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Does Green Card Sponsorship Mean Lifetime Alimony?

A recently publicized news story involving the interplay of immigration laws and divorce has the legal community anxiously awaiting a verdict. At issue in the case, out of southern Texas, is whether a former husband can be legally responsible for paying maintenance (alimony) to his former wife based not on divorce law but on a rarely-enforced immigration provision.

KerryThe parties in the case were married in 2003; the wife was a citizen of Mexico. In order for her to obtain a green card to stay in America, her then-fiancé signed a document in which he agreed to financially support his soon-to-be wife at 125% above the poverty level (currently, the poverty level for a single person is approximately $11,500.00 annually). The document, known as an I-864 Affidavit of Support, is theoretically a contract between the person who signs it, the spouse, and the United States Government. The purpose of the Affidavit is to ensure that the person receiving the green card will not become a public charge—someone who relies on government assistance for support.

The parties were married for six years, had a daughter, and then the wife filed for divorce. The husband was granted custody of the daughter. The wife remarried, which marriage also ended in divorce. Under Illinois law, if the wife had been awarded maintenance after the first divorce, her first husband's obligation to pay maintenance would terminate upon the wife's remarriage.

The wife in this case, however, is suing her first husband for support based on the Affidavit of support he signed back in 2003. According to U.S. immigration law, the contract remains intact, even if a couple divorces. The only way an obligation to support ends is if the sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen or is employed for ten years and pays into the Social Security System—neither of which applies to the case at hand. The wife is accusing her ex-husband of violating the Immigration and Nationality Act. Her lawsuit reads, in part: “Defendant's failure to provide support to Plaintiff in accordance with the affidavit of support has caused financial damage to Plaintiff. She has been unable to pay debts and [is] in jeopardy of losing her house and other assets.”

This case demonstrates just how complicated even fairly straightforward divorces can become and why it's important to have a knowledgeable divorce attorney representing you. With the emergence of potential new immigration laws—and the current enforcement of existing immigration laws—it is crucial for spouses, fiancés, and those contemplating marriage to understand how American immigration procedures can impact a marriage or potential divorce. At Mirabella, Kincaid, Frederick & Mirabella, LLC, we are dedicated to ensuring our clients understand all of the legal impacts of a divorce, and we can work with you to help you understand any possible immigration impacts of your divorce as well. If you need assistance with understanding the impacts a divorce may have on you or your family, contact Mirabella, Kincaid, Frederick & Mirabella. LLC today.

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