May 25, 2024
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How Immigrants Can Escape an Abusive Marriage:

Apply for Relief Without Jeopardizing Your Status

Spousal abuse is a sad but all-too-common occurrence in marriages today. A loving relationship can quickly deteriorate when one party abuses his or her spouse, often destroying the very fabric of the marriage. While no innocent party should suffer at the hand of an abuser, the spouses of U.S. citizens’ spouses or lawful permanent residents often remain longer than is necessary in destructive relationships for fear that a crumbling marriage may mean loss of immigration status.

U.S. citizens do not risk having to give up their right to live and work legally in America. However, divorce for a non-U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse/partner can cause much apprehension about having to leave the country or relinquishing the status obtained based on marriage to an American citizen or resident. No doubt, individuals who remain in abusive marriages longer than necessary often still have remedies to protect them.

Despite the commonly held belief that divorcing your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse can lead to loss of legal status, non-citizens have substantial rights afforded them under the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), which also protects men and children. An abused sponsor may self-petition for lawful immigration status. Even if a person received legal permanent status in the United States through marriage to a U.S. citizen, he or she may still retain that status even upon divorce where one of the grounds was spousal abuse. Allegations of extreme cruelty such as physical abuse, violent acts or threats of violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, verbal, emotional, or economic abuse, isolation, intimidation, etc. can establish an abused spouse’s case to remain in the U.S.

Another important provision allows an adult to file an immigration visa petition on behalf of a child if the U.S. citizen abuser has also abused the child of his or her spouse. This protects vulnerable children who otherwise would have no legal recourse to protect themselves, and provides options to a parent who feels locked into an undesirable relationship just to remain in this country.

An interesting caveat of this law allows for an abused spouse to file for an immigrant waiver even if the marriage was not official due to abuse or bigamy, as long as the abused party was under the impression that the marriage was actually legitimate. This is a key provision since it is often not the fault of the abused party that the marriage was invalid, thus, he or she is entitled to legal status in the U.S.A.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is an important piece of legislation that helps marginalized members of society, both men and women, gain legal protection safely and, in many cases, become completely independent of their abusive partners. It is a first step to rehabilitation.

It is strongly recommended that anyone attempting to take advantage of VAWA consult an experienced immigration attorney to help navigate its intricate provisions. Our firm, Wildes & Weinberg P.C., is solely devoted to immigration law and has extensive experience helping clients in abusive marriages regulate their status in the United States.

Michael J. Wildes is the Managing Partner of Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. with offices in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. If you would like to contact Michael Wildes, please email him at [email protected] and visit the fi rm’s website at www.wildeslaw.com.

By Michael J. Wildes, Esq.

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