Speeding up the marriage timeline, need advice
March 13, 2013 8:07 PM   Subscribe

We want to get married, but need to do it much quicker than expected for visa/insurance reasons. How to handle it (snowflakes within)?

Hi all,

So I'll try to keep this short, although I should probably apologize in advance - my thoughts are a little scattered at the moment. My girlfriend and I have been together about 1.5 years and have a pretty good relationship. I feel that things have moved at a pretty healthy pace (not too fast, not too slow). She's in her late 30s and has been in a few LTRs, never married. I'm in my early 30s, and have pretty limited relationship experience till now. We did have some ups and downs at first (doesn't everyone), but we got over it and are now stronger than ever. We almost never argue, get along great with each other's families, and seem to "fit" together very well. We do love each other very much and we do see a future together.

However, a small problem - I'm moving. For the past few years, I've been working for the US Gov't as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). Since we started dating, I've been working here in the US, but about six months ago I was told I was being reassigned overseas (to Europe) in mid-2013. Okay, sounds fun...but what happens to us? We talked long and hard about it and ultimately she decided that she was okay with joining me, although that means quitting her job etc. She did ask to stay in the USA through the end of the year so she could save up some extra money, finish work projects, and have more time to job-hunt. Neither one of us is nuts about an LDR but we've both decided we're okay with it since it'll only be for 6-7 months max.

We have talked about marriage off and on for a while, but mostly in the abstract. We both feel that it's something we want to do, but we never had any reason to be serious about it until I found out that I was leaving. Bringing her overseas as a girlfriend would be extremely difficult - she would be on a tourist visa and couldn't work or stay past 90 days, no health insurance, etc. I explained all this to her - she's not 100% thrilled about the circumstances, but she does want to get married and agrees that speeding it up might not be a bad idea.

So a two-part question:
One, for those of you who have been in this situation, any advice? I know my situation isn't exactly rare - lots of people have had to speed up the marriage process due to a spouse being deployed, visa issues, or even just to get on your partner's health insurance. I think a big part of my stress is the fact that dealing with an impending LDR (even if it's temporary), PLUS an impending international move (about 4 months from now), PLUS eventually helping her to move/settle in/find work - it's just a lot to handle, even without a wedding to top it all off. I have no doubts about our relationship and feel that getting married is the right move, it just feels that it might get lost in the chaos of everything else.

Two, what's the best way to handle such a quick wedding (to get her visa in time, it would probably have to happen by Oct/Nov this year)? The whole process has been pretty atypical - I don't even know if I'd say that we're "engaged" in the traditional sense, considering neither one of us formally popped the question or presented a ring. Compare that to all the couples we know - they all had traditional weddings that were planned 1-2 years in advance, with lots of people invited and a very high price tag. We've decided that neither one of us needs an expensive, elaborate wedding, but we do at least want our immediate families there (parents + siblings, so maybe 8-9 guests total). Still, that means leaving out a lot of extended relatives and friends. To make it worse, most of our family and friends are scattered all over the US. How do I handle this without totally alienating them?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer the first part of the question, but my own wedding was almost exactly 3 months after the engagement date, and I had almost 50 family and friends there. It wasn't a problem at all. It is all a matter of what sort of wedding you want to have and how formal/traditional you want to be. I wasn't at all concerned with formality and only slightly with tradition, so for me, that wasn't an issue. If you're flexible and easygoing, you could plan a wedding in a few weeks. It's just a big party. The main thing is making sure all the people you care about are available on the right date, and that you can reserve the venue you want, if needed for that date.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:13 PM on March 13, 2013

My answer to anyone who wanted to know if X/Y/Z could be invited or if they could bring X as a +1 guest was "I'm afraid not, we want a small and intimate wedding." No one questioned that. And we had an informal party at another date (like a backyard BBQ) that everyone was invited to. People will understand. It is your wedding.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:15 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

To start with: you are engaged, in the traditional sense. The "popping the question" and the ring are modern things that many people do, but if you are planning on getting married, you are engaged. The other parts are completely unnecessary. Of course you can get her a ring if she wants one, but you're absolutely already engaged.

Have the wedding you want. If the wedding you want it a big, elaborate affair and that's worth it to you, then frankly that's plannable much more quickly than some people do it, 7 or 8 months is way plenty of time. Courthouse weddings are also lovely. Something in between is also easy to do to. Pick a date, pick how many people you're going to invite, pick a venue, send out invitations. Then the only thing you actually NEED to get done is find someone who can legally perform the ceremony and do whatever you need to do to get a marriage license in your state/city, the rest is all just bonus.

People will deal with not being invited. Those who are offended will get over it. I promise. Most will be secretly relieved. Don't worry about this part, it shouldn't concern you.
posted by brainmouse at 8:15 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

October is 7 months from now. You totally could put together a full frills wedding in that amount of time, particularly if you're not ultra-picky about a venue. That said, if you're looking to save energy, I think Vegas could be right up your alley. From small Elvis chapel to sleek modern casino chapel, there are tons of options at all price points in a town with a ton of hotel options. Plus, nice weather that time of year.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:16 PM on March 13, 2013

In scenarios where getting married is urgent for legal or insurance reasons, it's not uncommon these days for people to get legally married at the courthouse, then have the wedding ceremony and reception later--just an option to consider.
posted by phoenixy at 8:17 PM on March 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have friends in a similar circumstance who got married by a justice of the peace so she could move with him, but then about a year later had their "real" wedding -- a big, fancy, well-planned affair in her home country.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:18 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


My now husband and I got married for similar reasons. We had a full metal church wedding with 200 guests on 4.5 months notice. We married on a holiday Friday, apparently people don't think of that.

So, lots of time to plan a holiday wedding (try 4th of July). Buy some rings, send invites, have fun.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:18 PM on March 13, 2013

1) Propose to her! This will make it all seem real and I'm sure she would love to be proposed to.

2) Decide if you are really happy with the small wedding thing. If so then proceed to 3. If not then proceed to 4.

3) Plan wedding, get married.

4) Get married in a small ceremony with family present. plan big celebration for 1st wedding anniversary or similar, invite everyone, renew vows etc.

posted by Youremyworld at 8:36 PM on March 13, 2013

My husband's cousin's wedding took place several months after they were married at the courthouse for visa reasons. I don't think most of the people there even knew they were already married. This is not a big deal.

That said, my husband and I planned our wedding in eight months and that was not a big deal either. We had about 100 guests and didn't skip anything important to us. I don't feel like it was hard to plan a wedding in that amount of time.
posted by town of cats at 8:46 PM on March 13, 2013

Our wedding was a couple hundred dollars at city hall. The rings were from a used jewelry vendor in a public market. Less than a dozen people attended, mostly immediate family.

We've never regretted this structure. It was easy, fun, and let us focus on our relationship rather than some big event. I'm often horrified to hear what other people go through.
posted by ead at 10:18 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to let you know a little more from a FS perspective.

You may not be familiar with the term MOH (Member of Household). http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/85122.pdf. A lot of times, bringing someone as an MOH is a way to help your partner get the longer term residency status in a country where you are accredited. This may be a way for you two to be together in Europe before marriage, if you want longer to plan a wedding. In some countries, MOHs can work on the local economy, in others they can't, but that goes for spouses too. The CLO at post should be able to help guide you through getting your MOH settled, working (if possible), and integrated into the community.

Another thing that often happens in the FS is a quick justice of the peace wedding to get someone on your orders, followed by a more elaborate ceremony and reception at a later date. In fact, the courthouse in Arlington sees a significant number of FSI students who get married on their lunch breaks.

If you have more questions, feel free to memail me. I'm currently posted in Europe, too!
posted by eulily at 10:19 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming two US citizens. Depending upon the US state, you may be able to marry the day you decide to pull the trigger with no pre-prep. Some states have a waiting period others don't. (My former ex-wife (now re-wife) and I had been planning to remarry and just happened to go vacation in Florida where the restrictions were less than in our home state and the entire licensing/ceremony took 30 minutes for the license and ceremony in the court house hall wearing flip flops. We used the rings from the first go round). Point is - Pay attention to state marriage requirements. The are two aspects to a wedding - the state and the church. The one that counts for dealing with most governments is the state wedding/union. Once you have the government sanctioned contract you can move on to a religion sanction ceremony at your leisure if that's important (In some states Notary Publics can perform marriages.)

Compared to the first blow out church wedding when we were 33, we both much preferred the ceremony in the court house hall when we were 51. Just the two of us but. extended time on the phone afterwards with relative who weren't surprised it happened and mostly were glad they didn't have to make excuses not to come (male relative would have been happy to come, just not for a suit and tie wedding).
posted by Carbolic at 10:45 PM on March 13, 2013

Seconding what fellow eulily says: bring her as your MOH and then sort out the wedding. This should be easy enough for western Europe, since MOH was what gay diplomats did for years before Secretary Clinton created the Same-Sex Domestic Partner category. I would reach our to the Embassy's HR Officer and CLO about your options to do this.

Or do the Arlington courthouse shotgun wedding and then a proper wedding later on during vacation or R&R. That is what my brother is doing.

My FSO wedding is going to be on home leave wedding between assignments. Many options. Feel free to MeMail me for more specifics.
posted by whitewall at 11:52 PM on March 13, 2013

I think a lot of others have covered the 'getting married in a hurry' element, so I'll just add my tuppence about the feeling engaged side. Having been to quite a few 'visa weddings' I think the way you present this to people is really important. When talking to your partner and others it's much better to focus on the real reasons you're getting married, ie you love each other and want to be together forever, rather than the reasons you're doing it now, ie travel issues.

You can always say that you're moving it forward tiewise because of the move but be clear that the reason you want to marry her is because you want to be married to her. Experience tells me people can be kind of arsey otherwise. Don't know if it's important to you but getting romantically engaged, through you or she or both proposing, may help with this.

Good luck.
posted by Dorothia at 2:20 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just go get married, ASAP - you only need a witness. That's the paperwork done, you can apply for visas and arrange everything as a married couple.

Then do your ceremony separately, you can even arrange for it to happen just before you leave - maybe even go a few weeks early and incorporate your honeymoon into the relocation, that'd save a bit of money.

If people can't make it, go and visit them - or have another party somewhere near them, so they can come. :)
posted by dickasso at 3:16 AM on March 14, 2013

Also pay attention on how long it takes to get a certified marriage certificate from your state. You may walk away with one, walk away with a temporary one, or have to wait months for a true stamped certified certificate. For most major paperwork(drivers license/passport/military dependant) I needed the stamped certified license which took 3 months for me to get in the mail from the state we were married in. After marriage paperwork, especially if there's a name change, is a pain in the butt, so get the scoop on that before you set a date.
posted by PJMoore at 6:33 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I planned a great wedding for 120 people in six months. Your timeline is totally doable. Get a planner if you're worried, and just pick a date and location. Everything else will fall into place.

As for the visa issue. It happens, and most people will be sympathetic and excited for you. I have a good friend who married suddenly because he was Muslim and his H1B was scheduled to be renewed when 9/11 happened, and then suddenly no one knew what the timeline would be. They were originally going to wait until he got his green card, but sometimes life gives you a little nudge, and you just have to listen.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:22 AM on March 14, 2013

I once helped a friend plan a wedding for 160+ in ten days -- her boyfriend was deploying with the Air Force and they realized they wanted to get married. It was pretty casual by necessity, we "catered" it with lasagna and Caesar salad and garlic bread from Costco and she rented her wedding dress, but they got married and had a great time. Even very tight timelines can work if you are willing to adjust your expectations.
posted by KathrynT at 10:39 AM on March 14, 2013

In your situation with all you have going on, I would consider eloping, just to have an easier time with visa paper work and such and then planning and throwing an actual wedding once you feel settled enough to do so on the terms you want.

You don't have to tell anyone that you're already married. THe vast majority of people won't even assume if she goes with you. They will assume youre in a serious relationship, but most people don't give a hoot to really inquire about the technicalities of why she ends up staying after 90 days and whatnot.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:10 PM on March 14, 2013

If you are with the federal government, you have a bazillion excellent reasons for you to get married ASAP and to have a "trailing spouse". Insurance is the least of it.

If you are married you get more housing allowance, moving expenses, etc. So check with HR on this.

The government will move civillians, check with HR on this one.

When my parents went overseas as Civilian Federal Employee and trailing spouse, the army came to the house and packed them up. That included old newspapers, breakfast, if it wasn't nailed down it was wrapped up in newsprint and boxed and shipped.

They'll offer to store stuff--DON'T DO it! It goes to Ft. Belvoir and then it rots.

Sell what you don't want to move, pack you own fragile valuables, and if it's super, super valuable, ask your parents to store it for you. (I have my Mom's wedding china.)

As for planning a wedding, that's no big deal at all! First propose, that's the romantic thing to do. Then the rest is a breeze. I got married on a Wednesday, (weird reasons) and it turned out to be a great bargain.

If you want to put off a huge party, etc, a civil ceremony with close family will do until you're up to a To-Do. (I think big weddings are overrated.)

But for sure, talk to your moving liason at HR and ask him/her for their opinion on how to go about this.

Also, if you're a spouse and you've followed your mate for the government, you're eligible to work on US Military installations, so have your fiance start looking at job postings! It avoids the work-visa situation brilliantly.

Mazel-Tov, you are going to have a grand adventure!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:45 PM on March 14, 2013

From the OP:
Thanks for the assistance everyone! Hope I didn't sound too freaked out, chalk it up to pre-marital jitters :) The point about whether we're engaged or not is a really good one - I think we've been in a weird grey area the past couple of months and have been putting off telling family which is probably part of our issue. Would probably make more sense to tell them we're engaged already and be done with it.

For those of you who are FS, thanks to you in particular, very nice to know I'm not the first person to do this. I might be MeMailing you with some follow-up questions later :) The MOH issue is actually part of the reason we decided to step things up a bit - she really wants to work at post and being an EFM (e.g. married) would open up more opportunities. We considered waiting until we're overseas but we want our family present, figured it'd make more sense to do it here in the US. We're still talking about it but leaning towards just flying out our parents + siblings only and doing a Justice-of-the-Peace ceremony. Easy and simple :)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:48 PM on March 14, 2013

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