If both the Beneficiary and Petitioner are of the same religion, they can get married under the Hindu Marriage Act, Christian Marriage Act, Nikah or Muslim personal Law etc.
However if the couple wishes to get married under the Special Marriage Act, then they are free to do so.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m using the Hindu Marriage Act as an Example, but if you’re Christian or Muslim, then interchange Hindu Marriage Act with Christian Marriage Act or Muslim Personal Law.
If both the Beneficiary and Petitioner are of different religions, they have to get married under the Special Marriage Act in India.
If both the Beneficiary and Petitioner are of the same religion, they can get married under the Special Marriage Act OR the Hindu Marriage Act.
You should write the date of your religious marriage ceremony on I-130 form. Do not write the marriage registration date.
You are considered married by US visa officer even if you did not register marriage after marrying as per religious ceremony.
You can register the marriage now and use the registration certificate for US green card interview.
Special Marriage Act
The Indian Special Marriage Act, provides a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party.
Marriage under this act is called Court Marriage.
Court marriage requires that both applicants publish a No Objection Certificate in the newspaper in both the parties’ constituencies stating that they are free to marry and do not have incomplete annulled marriages from past.
Their marriage can only take place 1 month AFTER this notice. This is important because under the Hindu Marriage Act, you can have a small ceremony, get the priest’s certificate and take it to the registration office and obtain a marriage certificate within a day.
So it’s very easy to obtain a marriage certificate under the Hindu marriage Act, whereas there is a 1 month waiting period for the Special Marriage Act.
Marriage Solemnized vs Registered
Under this marriage, your marriage is SOLEMNIZED and REGISTERED by the marriage officer. Please note the word “solemnized” because this part is different from the Hindu Marriage Act.
Date/Place of Marriage is the day/place you got Court Married
Any religious ceremonies before and after this date are purely for personal reasons. It is very common to get court married first, then perform religious ceremonies later.
However, if the US consular officer asks you, you should answer honestly and provide genuine reason for doing so. You should have valid reasons to explain the gap between the court marriage and traditional marriage.
Don’t stress over this too much, just be calm and honest. You have done nothing wrong.
Sample Special Marriage Act Certificate
The Special Marriage Act Certificate looks like this:
Hindu Marriage Act
Your Marriage is SOLEMNIZED by the PRIEST but REGISTERED by the Marriage Officer. Your marriage is NOT SOLEMNIZED by the Marriage Officer.
In such a type of marriage, you need to perform ALL necessary rituals BEFORE registering your marriage. You need to take the Priest Certificate to the Marriage Registrar’s officer and register your marriage.
Your Date/place of Marriage is the Date/Place your marriage was SOLEMNIZED and NOT REGISTERED.
It is completely alright to get married first and then register your marriage at a much later date. Typically you should get your marriage registered as soon as possible and avoid delay, but in some scenarios it is not possible.
For example, you may go for a honeymoon or the petitioner may have to travel back to the US immediately and doesn’t have the time to do so.
Murthy law firm clarifies that if you do get “religiously married first” but do not register your marriage, you are still considered married as of the day you got religiously married.
US visa officers consider the date you got religiously married as the date you are actually married.
In your marriage Certificate, you should clearly have it mentioned that your marriage was solemnized by the priest and registered by the marriage officer.
Marriage Mistakes that People Make
#1 Small Marriage to File I130 Quickly
Do a small marriage with few people first (often incomplete rituals) to obtain the marriage certificate as quickly as possible so that they can file I-130.
Then later on they have a lavish wedding with Complete rituals. The Consular officer will consider this as marriage fraud because you got married earlier for Immigration benefit. This has nothing to do with “Proof of bona fide Marriage.”
#2 Mention Registration Date on I-130 Form
Do not write marriage registration date in I-130 as the day of marriage.
The CORRECT date and place of Marriage is the date/place your marriage was SOLEMNIZED and NOT REGISTERED.
#3 Different Dates in I-130 and NVC
During NVC, you may mention a different date than the date your marriage was solemnized. Do not make such mistakes as they could land you in trouble. Be consistent with your marriage date and follow the rules above if you have doubts about which date to mention.
Incomplete Marriage is An Immigration Fraud
Murthy Law explains that incomplete Indian religious marriage is considered an immigration fraud and you can be permanently banned from US.
US embassy issues form 221g denial to H4 visa applicants too who try to take earlier H4 visa stamping appointment using the registered marriage certificate.
Sample Hindu Marriage Act Certificate
Your marriage Certificate could be in a different format but, the wordings would be similar.