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Immigration and Marriage: How Does Divorce Impact the Affidavit of Support?

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A U.S. citizen or permanent resident can bring their spouse or fiancé into the United States and sponsor him or her to become a lawful permanent resident. As part of the immigration process, the sponsor must sign an affidavit of support — a contractual assurance that the foreign spouse will not end up requiring welfare or other government assistance. The affidavit (known as Form I-864) requires support for the foreign spouse at a level equal to 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. This is no small amount. As of 2021, the annual guideline is $21,775, plus $5,675 for each additional person in the beneficiary’s household.

Even more daunting is the fact that the I-864 support obligation often outlasts the marriage. Sponsoring spouses all over the country have sought to terminate the obligation based on getting divorced, but state and federal courts have usually found that the support obligation continues in force. The I-184 may even be considered by courts deciding on spousal support awards during a divorce.

The I-864 support obligation generally ends only when the foreign national spouse does one of these things:

  • Becomes a U.S. citizen
  • Works for 10 years or more
  • Leaves the U.S. and renounces his or her permanent residence or citizenship
  • Is deported
  • Dies

While the support obligation does not terminate upon divorce, there are situations in which the U.S. spouse could argue for ending or at least reducing the required payments. Examples include situations where the foreign national spouse:

  • Has moved in with a family member who provides sufficient financial support
  • Has a job that pays at least 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines
  • Receives substantial gifts or income from non-job sources
  • Defrauded the U.S. spouse into marrying

These arguments can also be raised as defenses if the noncitizen spouse sues the U.S. spouse for noncompliance with the I-184. However, suits over enforcement of the I-184 are often brought in state courts, where such arguments are sometimes tied together with other issues relating to spousal support.

The I-864 support obligation encompasses family law, contract law and immigration law issues. Whether you are seeking to enforce an I-184 or to be relieved of compliance in whole or in part, it is important to retain an attorney who is knowledgeable about these facets of law.

The Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney, P.C. has experience advising clients about I-864 support obligations. We also have relationships with qualified immigration and contract law attorneys with whom we consult when appropriate. Find out how we can help by calling our Yardley office at 215.493.3360 or contact us online.

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