What Is a Proxy Marriage?

In some cases, two members of a prospective union want to wed but are physically unable to do so. In these instances, a proxy marriage may be appropriate. These types of marriages may occur when one or both parties to a marriage are not present at the ceremony itself. How does it work, and when is it appropriate?

When Are Proxy Weddings Used?

Proxy weddings are only legal in a handful of states – California, Montana, Colorado, and Texas. Double proxy weddings – in which both members of a marriage party use a proxy – are only legal in Montana. In most cases, only one party “stands in” for an absent matrimonial party, repeats the vows, and observes the signing and notarization of documents. Once this process occurs, the marriage is legal. 

This special type of marriage ceremony occurs in only select situations. The most common example is when one member of a matrimonial party is a member of the U.S. military and is deployed overseas. Another example might be when one member of a marriage party cannot travel, but wants to marry his or her spouse as soon as possible.

Proxy Marriages and Immigration Law

Proxy marriages have unique considerations when it comes to U.S. immigration law and citizenship. The Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) Section 101 (a)(35) states 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 in the presence of each other, unless the marriage shall have been consummated.”

In other words, a proxy marriage does not constitute a lawful union for the purpose of citizenship. However, two members of a matrimonial party may participate in a legal proxy ceremony for the purpose of sponsoring a new spouse to obtain a green card and move to the U.S. However, certain qualifications apply for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to recognize it. For example, the U.S. government requires that the couple consummates the marriage after the union takes place.

Proving this for the purpose of obtaining a green card is difficult to do without providing intimate or graphic proof that the immigration offices are not interested in seeing. So how does someone prove that a proxy marriage was consummated after the union?

Usually, both parties will be required to submit an affidavit, or personal statement, that affirms that the relationship was consummated. The couple usually combines this with evidence that they were in the same place at the same time – for example, they may be able to submit copies of hotel bills, airline tickets, pictures of the honeymoon, and more.

An affidavit might be more robust if both parties can explain that the union is a continuation of an existing relationship. Evidence of personal meetings before the union can help show that the marriage is based on a bona fide relationship, not for the purpose of obtaining citizenship or a green card. Providing as many details as possible of the union helps establish credibility and believability, reducing the risk of fraud.

Having a child together or proof of a pre-existing relationship helps establish believability, but it does not fulfill the essential consummation requirement. In order for a proxy marriage to be legal – at least for the purposes of immigration – members of the union must still submit evidence that points to the consummation of the marriage AFTER the union took place.

Proxy marriages are not very common, but they may be appropriate in some situations. For the purposes of immigration, the U.S. requires that both members of a matrimonial party submit evidence before granting a green card.