What are Proxy Marriages?

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • A proxy marriage involves one person standing in for another, often due to immigration challenges.
  • Laws governing proxy marriages vary by state, with one partner typically physically present and the other joining via video link.
  • Proxy marriages can be used to obtain U.S. permanent resident status, requiring proof of consummation or physical presence afterward.
  • Not all states recognize proxy marriages; Utah is the only state allowing fully virtual proxy marriages.

The coronavirus pandemic changed the way many things in everyday life are done. One of the things to change is weddings. Many couples got married remotely, without being in the same physical space. This process is called proxy marriage. Read on to learn more about proxy marriage and immigration.

What is a Proxy Marriage?

A proxy marriage is a marriage ceremony in which one of the people getting married is not physically present in the venue. Instead, another person takes their place and the person getting married connects to the venue via a remote video link. 

In some cases, the person standing in for one spouse says the vows in place of the person who is not physically present.

In a few rare cases, both people getting married can be elsewhere and only the person legally authorized to conduct weddings (the officiant) is physically present in the venue.

There are a variety of situations in which proxy marriages become necessary. Among the most common is if immigration challenges prevent the person who is not a U.S. citizen from attending the ceremony in person.

How Does Proxy Marriage Work?

The laws that control proxy marriages vary from state to state, so it is important to check and understand the laws in the state in which the ceremony will take place. 

For example, in some states, proxy marriages are only allowed while there is a pandemic. 

In general, one of the partners must be in the venue in person, with another person to stand in for the other member of the couple and an officiant. 

The other person getting married then joins in the ceremony via a video link. The ceremony can otherwise be the same as any other wedding, with guests in the venue. 

It can also be a wedding in which only the officiant and one member of the couple are present, and everyone else is only present via a remote link. 

Finally, it can be a fully virtual wedding in which only the officiant is physically present in the wedding venue, and the couple and guests are all present virtually via video link.

Except during the pandemic, proxy marriages are unusual if both people who are getting married live in the United States. One exception is if one member of the couple is in the armed forces and deployed outside the U.S.

Proxy Marriage and Immigration Explained

A more common application of proxy marriage is in the case that one member of the couple is not a U.S. citizen and is experiencing immigration issues.

The U.S. government agency responsible for immigration and citizenship is called the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

The validity of a proxy marriage as a way to get U.S. permanent resident status (green card) by marriage, requires that the marriage be consummated after the ceremony. 

Legally, consummation refers to the couple having sexual relations after the ceremony. In practice, it just means proving that you and your partner have been physically in the same place at the same time since the proxy marriage ceremony. 

This can be proven using proof of travel plans, such as airline tickets, hotel receipts, written statements, holiday photos, videos, and similar evidence.

Do all States accept Proxy Marriages?

However, it is important to ensure that proxy marriage is recognized in the state in which the ceremony is to take place. That is because the state must recognize the marriage as valid before issuing a marriage license. You need a marriage license to prove to USCIS that the ceremony legally occurred. 

Some states do not recognize proxy marriage under any circumstances, and others only recognize it under specific conditions.

As of the writing of this article, Utah is the only state that recognizes fully virtual proxy marriage. In other words, for a proxy marriage in Utah, only the officiant needs to be present in a venue within the borders of Utah. 

Both members of the couple can join via a remote link, and neither of them needs to be a resident of Utah for the marriage to be legally recognized. 

After you have received a legal document proving the validity of your marriage, you can submit this along with proof of in-person contact after the ceremony to USCIS and use it to apply for a green card for yourself or your spouse.

What Evidence Will You Need to Give USCIS in Proxy Marriage Case?

To apply for permanent resident status (get a green card) in a proxy marriage case, you need to prove two things to USCIS:

  1. That the wedding ceremony occurred and is legally valid in the state in which it occurred
  2. That the marriage was consummated after the ceremony.

Proving the first thing is quite simple. You just need to provide USCIS with a certified copy of your marriage license. This document will be issued by the relevant state authority after the ceremony. 

It is essentially a legal document which states that the proxy marriage occurred and was witnessed by a person legally allowed to conduct the ceremony (officiant).

Proving that the proxy marriage was consummated is slightly more difficult. The legal definition of consummation is sexual relations after the ceremony. However, in practice, you just need to prove to USCIS that you and your spouse were physically in the same place at the same time at any time after the proxy marriage ceremony occurred. 

The list below shows some of the common ways you can prove this:

  • Hotel receipts
  • Family photos and videos
  • Airline, bus, or train tickets
  • Emails, text messages, or other communication records.

You do not need to provide all of this evidence to prove consummation, but more of it will help to build a stronger case. 

Read More

Final Thoughts 

A marriage ceremony in which the people getting married are not both in the same wedding venue is called a proxy marriage. Proxy marriage can be a way to get married if a member of the couple is in another country due to immigration problems. To apply for a green card, a spouse must provide proof that the proxy marriage was consummated after the ceremony.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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