When Happily Ever After Turns into a Nightmare

Did You Know?

Being without status is already stressful enough. When you add family disputes, especially between spouses, we certainly understand when that stress skyrockets. It has been our experience, unfortunately, that US citizens often try to use the immigration status of their spouses as a source of threats to coerce them into complying with their wishes, especially in situations like divorce or custody negotiations.

Although we do not practice family law at Hope Immigration, it is our experience that these threats are usually empty and also do not hold up in court. Typically, your immigration status should not have any impact on decisions made regarding divorces or custody agreements.

If You Get Reported to ICE

If the immigrant spouse is undocumented, citizens may threaten deportation by reporting them to ICE. Unfortunately, undocumented individuals are the most common targets for abusive spouses to use their immigration status against them. However, it is rare that ICE cares about family disputes. Without criminal charges, it is highly unlikely that ICE will act on a report from an abusive spouse. 

What is important to remember is your rights and options in these situations. If your spouse reports you to the local police, remember that they are not ICE and do not have the jurisdiction or ability to deport you. If you are reported to ICE and put in deportation proceedings, remember that nothing moves fast with ICE; you will not be forced to leave the country the second a report is made. You should seek legal representation immediately if you are reported or put in deportation proceedings. There are ways to fight deportation and the sooner you fight it, the better.

If Your Case Is Not Filed 

There are certain ways to file a case on without a citizen petitioner, even if they traditionally require one. In cases where there is abuse in the relationship, there are grounds for filing under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Despite the name, you do not need to be a woman to file for VAWA. It is open to all who meet the eligibility requirements. Grounds for VAWA include name-calling, financial control, physical or verbal abuse, and deportation threats. With VAWA, you then have a pathway to a lawful permanent residence (Green Card) and citizenship, all without the abusive spouse. 

If Your Case Is Pending

Efficiency is key if you have filed a case with your now abusive spouse. Once the citizen spouse begins making threats to remove support from your petition, it is crucial that you contact your attorney. There are ways to remove the abuser from a case and transform it into a self-petition, such as VAWA.

If You Have Conditional Residency

Conditional residency is when you were granted lawful permanent residency (Green Card) through marriage for two years. Typically, after two years the couple files a Joint I-751 petition to remove these conditions and receive a permanent Grene Card. If your relationship turns abusive during this two-year period, there are typically two routes to move forward. 

The first option is to get a divorce. This allows you to file to remove the conditions on your own, supplemented with a Good Faith Waiver. The waiver explains to USCIS that your marriage was legitimate and in good faith, but that it didn’t work out. As long as your marriage was not fraudulent, the divorce does not affect your ability to receive a permanent Green Card. 

The second option is to remain married and file a Battered Spouse Waiver. In the case where you cannot get divorced, but your spouse is unwilling to do the Joint Petition with you, this waiver explains the lack of the abusive spouse’s support. However, these cases are more difficult. We understand that there are circumstances that do not allow for divorce, even in abusive relationships. Both of these options are valid choices and we do our very best to support our clients in whichever path they choose.

The Essentials

What it boils down to is this: 

  1. Know that your immigration status does not factor into divorce or custody determinations.
  2. US citizens can use all sorts of threats in these situations, but they do not hold the power when it comes to immigration or status.
  3. VAWA is a great option to protect yourself against lies and manipulation.
  4. It is important to stay strong and be confident.
  5. Hope Immigration is here to support you in these situations and there are options for you to move forward in your immigration journey.


1 thought on “When Happily Ever After Turns into a Nightmare”

  1. Wonderful article. I wish I knew that a lot earlier. Now I’m waiting for my VAWA case decision. Thanks Tracie for your help.

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