When Immigration Law And Family Law Collide

When our client came to us, she was in a desperate panic. Her husband, a UK national whom she had met while vacationing in the Caribbean, had just been denied his green card and was without status – he could be deported at any minute.

Her husband had been married once before, but had been divorced in the Dominican Republic.  The immigration service had decided that their Pennsylvania marriage was invalid, because it believe Pennsylvania did not recognize the validity of Dominican Republic divorces, based on Pennsylvania Supreme Court case from the 1950’s.  The immigration officer had suggested that her husband needed to get divorced again, which would take months, and would require him to live overseas, apart from her, for up to two years.

Our attorneys researched the family law involved and determined that there was no clear law overturning the old Pennsylvania court decision, even though many subsequent Pennsylvania courts had recognized the validity of Dominican Republic divorces. They came upon a creative strategy, however: The New York Court of Appeals had issued a decision explicitly recognizing the validity of Dominican Republic divorces for purposes of getting married in New York.  We had our clients travel to New York, get remarried, and resubmitted their applications for permanent residence.  Because Pennsylvania had to recognize the validity of the New York marriage (and New York explicitly recognized the validity of the husband’s Dominican Republic divorce), the immigration officer had to concede the validity of the marriage, and approved the husband’s green card.