Marriage, Divorce, The Alien, and Washington Law

With each increase of turmoil in the many troubled nations of the world come increased demands for United States citizenship. Because of the nature of the preference system for admitting immigrants, marriage to a United States citizen may allow an alien to enter the United States outside of the preference system and thus avoid lengthy delays. Aliens and citizens have a constitutional right to marry. On the other hand, a sham marriage, a marriage in form but not in fact, will not be recognized for immigration purposes.

For an alien whose presence in the United States is predicated on a marriage to a United States citizen or permanent resident, divorce, legal separation, or annulment may result in a number of unintended consequences which may be far more damaging than the divorce or separation itself. Maurice A. Roberts, a leading authority on immigration law and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals, stated in a recent address to the New York County Lawyers’ Association:

Even if your policy is to turn away or refer to the specialists those clients with immigration problems, that doesn’t let you completely off the hook. Such is the pervasive nature of our immigration laws that, when counseling an alien client in a field which seems to be completely unrelated, you may be setting him on a course which will ultimately involve him in grave consequences under the immigration laws. Some exposure to those laws is therefore essential, even to the general practitioner or the specialist in another field.

The objective of this article is to provide the general practitioner with a simplified introduction to the pitfalls that are most often encountered when representing the alien in a family law matter involving the marital relationship.

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Dan P. Danilov & Mark V. Nerheim, Marriage, Divorce, The Alien, and Washington Law, 19 Gonz. L. Rev. 303 (1983).

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