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Montana’s double-proxy marriages skyrocket after pandemic

Daily Inter Lake | March 6, 2022 12:00 AM

One of Montana’s unique laws allows both parties of a marriage to be absent from the ceremony. The requests for double-proxy marriages have skyrocketed since the pandemic started, and double-proxy marriage services in the Flathead Valley are still racing to meet the demand.

Flathead County Clerk of Court Peg Allison said Montana is the only state that allows for double-proxy marriages. This double-proxy marriage law has been in place since the late 1800s, but was recently changed so that one person must be a Montana resident or an active duty member of the military. She said before the law was changed in 2007, anyone around the world could get a marriage license in Montana.

“I received a phone call one day from an attorney from the country of Jordan,” Allison said. “At the time in Jordan, spouses could only be married through the church. So, this attorney was looking to help out their clients that wanted to be married civilly and not through the church.

“How in the world they ever found out about double-proxy marriages, I will never know, all I know is that he made the phone call and after visiting with him, we ended up issuing a license to this couple in Jordan.”

Those kinds of calls have stopped with the new language of the law, but since Covid-19 began two years ago, a new kind of demand has started. Allison said 80% of the marriage licenses they issue are for double-proxy.

“Before Covid, we were doing about 100 of them a month, so in 2019 we did about 1,200 of them. And it had been very gradually increasing from 2009 essentially to 2019, prior to that it was pretty rare, we would do maybe 100 a year,” Allison said.

The Clerk of Court’s office issued 4,200 licenses for double-proxy marriages in 2020. In 2021, they issued 4,300 licenses.

Allison said they raised the fee associated with the request in order to pay for the contracted temp workers that were needed to process the high volume of marriage licenses.

“I didn’t have a crystal ball telling me this increase was coming because of Covid — who knew? But since people couldn’t travel, they couldn’t even gather in groups, the military locked their service men and women down in terms of travel— people found out about double-proxy marriage and it was very important for people to be able to be married without the opportunity to have a ceremony or be together,” Allison said.

GETTING A double-proxy marriage in Montana requires the assistance of a lawyer. There are several companies throughout the Flathead Valley that aid couples in their search for this type of marriage. Tom Kennedy co-owns Armed Forces Proxy Marriages with his wife Teresa. Together they took over the double-proxy marriage business from Paul Sullivan who started the business in Bigfork. They decided to focus on offering their services to the military.

“Very quickly we redid the entire website to look very patriotic,” Kennedy said. “As a military fan we wanted to say ‘we’re here for you guys, whatever you need.’

“Teresa has been around the military all her life, so we have an affection for our military. So, this was nice, and the attorney had the business going, so we just took it over.”

Armed Forces Proxy Marriages will hash out the needed paperwork with their clients and Kalispell-based attorney Marybeth Sampsel. Then, they have the civil ceremony where Teresa and office manager Rachel Bodick will stand in place of the couple getting married, while Tom reads the vows.

Kennedy said often a soldier wants to get married quickly before they are deployed. Military couples have access to many resources, including VA home loans, free legal assistance, educational scholarships and grants and access to tax-free grocery stores, among others.

THERE ARE endless scenarios that Kennedy has seen in his business for people needing a double-proxy marriage, but when the pandemic started shutting down big events like weddings all across the country, Kennedy and his team were constantly answering phone calls. He said the high volume of requests at the beginning of the pandemic are from when soldiers were going from basic training to advanced individual training to their duty station with no break in between. He said it’s usually in between these training sessions that soldiers have time to get married.

“That’s what’s caused the spike,” Kennedy said.

“The bases have slowly started opening up more, but they still don’t have time off between training…they’ll say ‘I’m about to finish my AIT and be deployed in Germany, but I want to take my girlfriend, can I get married?’ You have to be married and be on a sponsorship, for anywhere but a warzone. But hey look, a good gig is ‘let’s get married and go to Italy…go see the world.’”

Kennedy said they’ve already seen their requests start to drop since Covid restrictions have eased and soldiers are more likely to hold in-person ceremonies. But they are still getting more requests than before. He said they mainly cater to young people who might not understand the complexities and legal side of things.

“These are young men and women who don’t know how to navigate these things in the legal world, so you find a guy, and he says ‘I met a girl in the Philippines, I want to bring her home,’ It doesn’t work that way buddy, there are immigration laws and processes to go through,” Kennedy said.

Clerk of Court Allison said her office expects to be on par with the amount of double-proxy marriage licenses they issued in 2021. She said she and her staff sometimes miss the excitement of meeting the soon-to-be-married couple — asking about their ceremony and getting to know them. But, as interest in double-proxy marriage grows, she said she expects more lawyers across the state to start aiding in arranging them.

“If there were to be enough interest generated, I imagine other attorneys will start to help couples with double-proxy marriages,” Allison said. “It’s a state law, it has nothing specifically to do with Flathead County, we just happen to have it down to a fine art.”