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Spousal support after an immigrant divorces

While prenuptial agreements provide New Jersey couples with the ability to pre-plan their exit terms in case a marriage becomes difficult, there can be situations in which a prenup is deemed to be inappropriate by the court system. A federal court case heard in San Francisco dealt with a prenuptial agreement and alimony terms between a U.S. citizen and his immigrant wife. A marriage contract was executed that affirmed that the husband would provide support in order to ensure that his wife's income remained above the poverty level by at least 25 percent once she immigrated. However, the couple also executed a prenuptial agreement that involved both partners giving up their rights to alimony in the event of a divorce.

An Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, that was executed by both parties as part of the woman's immigration process became an issue as the woman later sued her ex-husband after their divorce. She moved in with an adult child in California and became eligible for food stamp benefits. The child's income of $3,200 per month was used to support both parties, and the woman claimed in her suit that her ex-husband only provided $3,500 for moving. He represented himself in the legal proceedings, indicating that she was receiving sufficient support based on her child's income and her food stamps, and that the terms of the prenuptial agreement that rules out alimony meant that she had no recourse.

A lower court ruled that the obligations covered by the Form I-864 did not conclude just because of a divorce but that the adult child's income satisfied the related support for the woman. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit disagreed, noting that the sponsor would potentially receive a windfall if the responsibility for the immigrant woman's support was transferred to another party.

In complicated divorce proceedings, there can be confusing points of law that require careful attention before the matter goes to a judge. Prenuptial agreements, for example, might be challenged based on illegal circumstances surrounding the creation and signing of the forms. This makes it advisable for each party to have separate legal representation.

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