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News & Press: Legal News

California Court Protects Right of Support For Sponsored Spouses

Monday, July 31, 2017  
Posted by: Caila Comrie
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SABA members won a victory for sponsored spouses of immigrants, assuring that they will not be abandoned in a strange country with no resources. NAC member Neel Chatterjee and SABA-NorCalmember Protima Pandey led the pro bono team that challenged a common family court practice of denying sponsored spouses from support that can had been promised to them.

To place this issue in context…Many immigrants to the U.S. return to their home country for arranged marriages. The spouses, typically women, leave their homes to join their spouse in the U.S. Exacerbating an already difficult transition, the newly-arrived spouses often have limited language skills and sometimes have a high school education or less.  To ensure that these spouses are cared for, the federal government requires a form, called an I-864, that basically requires that the spouse with immigration status must support their new spouse at an income of at least 125% above the poverty line for a period of 10 years, whether or not they remain married.

After coming here, the sponsored spouse will find themselves living with a stranger. Sometimes it works out. Other times, the spouses are abusive and the women are trapped. Even worse, when the abused, sponsored spouse wants to leave, the family courts would not enforce the I-864 commitment as part of a divorce proceeding.

On June 28, that changed. In an issue of First Impression, the California Court of Appeals said that a immigrant spouse has standing to enforce a support obligation created by an I-864 commitment in state court. This is a very important win for abused immigrant spouses, allowing them to get relief and providing options for leaving an abuser. It provides a safety net for a group of vulnerable individuals who are otherwise left at the mercy of relatives or the community if a marriage does not work out. You can find the details of the case here.

Additionally, Harsh Parikh was part of the team that prepared an amicus brief for the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project in support of the immigrant spouse. The pro bono case was originally brought to Orrick by the Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP) in California.