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Court Finds Husband Has Duty To Provide Spousal Support to Immigrant Wife After Separation as Immigration Sponsor

California divorce courts often have to consider a range of complex issues, including the division of assets, custody of children, and spousal support. In a recent California spousal support case, one court had to consider whether a wife could sue for spousal support not only under state law, but also through an immigration form signed in connection with a spousal visa petition.

Wedding RingsThe Facts of the Case

The husband was a U.S. citizen, and his wife was a citizen of Fiji. In 2012, they were married in Fiji, and the husband filed a visa petition to bring his wife to the United States. As part of the petition, the husband signed a form I-864 affidavit of support. The form is meant to ensure that an immigrant does not become a public charge. In signing the form, the husband agreed to provide his wife with any support necessary to maintain her income at 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The form also stated that if the husband did not provide her with sufficient support, the wife could sue him for that support.

The wife moved to the United States in 2013. According to the wife, the husband abused her and told her he wanted her to go back to Fiji. Later that year, the husband and wife went to Fiji, and according to the wife, her husband abandoned her there and tore her permanent resident stamp out of her passport. The wife obtained temporary travel documents from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji and returned to the United States on her own.

The husband subsequently filed a petition for annulment and, in the alternative, dissolution of marriage. The wife later filed a financial statement in response, in which she said that she did not receive a salary and that she had applied for public welfare benefits. She argued that by signing the I-864 affidavit, the husband vowed to support her for 10 years. The court ordered the husband to pay temporary spousal support of $675 per month. The court also ordered her to obtain the necessary paperwork for her to be able to work in the United States.

Four months later, the husband filed a request for an order terminating spousal support. He argued that the wife did not make any effort to become self-supporting. The wife again asked the court to continue spousal support based on the I-864 affidavit. She claimed she was entitled to $1,196.15 per month, based on 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The trial court terminated spousal support because it found the wife was not making her best effort to find work. The wife appealed.

The Court’s Decision

A California appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision. If found that the I-864 form gave the wife the ability to enforce the husband’s obligations under the affidavit in state or federal court. The court explained that although California statute provides guidelines for providing and terminating spousal support, the wife also had a contractual claim for support based on the husband’s obligations under the I-864 affidavit. In addition, the wife did not have to seek employment to mitigate damages under the I-864 claim.

Spousal Support

In California, a court has to consider a number of circumstances in determining whether a spouse must pay spousal support. Some of these circumstances include the earning capacity of each spouse, the standard of living established during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, and the hardships to each spouse. A spousal support order can also be modified or terminated, depending on the parties’ circumstances.

Are You Going Through a Divorce?

If you are going through a Bay Area divorce, or are considering initiating divorce proceedings, meet with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible. Retaining a trustworthy and knowledgeable family law attorney is essential in obtaining a favorable outcome in a divorce. San Jose family law attorney John S. Yohanan has over 35 years of experience representing California residents in family law matters. We can help you file for divorce or obtain a legal separation, and we can provide guidance and assistance in a wide range of other family law issues. To set up a consultation, contact us at 408-297-0700 or through our online form.

Related Blog Posts:

California Court Determines Husband’s Transfer of Business Interest to New Wife Was Made in Bad Faith, Bay Area Divorce Attorney Blog, October 12, 2017

California Court Rejects Husband’s Annulment Claim Based on Alleged Fraud, Bay Area Divorce Attorney Blog, October 25, 2017