In today's ever-evolving world, traditional weddings aren't always practical for every couple. With the increasing prevalence of virtual weddings, proxy marriages have emerged as a viable option, particularly for those in arranged marriages, long-distance relationships, or U.S. military personnel stationed abroad. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the importance of proxy marriages when international travel restrictions prevented couples from physically uniting for their wedding ceremonies. For U.S. citizens and permanent residents seeking to help their spouses obtain green cards, understanding the legality and requirements of virtual weddings for immigration purposes is paramount.
Virtual weddings, often referred to as "proxy marriages" in a legal context, are marriages where both parties aren't physically present in the same location during the ceremony. In essence, one of the individuals isn't physically present, and another person stands in as a proxy. These proxy marriages are typically conducted through online platforms such as Zoom and Skype.
In most cases, couples can submit a copy of their marriage certificate to prove the validity of their marriage. As long as the marriage was legally recognized and valid in the jurisdiction where it took place, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically accepts it as a valid marriage. Whether it was a ceremony held in Boston, Massachusetts or Athens, Greece, if the jurisdiction's governing body responsible for issuing marriage certificates recognizes it, the U.S. government acknowledges it as a legal marriage. Additional specific requirements must be met.
To be considered legal under U.S. immigration law, the couple must consummate the marriage, meaning they must have had sexual relations after the wedding. It's crucial that the couple be physically present together at some point after the marriage ceremony. Consummation before the marriage is not accepted, and having children together before the marriage is not considered consummation. However, providing evidence of the relationship before the marriage can help prove its validity. Every piece of evidence contributes to strengthening the case.
A final important legal requirement is that USCIS will only acknowledge the marriage if it wasn't entered into solely for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits.
While traditional couples can usually rely on their marriage certificates, those who've married through a virtual ceremony should provide additional evidence to prove the marriage was consummated. Immigration officials may accept affidavits and documentary evidence as proof that the couple consummated their marriage after the ceremony. Examples of acceptable documentary evidence include items like airplane tickets, hotel reservations, photos of the couple together, bills, or an apartment lease. In addition, third-party individuals who were witnesses to both the proxy marriage and the subsequent in-person meeting can provide written accounts or affidavits to affirm the relationship's legitimacy. These third parties may include friends, family members, religious leaders, landlords, or even the couple themselves.
If you're interested in a proxy marriage, it's essential to contact your local government authority to determine whether proxy marriages are legally recognized in your jurisdiction. In the United States, states like Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Texas, and Utah have laws permitting proxy marriages, each with its own set of rules.
Utah stands out as the only state in the U.S. without residency or citizenship requirements for marriage licenses. In 2020, Utah County, the state's second-largest county, began allowing virtual wedding ceremonies for international couples separated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the officiant must be physically present in Utah, couples are not required to be Utah residents to legally marry in the state.
Utah's unique position as a state allowing entirely virtual ceremonies made it a popular choice for same-sex couples, particularly those living in countries where same-sex marriage remains illegal. Same-sex couples from China, for instance, are among the international couples choosing to marry in Utah. The U.S. government recognizes virtual marriages performed in Utah as valid for same-sex couples applying for marriage green cards.
As time goes by, more same-sex couples seek marriage licenses in Utah, particularly pairs living in countries like China where same-sex marriage in still illegal. LGBTQ+ couples from China now rank second among same-sex pairs tying the knot in Utah after Israel, where non-religious and same-sex marriage is illegal.
Navigating the complexities of proxy or virtual marriages in the context of U.S. immigration can be challenging. If you're considering these unconventional marriage arrangements and require immigration assistance, Meimaris Law is here to help. Our experienced team can offer guidance and support throughout the immigration process. To learn more, contact Meimaris Law and discover how we can assist you in achieving your immigration goals.