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Proving Validity of Marriages for VAWA self-petitioning spouses

A woman and child sitting together

VAWA is a protection offered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service to certain noncitizen victims of battery or extreme cruelty. We have previously discussed protection under the Violence Against Women Act, “VAWA here.

VAWA applicants that are applying based on a relationship to an abusing spouse must establish that there was a legally valid marriage to an abusive U.S. citizen or LPR spouse at the time the VAWA self-petition is filed.

A marriage is considered legally valid based on the laws of the place where the marriage was celebrated. However, if a marriage is valid in the country where it is performed, but considered contrary to U.S. public policy, the marriage is not recognized as valid for immigration purposes.

Evidence of a Legal Marriage include:

  • Marriages where a marriage certificate is issued by civil authorities.
  • Common law marriages that have a marriage announcement or provides for a certificate.
  • Marriages with affidavits and photos of the wedding ceremony.
  • Demonstrating that a common law marriage is allowed in states where common law marriages may be contracted.
  • Any other credible evidence to establish a marital relationship.

Prior marriages

If either the self-petitioner or the abusive legal permanent resident or U.S. citizen were previously married, the self-petitioner must also demonstrate that either he or the abusive spouse were legally free to enter a valid marriage or in other words demonstrate that any previous marriage was legally terminated.

The best evidence to show termination of a previous marriage is to provide a marriage termination document by a civil authority.

Such evidence may include:

  • A final decree of divorce.
  • A decree of annulment.
  • A death certificate.
  • Any other credible evidence to establish a marriage termination.

It may not be always clear whether there was a legal marriage or if a previous marriage was legally terminated, so it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to determine the legality of a marriage when considering applying for VAWA benefits.

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