If you can provide proof that you and your spouse live together, have children together, or combine your finances, USCIS will be more likely to believe your marriage is authentic. If you do not have these forms of proof, then cards, affidavits from friends and families, and tickets to visit one another can still serve as evidence. However, USCIS usually considers these to be much weaker forms of evidence.
If you and your spouse do not live together, you may have difficulty proving that your marriage is authentic. You may want to consider seeking advice from an immigration attorney.
What Are Some Alternatives to Proxy Marriages?
There are alternatives to a proxy marriage. First, you and your partner could get married outside of the United States and receive a valid marriage license from another country. Alternatively, if you are outside of the United States, you could enter on a K-1 visa and get married within the first 90 days of entering.
One option is to get foreign marriage license abroad. As long as you have a valid marriage license from an issuing authority in that country, you are eligible for immigration benefits. One benefit of getting married abroad is that you don’t have to prove that you consummated the marriage after the ceremony. You just need to get the official marriage certificate and submit it to USCIS. One drawback to getting married abroad is that you will have to pay the cost of traveling abroad and obtaining the marriage license.
A K-1 visa, or fiancé visa, may be issued for a foreign fiancé to join their U.S. citizen spouse in the United States. In this case, you would enter the United States with this temporary visa. You need to get married within 90 days, or you will lose status. After you get married, you can adjust status to a green card based on your marriage.
Again, you will not need to prove you consummated the marriage if you both get married in person. However, remember that you will need to petition for a K-1 visa before entering the United States. This petition could take 9–12 months for approval and an additional 4–6 months to adjust to a green card.