the intersection of family law and immigration law: questions and answers

September 17, 2021

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Family Law and Immigration Law Questions and Answers

Immigration status, international issues, and family relationships come together more often than you might think. Read through the most common family law and immigration law questions and answers below and learn why it is a good idea to bring your case to a law firm, like Hightower Reff Law, that practices both immigration law and family law.

Can I get a green card through marriage?

Probably, yes! However, it is important that you tell your immigration attorney how you came to the United States. If yours is a case of immigration to the United States without an immigrant visa or without permission, the process will be very different.

There are two methods most people use to apply for Lawful Permanent Residency (a green card) based on their marriage to a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (a green card holder).

Proving you have a valid marriage

If you are in the United States, you can change your immigration status by first proving that you have a lawful and valid marriage. This is done by submitting the right forms to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS). With the completed forms, you are also required to include documentation that shows the government that your marriage is real.

For example, you can submit letters from family and friends who know you to be a real and loving couple, or bank statements showing that you share a bank account, or even the birth certificate of a child that lists you both as the parents.

You might have an interview with a USCIS officer who will ask questions to determine if your marriage is legitimate. Here are some frequently asked questions from USCIS officers:

  • How long have you known each other?
  • How did you meet?
  • When is your spouse’s birthday?
  • What does your spouse do?

They might also interview you and your spouse separately to make sure you are both telling the truth. These interviews can be intimidating, and it is a good idea to have your attorney with you at the interview!

If the immigration official determines that your marriage is real, they will allow your application to go forward. This means that you can apply for a green card!

Applying from your home country

If you came to the United States without proper paperwork, you might have to return to your home country and apply for a green card through the United States Embassy or Consulate in your home country. This process is called “Consular Processing.” With Consular Processing, it is extremely important that you do NOT leave the United States without speaking to an immigration lawyer first, or else you may not be able to come back even if you have family members in the United States.

Call our experienced immigration attorney to determine what process is right for you and your spouse!

I am a minor child. Can I get a green card through my legal guardian?

Probably, yes! In the state of Nebraska, if you are under 19 years of age and are living in the United States without your parents, you can petition to have a legal guardian appointed to care for you. An attorney who is licensed in Nebraska will need to file a petition for Guardianship, along with all of the supporting paperwork, with the county court where you or your guardian lives.

Your guardian can be a United States citizen, a permanent resident, or someone that is undocumented. He or she will need to pass a background check done by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to make sure they do not have a history of abusing or neglecting someone in their care.

Abuse, neglect or abandonment considerations

You and your guardian will need to have a hearing in front of a judge, who will determine if you have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by your biological parents. If you came to the United States by yourself, it is possible you could qualify as someone who has been neglected or abandoned.

Once you have a court order appointing your guardian, with the necessary language stating that you were abused, neglected, or abandoned by your biological parents, you can apply for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status visa. Once you have been approved, you can apply for a green card.

Paperwork proficiency

This process is very complicated and requires that your attorney in the guardianship case and your immigration attorney assure the paperwork contains the necessary language for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Visa. At Hightower Reff Law, our immigration attorney is specially trained in immigration law and family law, and can help you navigate this tricky process!

I live in the United States, but my spouse does not. Can I still get a divorce?

Yes! The state of Nebraska is a no-fault divorce state. This means that if you do not want to be married to someone, the court will make sure that you do not have to stay married. You do not need to provide a special reason for wanting a divorce.

If your spouse has left the country, it is still possible to legally divorce that person without having to leave Nebraska. There is a tricky part: you will need to prove to the court that you gave your spouse notice that there is a divorce case in process.

Complexities of international law

If you know your spouse’s new address, your attorney will need to make sure that you give your spouse notice in a way that is allowed under international law. Your attorney will need to determine if the country your spouse lives in is part of any international treaty, and then will need to take the steps necessary to follow the rules in the treaty.

This can be very complicated, so it is important that you speak with an attorney who has experience practicing international law. At Hightower Reff Law, our attorneys have extensive experience with international divorce and will make sure that you are not trapped by a marriage you do not want.

How do you give your spouse notice if you don’t know where he or she lives? Well, there are many ways to give someone notice under the Nebraska court system. Make sure to speak with our office for help with your international divorce!

I am in a relationship where I am being harmed or abused and I do not have lawful immigration status in the United States. What can I do?

Congress took special care to make sure that undocumented men and women who have experienced abuse by a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident can apply for a certain type of visa. Part of this process includes using the state court system to seek a protection order or pursue criminal charges against the U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident who is causing the abuse.

Our team at the Hightower Reff Law office has a long history of helping those who are victims or survivors of abuse apply for a protection order. This process begins by completing the proper paperwork to explain to the court why the judge should write an order that prevents your partner from speaking to you and orders your partner to stay away from you.

Sometimes, you will need to have a hearing where you give testimony about why you need protection from abuse. Please contact our office if you would like an attorney to come to this hearing with you.

Our attorneys stand with you

It is important you know your immigration status does NOT determine whether you can seek protection from abuse. We understand that it can be very scary to speak with the police or appear in court for a hearing when you are undocumented. Our team at Hightower Reff Law can work with you and stand with you during this process and help you with special visa applications so that you can remain in the United States.

The value of dual understanding

It is plain to see there are many ways your immigration law questions and family law questions can intertwine. And having someone by your side who understands both family law and immigration law can strengthen your goals. Contact the team at Hightower Reff Law to learn which options are right for you!


This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are unique from one another and it is impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.

If you need help with an immigration case, contact Hightower Reff Law today or call our immigration hotline at 402-932-9116.

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