Long distance can put a strain on any relationship, but can you imagine traveling halfway across the world and getting married in just 90 days? Many couples are ready to put their relationship to the test and take that next step. However, there may be some implications to consider before running to the wedding chapel.
The K-1 Visa Process in the United States
If you are a United States citizen looking to marry your partner, who is not a United States citizen, you can apply for a “fiancé visa” or K-1 visa. In order to qualify for the visa, you must have met your partner at least once (either inside or outside the United States) within the two-year period prior to your application, and intend to marry your partner within 90 days of them entering the United States on a K-1 visa. After meeting the qualifications, your partner can file a I-129F petition with supporting documents evidencing your relationship. For example:
- Photographs of you and your partner throughout your relationship
- Engagement photographs
- A wedding invitation
After the petition is approved, your partner may be required to appear for an interview, or to provide fingerprints, photographs, and other information confirming their identity and the validity of your relationship. If approved, your partner will be granted a K-1 visa and can travel to the United States. And if your partner has any children, they may come along as long as they are under 21 years old and unmarried. You and your fiancé must be legally married within 90 days of his or her entry into the United States.
Marriage in Texas – An Overview
The federal government controls the visa process, but it defers to the state for the requirements of a marriage. So, how does one become legally married in Texas? Under the Texas Family Code, a couple desiring to enter into a ceremonial marriage must first obtain a marriage license from the County Clerk of any county in the state of Texas. There is a 72-hour waiting period before the marriage ceremony can take place. After the expiration of 72-hours, you and your partner can now complete a marriage ceremony of your choosing. In order to finalize the marriage, you must complete and return the marriage license to the County Clerk who issued it within 30 days of the ceremony. Now, you are formally married!
If a marriage ceremony has not taken place within 90 days of the date of issuance of the license, the marriage license expires, and so does your visa! If you fail to get married within the 90 days, the K-1 visa expires and cannot be extended. Your partner must then leave the United States at the end of the 90-day period.
Texas also recognizes informal or common law marriage. There are two ways to become informally married in Texas. An informal marriage may be proven by a declaration of marriage that has been signed on a form prescribed by the bureau of vital statistics and provided by the County Clerk. Or, you must prove that you and your partner agreed to be married and after that agreement you lived together in Texas as husband and wife and you represented to others that you were married. However, it is unclear whether the government will recognize this method of informal marriage. The federal government may require proof of a marriage license or declaration. To err on the side of caution, it is best for you and your partner to be formally married or informally married via a declaration.
The next step in the process is obtaining a green card. Once you get legally married, your partner may then apply for a green card. As a requirement of the green card application, you have to a execute an Affidavit of Support under Section 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The affidavit provides that you have adequate means of financial support and your partner will not receive any kind of government aid. The affidavit is legally enforceable as a contract between you and the United States Government until your spouse becomes a citizen, or is credited with 40 quarters of work. Your obligation may also end if your spouse dies or ceases to be a lawful permanent resident, and leaves the United States.
What if things don’t work out with your spouse?
Are you now bound to this person due to their immigration status? In most situations, the answer is yes. In order to end the marriage, you would have to file a Petition for Divorce. You must file the petition in the state where you have resided for the preceding six-month period and the county where you have been a resident for the preceding 90-day period. Even after the marriage has been dissolved, things may not end there. You may have to provide some form of financial support to your ex-spouse.
Are you worried by an obligation to pay child support or spousal maintenance? The Court may order either or both parents to support a child until the child is 18 years old, or graduated from high school, whichever occurs later. Child support payments can be determined by a simple mathematical equation. Spousal maintenance is a different story and is much harder to obtain.
Depending on the length of your marriage, and facts surrounding your case, you may be ordered to pay spousal maintenance. In order to be eligible for spousal maintenance, your spouse must be unable to earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs and have been married for 10 years or longer. Your spouse may also qualify if they are the custodian of a child of the marriage who requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability that prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs. The Texas Family Code does not define minimum reasonable needs, rather it is determined on a case by case basis. This is something to consider if your spouse has been unable to find employment in the United States.
If your spouse doesn’t qualify for spousal maintenance, you still may be obligated to support him or her financially due to the execution of the Affidavit of Support. Divorce does not end the obligation under the affidavit. What does this mean? You are required to provide any support necessary for your ex-spouse to maintain his or her income at least 125% above the Federal Poverty Guidelines for their household size. If your ex-spouse receives government benefits, you are responsible for repaying any benefits received. If you fail to repay the benefits, the agency that provided them may take legal action against you.
Marriage to a non-citizen may obligate you to provide financial support to your spouse even after the marriage has been dissolved. This is something to consider before running to the wedding chapel with your foreign bride or groom. Enduring the distance may be what’s best for you until you are ready to commit to your partner now and in the future.
The experienced divorce attorneys at Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, LLC are available to consult with you if you are considering divorce, or already in the process. We can provide valuable insight to the complex nature of these cases. You can learn more about our divorce representation here, or contact our office now to schedule a confidential consultation.