Despite the political controversy surrounding immigration, the United States has a rich history and tradition involving people immigrating to the U.S. and achieving the American dream. Entire cultural communities across the nation can thank family immigration for their existence.
The largest percentage of immigration applications involve what is known as family immigration. Naturalized citizens and Legal Permanent Residents can apply for a family immigration visa to bring their spouses, children, and other close family members to the U.S.
Despite its popularity and relative simplicity, the family immigration process can involve several challenges involving both federal immigration regulations and state family law. One major issue involves the validity of marriages between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.
Validity of Marriage
Marriage is a legally recognized relationship that the states are empowered to regulate. Thus, state law controls whether a marriage is valid or void. When a marriage is considered void, the marriage was never valid. When a marriage is voidable, many states grant what are known as annulments which are similar to divorces but treat the marriage as if it never happened to begin with.
State courts typically declare a marriage to be void or voidable based on certain grounds. For example, in Texas, marriages involving fraud, duress, or force, a person mentally incapacitated at the time of marriage or where at least one of the parties was over 16 years old but under 18 years old without parental consent or court order removing the disabilities of minority, are considered voidable. Void marriages involve bigamy, consanguinity, or where at least one of the parties was under 18 years old. Texas courts have granted annulments while holding that the underlying marriage was voidable at the time the marriage took place. The party seeking an annulment has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the marriage in question is invalid.
Federal immigration law is also concerned about the validity of marriages in family immigration cases. Under the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act, the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen can obtain a Lawful Permanent Resident card—also known as a green card—by virtue of their marriage to a U.S. citizen. However, if the marriage was entered into primarily for the purpose of evading federal immigration laws, the marriage is considered invalid and the immigrant spouse can be deported. This is commonly known as a green card marriage.
The U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) department requires foreign spouses using the family immigration method to demonstrate the validity of their marriage. This is a heavily involved process, requiring significant paperwork, documentation, and face-to-face interviews with USCIS officials.
Although a marriage was entered into for purposes of evading federal immigration laws might be considered invalid when it comes to federal law, such a marriage may still be valid under state family law. Thus, a marriage that is invalidated under federal immigration law may not necessarily serve as grounds for annulment under state law. Conversely, a marriage that was annulled under state law will most likely be considered invalid under federal immigration laws.
Federal law requires a U.S. citizen who marries a foreign national to submit an affidavit of support affirming that their household income is at least 125% of the U.S. poverty level. This creates a legal obligation for the citizen-spouse to provide financial support for the immigrant spouse, even after divorce.
Some federal courts have held that the duty created by signing an affidavit of support for immigration purposes supersedes contrary state law and even private agreements.
The recognition and enforcement of spousal support obligations is another area that state law mostly governs. For example, Texas courts have held that the duty to financially support one’s spouse does not terminate upon divorce. This financial obligation is known as spousal maintenance. Texas courts can award spousal maintenance if the party seeking spousal maintenance show they lack the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for the their minimum reasonable needs and the party has been married for at least 10 years, or the spouse seeking maintenance suffers from an incapacitating physical or mental disability that prohibits their ability to earn a sufficient income or there is a finding of family violence.
For More Answers, Call Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers
Much of family law practice happens at the intersection of various legal areas, including federal immigration law. In such cases, it is in your best interest to find an experienced immigration attorney who can advise you on the immigration aspects of your case and coordinate with a family law attorney who can counsel and advocate for your interests with respect to state family law issues. At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, you can count on our experienced attorneys to represent you and your family with regarding matters concerning Texas family law.
Call Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers at (940) 293-2313 or contact us online for a consultation regarding the details of your case today.