Berman & Asbel, LLP

Court awards alimony to immigrant despite prenup language

Pennsylvania couples might be surprised to learn that, in marriages with one immigrant spouse, the U.S. citizen remains responsible for the financial stability of the immigrant spouse after the divorce. This is what the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 8, disregarding the terms of a prenuptial agreement to the contrary.

The decision was related to a lawsuit that an immigrant woman filed against her ex-husband, a wealthy real estate agent who is reportedly worth almost $5 million. While he is a U.S. citizen who was born in Turkey, she was a Turkish citizen. The pair married in 2009 and signed a marriage contract stipulating that he would ensure that her income would be a minimum of 125 percent over the poverty line. In a prenuptial agreement, however, they agreed to waive spousal support in the event of a divorce.

The couple was officially divorced more than one year after separating in 2011. The ex-wife moved into an apartment with her son, who supported them. The state sent her food stamps as well. One month later, she sued her ex-husband for the money that he owed her under the I-864 Affidavit of Support, which the couple signed when she moved to the country.

This affidavit requires immigrants to show that they can financially support themselves upon moving to the United States. It prevents them from needing government support if they divorce their sponsors. Despite a district court judge ruling in favor of the ex-husband, the 9th Circuit ruled that a premarital agreement does not end the financial responsibility of an immigrant's sponsor under the I-864 Affidavit of Support.

It is important for couples who have a prenuptial agreement but who are now facing the end of a marriage to understand under what circumstances a court may disregard that document. In addition to the immigration law that governed this particular case, other reasons can include coercion or fraud in the inducement.

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