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Unacceptable Marriages in Immigration Law

Some types of marriages that are valid and recognized in the place where the marriage is contracted may not be acceptable for immigration benefits.

1. Common Law Marriage

A common law marriage will not be accepted for immigration purposes unless it is recognized as legal in the jurisdiction of residence or last residence.

2. Customary Marriage

Amarriage not performed according to legal proceedings of local civil authorities, but rather, according to local custom, may not be accepted. However, if a customary marriage is recognized by the civil authorities in the place where the marriage was performed, it is considered avalid marriage for immigration purposes.

3. Polygamous Marriage

Polygamous marriage is never recognized as a valid marriage. Please note, however, that family members of the first marriage of a polygamous family may enjoy their immigration benefits if the benefits have already been conferred.

For example, Joseph, a U.S. citizen married Amy, an alien, and petitioned to bring Amy to the U.S. Accordingly, Amy gets green card. Later, Joseph married Beth, also an alien. The immigration benefits already conferred to Amy may not be denied based on the polygamy. However, if Joseph files an immigration petition for Beth based on the latter marriage, the petition will be denied based on the polygamous marriage.

4. Incestuous Marriage

Incestuous marriage is a marriage between close family members. The validity of incestuous marriage depends on the law of the state where the parties intend to reside. In the state where the incestuous marriage is regarded as a crime, the incestuous marriage is not accepted for immigration purposes, even if this marriage was legally contracted somewhere else.

5. Proxy Marriage

A proxy marriage is a marriage where the parties were not physically present during the marriage ceremony. In general, USCIS will not consider a marriage valid unless both people were present at the marriage ceremony or the marriage was subsequentlyconsummated. This is to prevent marriage by proxy and “mail-order” marriages. Mail order marriages, however, are still allowed if the couple met personally at least once within 2 years of applying for a fiancé visa (K-1) petition. The petitioner must prove that the couple spent time together and that there was ongoing communication between the two prior to filing the petition. However, a party of an unconsummated proxy marriage may enjoy immigration benefits as a fiancé, such as applying for a K-1 visa, if the opposite party is a U.S. citizen. For more information about the K-1 visa, please click here

(Updated 10/8/2012 by AG)

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