I am an American, who got married in October 06 and separated in June 08, and am currently in the process of a divorce from an Eastern European woman. My purpose of starting this blog is to educate Americans about the extreme financial dangers of sponsoring a foreign spouse, and to potentially gather relevant and timely information to share with other sponsors, in order to perhaps mitigate some of the financial damage.
The root of the problem is the Affidavit of Support I-864, which requires the sponsor (American citizen) to pay the separated or divorced foreign spouse at least 125% of the poverty level for their family size for an indefinite period of time, but at least 10 years (40 “qualifying quarters” for social security purposes) from the date of the marriage. Divorce unfortunately does not eliminate or reduce this obligation. The only things that terminate a sponsor’s liability to pay is their death, or the death of the foreign spouse, or if the foreign spouse leaves the country permanently, or if the foreign spouse becomes a U.S. citizen (but by doing this their support stops, so there is no financial incentive for them to do that).
So, the bottom line is that this federal immigration form completely supercedes state family law on post-separation support or alimony issues. Whereas most state courts in a divorce case would rule on PSS or alimony support issues based on the length of a marriage, or the education level of the lower-income spouse, etc., many divorce attorneys are now using this Affidavit of Support to win much larger and longer settlements than what they would be normally entitled to under their own state family court system. This in inherently unfair and punitive to the American citizen who sponsored them, and is also unfair to the millions of divorced Americans who received little or no PSS and/or alimony. If they only had a passport or citizenship from a foreign country, then they would be entitled to easily receive about 10 years of support, even if they had only been married for 6 months!
The only slight “good” that has evolved from case law on the matter is that the foreign spouse is somewhat required to make a good faith effort to mitigate the damage by trying to obtain gainful employment, and by the fact that whatever they do end up making goes towards satisfying the 125% support payments, so that there is a 100% “offset” on what the American has to pay. However, due to the 100% offset of income, it completely eliminates the financial incentive for the foreign spouse to seek employment (unless they are motivated enought, and able to, obtain employment at a much higher level than 125% of the poverty level).
Furthermore, it is unclear to me how the courts have enforced, or would enforce, how hard the foreign spouse tried to obtain employment, or the mechanics of the settlement of the difference between the 125% level and what they actually earned. It seems to me like the court would have to set up a yearly “review” in order to examine those employment efforts, as well as the documentation of income earned, in order to determine how much the American spouse needs to pay each year. And for that to be accurate, such a system would have to be “retroactive”, not prospective. But I am as of yet unaware of how the court system in different parts of the country have dealt with the mechanics of that.
I look forward to hearing from one and all!