Proxy marriage occurs when one or both of the parties to the marriage are not physically present for the marriage ceremony. When this happens, the absent party is generally represented by someone else. A double proxy wedding would occur when neither party to the marriage is physically present at the ceremony.
Marriage by proxy is generally necessitated by the following circumstances:
- Military service, most commonly when one party is deployed on active duty and stationed in a far off location;
- Travel restrictions;
- The couple resides in a jurisdiction which prohibits their legal marriage; and
- Other circumstances in which a couple wishes to be married, but one or both partners cannot physically attend a ceremony.
Generally speaking, proxy marriage is not allowed in most jurisdictions within the United States. Both parties must be physically present, and proxy marriages are not recognized as being legally binding. However, there are some exceptions. Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Montana all allow proxy marriage, although Montana is the only state that allows for double proxy marriages.
Additionally, Montana allows proxy marriage if one partner is on active military duty, or is a Montana resident. Further, proxy marriages in Montana require that one party be a resident of Montana. This means that two parties cannot marry each other by proxy if neither of them is an established resident of Montana.
However, if one party is a member of the U.S. armed forces, proxy marriage is allowed in some jurisdictions in Montana, even if they are not an established resident. In a double proxy marriage, each party gives another party a signed and notarized power of attorney who stands in for them and signs the marriage licenses in front of an officiant.
California only allows proxy marriage for military personnel who are deployed. More specifically in California, a power of attorney is granted to one person to act as a stand in for the granter. The individual that possesses the power of attorney must be physically present for the marriage, and must have the original power of attorney signed document, not a copy. The power of attorney document must also be witnessed by two armed force officers and notarized by a professional notary.
Colorado allows proxy marriages if one party is a member of the U.S. armed forces, or a government contractor stationed in another country supporting a military operation. Similar to Montana, one of the parties to the marriage must be a Colorado resident. Finally, you must use the Colorado power of attorney form.
Texas only allows for proxy marriages where one party is a member of the armed forces stationed in another country, or where one party is a Texas prisoner.
A proxy marriage performed in a state that legally allows for such marriages will most likely be fully recognized in other states. Some states will recognize the marriage as a common law marriage. The exception would be the state of Iowa, where proxy marriages are completely unrecognized. Proxy marriage is largely considered to be a type of invalid marriage.
It is important to note that a proxy marriage is considered to be voidable. What this means is that the marriage can be annulled if challenged, but remains valid if neither party involved actually challenges the marriage. Another way to state this would be that the marriage can only be voidable if one of the spouses challenges the marriage’s legitimacy.
What Do Immigration Laws Say About Proxy Marriages?
Immigration laws dictate how a person from abroad may qualify for a visa, and under what circumstances they may be deported from the United States. Those who are already in the United States must also adhere to immigration laws, and must avoid participating in any activities that could result in deportation.
Marriage immigration refers to when a non-U.S. citizen marries an American citizen who is living in the United States. If the non-citizen spouse wants to obtain a visa in order to live and work permanently in the U.S., they may do so either on a fiancé or marriage visa.
This is absolutely a legal way in which to obtain a visa if eligibility requirements are met, and the non-U.S. citizen does not take actions that are considered to be marriage fraud. Participating in marriage fraud is a form of immigration fraud, and could render the immigration illegal.
In terms of what immigration laws say about proxy marriages, United States immigration law will not recognize a proxy marriage unless the marriage was later consummated. This means that the United States used to not accept the marriage unless the two spouses engaged in sexual relations with each other. This remains true even if the proxy marriage is considered legally valid in the place in which the marriage occurred.
However, as of today, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) will deem a marriage to have been technically consummated if both members were in the same place at the same time following the proxy marriage. No more evidence than physical presence together must be presented.
To further clarify, Section 21.3 of the USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual states that marriage consummation can only happen after the marriage ceremony. This means that the USCIS does not recognize any sort of “pre-consummation” of the marriage.
How Does COVID-19 Affect Immigration Laws and Proxy Marriages?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many situations where individuals were not able to travel freely back to their home. In large part the inability to return to home was due to travel restrictions that were put into place by various countries to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Another restriction put in place by many locations was mandatory quarantining. Thus, as a result of COVID-19, many service members who had planned to travel home for their marriage ceremony were unable to do so. Because of this, a large number of military members considered marriage by proxy.
In fact, the double proxy weddings during the COVID-19 pandemic in Montana increased by more than 200%, as many couples sought to tie the knot remotely. There are numerous military benefits that are granted to spouses, including military spouse survivorship benefits. Therefore, with the increased danger of a spreading worldwide pandemic, many military couples seemed to have chosen to marry by proxy to prevent the delay in marriage between them, and make sure that their significant other was taken care of.
Do I Need to Hire an Immigration Lawyer?
If you wish to immigrate to the United States, you should consider hiring an immigration lawyer to assist with the process. Because the immigration process is so complex, working with someone who is knowledgeable of recent law changes as well as how the process works in general could be well worth your money. This is especially true when you consider the legal consequences for failing to adhere to immigration laws, namely the threat of deportation.
An experienced and local immigration attorney can help you determine which visa to apply for based on qualifying criteria. They can help you prove the validity of your marriage should that come into question, and can inform you in terms of what documentation you should collect. Should any issues arise, your immigration lawyer will represent you in court as needed.