Does VAWA Require Marriage? Overview

“Does VAWA require marriage?” is an excellent question and one that you should consider carefully before applying for VAWA. My name is Cheryl Fletcher and I am an immigration attorney. In this article, we will fully answer this question so that you will have a basic understanding of the VAWA marriage requirements.

VAWA Marriage Requirements

VAWA means Violence Against Women Act and both men and women are eligible for immigration benefits under this law. It allows abused spouses and children who are abused by a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident to apply for a VAWA green card. Abused parents of U.S. citizens are also eligible.

1. Vawa Marriage Requirements for an Abused Spouse

To be eligible for VAWA, an abused spouse must: 1) have resided with the U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident; 2) was battered or subject to extreme cruelty during the marriage; 3) have entered into the marriage in good faith; 4) be eligible for immediate relative or preference status; and 5) be a person of good moral character.

What is a “good faith” marriage?

A good faith marriage is a real marriage. This means that you and the abusive spouse intended to establish a life together when you decided to get marriage. Documentation such as wedding photographs, joint residence, joint bank accounts, affidavits from friends and relatives and joint utility bills are some of the types of evidence that prove that there is/was a good faith marriage. A marriage entered into solely for immigration benefits is a sham and not a good faith marriage.

Types of Marriages

a. Civil marriage: This is the most common type of marriage and is easily recognized. In most cases, the government of the state or province where you are getting married will issue a license. The ceremony has to be performed by an official or authorized person. After the marriage ceremony, you apply to have the marriage recorded in official government records. You will receive an original certificate with the details of the marriage. A certified copy of this document is good for a VAWA application.

b. Common-law marriage: A common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage between two people without a marriage license or ceremony. It is the type of arrangement where two people capable of marrying, live together as husband and wife and pretend to be a married couple. If a common law marriage is legally recognized in your U.S. state or foreign country, this is good enough for a VAWA application. Evidence of you cohabitating with your common-law spouse and a copy of the relevant law may help you prove your case.

c. Religious marriage: A wedding that follows all the statutory requirements and a religious official performs the ceremony rather than a civil official. This type of marriage is also recognized for VAWA purposes, as long as it is legal in the state or country where it happened.

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Any of the types of marriages above are eligible for VAWA. There are issues such as bigamy, consanguinity and public policy that can complicate the validity of a marriage. VAWA recognizes bigamous marriages where the abused spouse believes that he or she was in a valid marriage. These issues are highly complex and it is best to speak with a qualified immigration attorney.

Is Divorce Required for VAWA?

For VAWA eligibility, you must file the I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant while married to the abusive spouse or within two years of the divorce, the abuser’s death or the abuser’s loss of U.S. citizenship or U.S. permanent resident status. A battered ex-spouse may remarry after, but not before the I-360 is approved, otherwise the case will be denied.

2. VAWA Marriage Requirements for a  Child Beneficiary

An abused spouse’s child is automatically included without a separate petition. This includes the abuser’s step-children and adopted children. The marriage must have occurred before the child turned 18 years old. The child does not have to suffer abuse or have even resided with the abuser. There must be or have been a legally recognized marriage between the VAWA spouse and the abusive U.S. citizen or U.S. resident, for the child derative beneficiary to be eligible for VAWA. For the child, the marriage does not have to be bona fide and the abuse does not have to have taken place during the marriage.The child must be unmarried and under 21 when the I-360 is filed but will not “age-out” even if the petition is not approved until after 21 years of age.

Aged out Children: An abused child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may file a VAWA petition until age 25 if he or she can demonstrate that the abuse was at least one central reason for the filing delay. To be eligible to file until age 25: 1) the child must have qualified to file before age 21; 2) there must be a strong connection between the abuse and the filing delay; 3) the I-360 must be filed before the child reaches 25; and 4) the child must be unmarried.

3. VAWA Marriage Requirements for an Abused Parent

Natural, adoptive or stepparents are eligible for VAWA if the United States child is 21 or older at the time the parent files. For stepparents, the  marriage had to exist before the abusive child turned 18. 

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How an Immigration Attorney can Help?

After reading this article, you should have learned that the answer to the question, “does VAWA require marriage” is yes.

I have been practicing immigration law since 2015. I have helped hundreds of VAWA applicants through the application process. At my law firm, we review the facts of your case thoroughly to determine the best strategy to achieve your goals.

We have received approvals for cases that other attorneys thought were not possible.

Please fee free to reach out to us for a case evaluation.

Cheryl-Fletcher Does VAWA Require Marriage?

Watch Attorney Fletcher explain the 8 eligibility requirements for a successful VAWA petition. WATCH NOW.