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Getting married changes lives. Seeking an Immigration Marriage Adjustment can be a life-changing experience, too. Like the first dance at a wedding, the steps must be carefully choreographed. Clients and attorneys must be well-prepared to avoid any missteps in what can be a complicated tango – proving the validity of a marriage.
Why Don't You Live Together?
A primary indication of a marriage is cohabitation. Though lack of cohabitation doesn't necessarily cause denial of an adjustment; it can increase the level of scrutiny applied to the case. Valid reasons can prevent cohabitation: School attendance at a distant campus or transfer to a distant job site. Evidence of frequent travel to be together can be one way to prove a marriage is valid.
Can Love Really Conquer All?
Difficulties in life are supposed to vanish when confronted by love. What about age differences? An 18-year-old college freshman applying for a marriage adjustment for a 60-year-old retiree is going to raise eyebrows. Exceptions apply, in some cultures "summer-winter" marriages are common. Cultural research and evidence derived from it may be required. When a couple consists of two underage individuals, other appropriate proof of the validity of the marriage may be sought.
What about language, ethnic, and cultural differences? While cases where the bride and groom did not speak a common language have been allowed, the process was more demanding. Interracial marriages and marriages among folks of different cultures will likewise invite increased scrutiny.
What about marrying “blood” relatives? In many countries and cultures, first cousins may marry. Some American states allow it as well. The legal validity of such a marriage would be determined by the state wherein the two were married and whether or not the laws of the state wherein they reside would be offended.
Hollywood's Zsa Zsa Gabor Loves Getting Married!
Zsa Zsa has been married nine times! Even in Hollywood, anybody with a string of marriages is going to invite some attention, especially from USCIS agents. Many marriages means many divorces (or many spousal deaths). Attorneys must check the legal status of divorces (or deaths) of all previous marriages – USCIS agents frown on bigamists asking for marriage adjustments. Also, multiple marriages could indicate a person too willing to marry for money, for convenience, or to otherwise commit marital fraud.
Proof Can Be Found in the Paperwork
Proof of the validity of a marriage is usually easy to provide. Any legal proof of entwined lives helps USCIS agents determine if a marriage is bona fide. Deeds of property, rental contracts, birth certificates of children, joint banking or credit card accounts, health and life insurance policies, are all presentable. Other indicators such as joint health club and buyers club memberships, church records, photos, and even junk mail jointly addressed, can be held as proof of a valid marriage. Hand-written and signed affidavits from third parties that attest to the togetherness of the couple can help, too.
There's No Dinner at this Rehearsal
Probably the hardest part of a marriage adjustment case is the actual interview. Many surprises can be eliminated if rehearsals are conducted. The anticipation of an interview is nerve-wracking enough; add a video camera and all sorts of discrepancies could arise. Usually, the spouses are interviewed together. An interpreter may be present. Lawyers may offer legal advice. If fraud is suspected, USCIS agents may conduct separate interviews, making separate and coupled rehearsals necessary.
The Interview: A Blushing Bride – and Groom
After the mock interviews, the attorney should go over responses in an effort to reduce discrepancies that may arise in actual interviews. Questions can range from a description of the house where the couple resides to the description of tattoos either may have. Many discrepancies occur when one spouse tries to protect the other because of alcoholism, sexual dysfunction, or some other issue not really related to marriage validity. Couples should be advised that being candid, no matter how embarrassing, is the best response.
Stumbling in the Marriage Adjustment Case
The use of false Social Security cards is not usually grounds for dismissal of a marriage adjustment case. But, if discovered during the case process, it could lead to criminal prosecution beyond the adjustment case. Unlawful employment by the marriage beneficiary could directly affect the case if the unlawful period of employment exceeded 180 days. A three-year bar to re-entry could be imposed.
Attorneys should thoroughly review the comings and goings of the alien spouse. If he or she has accrued over 180 days of unlawful presence, but less than a year, a three-year bar to re-entry can be imposed. A ten-year bar can be imposed if the spouse has accrued more than one year of unlawful presence.
The biggest problem for marriage adjustment applicants is the bar with its own nickname: “The Big Bar.” Any foreign national who was unlawfully present in the US for more than a year and then seeks re-entry, could become subject to an indefinite bar from admission. An appeal can be made, but only after ten years have lapsed. Any other attempt to fraudulently enter the US is also met with an indefinite bar.
The Last Dance
The validity of a marriage, a marriage based on love and respect, is a matter for a couple and their attorney to prove. The USCIS isn't out to separate couples; that's not their job. They aim to prevent those who would attempt to sell or fraudulently benefit from a marriage contract. People who are truly married should be able to almost waltz through the marriage adjustment proceedings. A competent immigration attorney can help them mind the music and the dance.