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Definition of Marriage and Spouse

The Definition of Marriage

There is no exact definition of marriage in immigration law. Marriage is a subject matter of the laws of the state or country in whichthe marriage was entered. Federal laws usually recognize the validity of a marriage if the marriage was valid in the state or country in whichthe marriage was entered into, as long as the marriage signifies a legal union. Generally, marriages performed legally abroad are considered legitimate in the United States. Keep in mind that marriage laws, which may include residency, documentation, age, and other requirements, vary from country to country. Consular officers can authenticate marriage documents from other countries for a $32 fee.

In June of 2013, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman in the eyes of the federal government and barred same-sex couples from seeking federal benefits, such as immigration petitions based on marriage. Because immigration benefits are administered at the federal level, this new recognition allows same-sex couples to seek immigration benefits based on their gay or lesbian marriage, as long as the marriage took place legally in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. For more information, please see our article on Gay Marriage and Immigration.

The Definition of a Spouse

There is no specific statutory definition of a spouse. Immigration laws define a spouse more by what it is not than what it is. Immigration laws state that a person does not qualify as a spousefor immigration purposes if the marital relationship was created by a marriage ceremony where the parties were not physically presentsuch as a proxy marriage, unless the marriage has thereafter been consummated.

The USCIS always considers the following factors in determining whether a spousal relationship can form the basis for an immigration petition:

1. The marriage must have been valid at the time it was performed;
2. The marriage must still be in existence; and
3. The marriage must not have been entered into for the purpose of conferring permanent resident status on the alien.

For more information about Marriage and Immigration, please click the following links:

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