In the United States, states generally control family law issues such as PFAs, custody, and divorce. When cases involve at least one non-citizen spouse or family member, however, aspects of federal law may come into play. The federal government controls immigration law, and depending on the status of the non-citizen spouse, different issues may enter into consideration.
PFAs in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is similar to a restraining order and can be either temporary or granted for up to three years. The purpose of a PFA is to protect an individual from abuse. In legal terms, the individual seeking the PFA is referred to as the plaintiff. The individual accused of abuse is known as the defendant.
For victims of domestic violence, PFAs can be an important and crucial remedy to end violence and remove them from dangerous situations. PFAs can allow victims to remain in their homes and continue their employment without fear of violence or abuse.
PFAs are an important part of domestic violence mitigation when used correctly. In some cases, however, PFAs are not needed or are based on fraudulent information. In these situations, defendants face a loss of income, their residence, and even reduced or terminated custody and visitation with their children. This is why it's important that PFAs are properly administered. Both victims and the falsely accused are hurt by improperly issued PFAs. Misuse or fraudulent use of PFAs hurts actual victims.
What Qualifies for a PFA
Pennsylvania limits PFAs to certain relationships. To qualify for a PFA, the defendant must be a relative or intimate partner, such as:
- A spouse or domestic partner, including same-sex partners
- Persons related by blood or marriage
- Current or former intimate partners
Pennsylvania broadly defines abuse for the purposes of a PFA. Actions that qualify may be actual violence or could be threats of violence.
If you plan to file a PFA, you do not have to continue to reside with the defendant. You must simply be able to show that you did reside with the defendant and that you left as a result of the abuse. Likewise, Pennsylvania has the authority to issue a PFA even when a defendant is not a U.S. citizen or resident of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania does not require that you be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to file for a PFA.
PFAs and Non-citizens
For non-citizens, whether they are the victim or the accused, a PFA has even higher stakes than they do for U.S. citizens. Non-citizen plaintiffs may hesitate to file out of concern for how it will affect their immigration status, especially if they are in the U.S. on a spousal visa.
Non-citizens who have a PFA filed against them face not only a loss of employment or their residence but also their ability to remain in the United States. They may have trouble renewing a visa or applying for permanent residence or citizenship. Although rare, they could face deportation in certain circumstances.
For non-citizens who either want to file a PFA or have had a PFA filed against them, legal representation is crucial to help them navigate both Pennsylvania Courts but also the relevant immigration law. The Lento Law Firm Team is experienced in helping immigrants who reside in Pennsylvania navigate these issues.
Non-citizen Victims of Domestic Violence and PFAs
Both Pennsylvania and the federal government provide special protections for non-citizens who are victims of abuse. Research indicates that non-citizens are at a greater risk of experiencing domestic violence as well as being less likely to leave their spouses. Fear of losing custody of children, deportation, or lack of financial support may result in non-citizen victims feeling they do not have a way to stop the abuse.
Your immigration status is irrelevant when you file for a PFA. Where your immigration status matters is how you proceed after a judge grants a PFA Order. Your immigration status will determine the best way for you to proceed. Those with a permanent green card will have less to do than someone in the U.S. on an H-4 spousal visa.
Pennsylvania has an Immigrant Domestic Violence Survivors program to help address the underreporting of abuse. This Initiative is intended to help non-citizens escape domestic violence and, when necessary, guide them through the immigration process so that they may remain in the United States if they choose. The Immigrant Domestic Violence Survivors program works with non-citizens to help them gain legal status for both themselves and their children. Its services are limited, however, to certain visas.
It would not be an exaggeration to call the U.S. immigration system complex. This complexity, unfortunately provides U.S. citizens and permanent residents with the ability to misuse the system as a form of abuse or as a way to control a non-citizen spouse or family member.
To that end, the federal government has created several options for those in abusive or controlling relationships. These opportunities range from employment authorization to U.S. citizenship, and their availability depends on a variety of factors. Individuals who have taken out a PFA may use one of these avenues, although the best option for them will depend on the citizenship status of the plaintiff and defendant.
Non-citizen Plaintiff and U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident Defendant
As part of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), non-citizens may self-petition for USCIS to change their immigration classification. VAWA allows self-petitioners, such as the plaintiffs in PFA cases, to file this application without the defendant's knowledge, consent, or participation.
By removing the defendant from the immigration process, VAWA eliminates one method that abusers can use to control and manipulate their victims. The VAWA self-petition option also allows plaintiffs to feel safe and establish their independence.
One caveat to qualify for VAWA is that the defendant must be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. For those who have a PFA against someone who is neither a citizen nor a permanent resident, the plaintiff will have to consider other options.
To become a VAWA self-petitioner, you must be able to show that you are either:
- The spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- A child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- The parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years of age
The person against whom you filed the PFA must fall into one of the above categories for you to qualify as a VAWA self-petitioner. A spouse must have filed the PFA against their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, a child against a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent. For parents, the PFA must be against their child who is over 21 years of age.
The following examples would not qualify as a VAWA self-petitioner:
- You file a PFA Order against your U.S. citizen partner, and you are not married to your U.S. citizen partner
- You file a PFA Order against a U.S. citizen partner but base your VAWA self-petitioner application on being the child of a U.S. Citizen
- Neither you nor your spouse are U.S. Citizens, and after you take out a PFA Order against your spouse, you file to become a VAWA Self-Petitioner on the basis of your 23-year-old daughter being a U.S. Citizen
The identity of the defendant for the PFA is crucial for determining eligibility under the VAWA.
Parents who have children who are unmarried and under the age of 21 may also file on that child's behalf. Children may file on their own behalf when they are unmarried and under 21 years of age and have been abused by their U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent. For children who can show that parental abuse delayed their ability to file, they may file to be a VAWA self-petitioner up to the age of 25.
Requirements for Spouses
For spouses who wish to file as a VAWA self-petitioner, they should be aware that USCIS has established additional eligibility categories. Plus, those filing as a spouse must still be able to show that their marriage was entered into in good faith and was a bona fide marriage.
Some of the additional requirements include timing. The marriage must have been terminated either by death or divorce within two years of when you filed your petition. That you had a PFA against a spouse who passed away three years ago will not give you eligibility to become a VAWA self-petitioner. The purpose of the program is to provide support for those in current or recent abusive situations.
The VAWA also creates a category for parents whose child was abused by a spouse. For those who filed a PFA due to a spouse's abuse of their child, these individuals should file as a spouse.
Additional Eligibility Requirements
If you meet the requirements for one of the qualifying relationships, you will need to meet three additional criteria to qualify as a VAWA self-petitioner:
- You were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by the PFA defendant and can provide evidence
- You either are residing or have resided with the U.S. citizen or permanent resident against whom you filed a PFA
- You have good moral character
Battery and extreme mental cruelty encompass a broad range of activities ranging from physical violence to threats of violence or mental abuse. USCIS makes each determination on a case-by-case basis and does not consider any single factor conclusive.
USCIS defines residency as a "person's general place of abode or the principal, actual dwelling place." Merely visiting, even extended visits, are not enough to qualify.
One exception to the residency requirement is when a child files to be a VAWA self-petitioner. Children are not required to have resided with a parent to qualify.
What USCIS will not consider when determining residency:
- If the plaintiff and defendant resided together during the qualifying relationship
- The length of time plaintiff and defendant resided together
- Whether the plaintiff and defendant resided together in the United States (that they resided together in another country will satisfy the eligibility requirement)
Those who have successfully obtained a PFA in Pennsylvania are more likely to meet the first two eligibility criteria to become a VAWA self-petitioner. PFAs are generally considered evidence of battery or extreme cruelty, and with some exceptions, PFAs usually involve those who reside in the same household.
Good Moral Character
That an individual has been subjected to abuse does not exempt them from meeting the U.S.'s good moral character requirement for immigration. Good moral character is determined on a case-by-case basis.
USCIS provides several definitions of good moral character. For the VAWA section, the agency defines it as "the standards of the average citizen in the community, and may consider any conduct, behavior, acts, or convictions."
For VAWA self-petitioners, USCIS generally looks at the three previous years from the date you filed the application. This three-year period is not a requirement, however, and USCIS can look at any point in your life, including after filing to become a VAWA self-petitioner. For those who apply to become a VAWA self-petitioner, they should be conscious of their conduct and behavior during the application process.
Some behaviors, such as an aggravated felony conviction, are permanent bars to a VAWA Self-Petition. Others, such as prostitution, bigamy, and marijuana possession, are conditional bars. For a conditional bar, you will need to show USCIS that those actions do not represent who you are or your character.
Children under the age of 14 are presumed to have good moral character. In some cases, however, USCIS may request evidence of good moral character when USCIS has reason to believe the child does not meet this presumption.
If you believe something in your past or current conduct may result in USCIS finding you do not possess good moral character, you should reach out to the Team at the Lento Law Firm. We can help you build a case to show why you have good moral character and why you should be granted the opportunity to become a VAWA self-petitioner.
USCIS does not require specific evidence under the VAWA. No petition will be denied solely due to failure to submit specific evidence. The only time that a petition under VAWA can be denied due to evidence is if the evidence isn't credible or does not establish the plaintiff/petitioner's eligibility.
A PFA Order alone may not be sufficient evidence. USCIS has sole discretion in determining whether the evidence provided shows the plaintiff/petitioner was subjected to battery or extreme cruelty.
Death of Defendant
All petitioners, regardless of their relationship, may be able to file to be a VAWA self-petitioner even if the defendant died or lost or renounced their citizenship or permanent residence status. In these situations, you will generally have a limited window of time in which to file.
Timing is one reason why you should work with an attorney to help you. The Lento Law Firm Team can help you navigate both Pennsylvania and federal law to help you determine how you can remain in the U.S.
Non-citizen Plaintiff and Non-citizen Defendant
For those admitted to the U.S. as the spouse of a nonimmigrant visa holder, filing for a PFA may seem terrifying. You may worry that filing a PFA will result in your spouse losing their job or visa and forcing all of you to leave the United States.
USCIS, however, recognizes that non-citizens build a life in the United States and that those suffering from abuse need a way to exit a troubled relationship. Given these considerations, the federal government has a path for abused spouses of nonimmigrant visa holders that allows them to remain in the United States and obtain a work permit. This opportunity is part of the VAWA, and the goal of this option is to provide safety and independence for abused spouses.
For individuals who are the spouse of someone on an A, E-3, G, or H nonimmigrant visa, you may be able to apply for employment authorization. The initial authorization is good for two years and, in some situations, may be renewed. Unlike individuals who took out a PFA against a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident, this option does not allow you to change your immigration status and may not extend your stay in the United States.
You may be able to apply for work authorization even if your spouse has died or if you've divorced. In the case of death, you will have two years to file for employment authorization.
For divorce, the dissolution of the marriage needs to have occurred in the previous two years. You will need to be able to show that battery or extreme cruelty was a factor in the divorce.
If your spouse lost their nonimmigrant status as a result of domestic violence, such as having a PFA filed against them, you could file for employment authorization to remain in the United States.
Remarrying before your employment authorization is approved will result in USCIS denying your application.
Applying for Work Authorization
To apply for work authorization, you will need to provide USCIS with several documents in addition to the application. When you're unable to provide physical evidence of your spouse's visa, you should provide USCIS with enough identifying information for them to locate them via USCIS databases.
You will need to provide evidence of abuse, such as a copy of your PFA and evidence of your qualifying marital relationship.
When renewing work authorization after the initial two-year period, you will not be required to submit any evidence of abuse.
Spouses of nonimmigrant visa holders do have options after filing a PFA. Regardless of your spouse's visa, contact the Team at the Lento Law Firm. We can help you navigate a PFA, a divorce, and how to remain in the United States.
Avoid False or Exaggerated Accusations
For some individuals, exaggerating or falsifying claims of domestic violence may seem an appealing option. Those going through a divorce who wish to gain full custody of their children or individuals who want to file as a VAWA self-petitioner may view false or exaggerated claims as the easiest way to achieve their goal.
Do not accuse another person of false or exaggerated abuse, either to obtain a PFA or for immigration purposes. Being caught or suspected of such actions has considerable downsides and could permanently damage your future opportunities.
From the perspective of Pennsylvania, an individual who lies or misleads a court in order to obtain a PFA is not a victim and may also not be considered prepared for and capable of taking care of children. An attempt to gain full custody through underhanded means could result in losing custody altogether and having only visitation. In some cases, a false accusation could result in criminal charges.
For immigrants, the cost of a false accusation is even higher. The U.S. requires applicants for permanent residency and citizenship to have good moral character. Lying about a spouse, especially when a U.S.-based court has evidence of your misstatements, could be used as evidence against your application. Depending on your visa, renewal may be more difficult.
Even in cases of abuse, avoid exaggerating or providing any information of which you are unsure. Failure to provide accurate information may undercut your entire case by calling into question your reliability. This includes not lying or hiding your own questionable conduct.
The Rutherford Example
One famous example of the cost of false and exaggerated accusations, although not in Pennsylvania, comes from the actress Kelly Rutherford. Rutherford was a U.S. citizen married to a non-citizen.
She told the federal government that her estranged spouse was engaging in illegal business practices. He was subsequently deported, but that did not result in Rutherford gaining full custody. The separated couple had previously had 50/50 custody, but now that the husband was unable to enter the United States to visit the children, the courts determined the children should live with him in Europe, with Rutherford flying to visit them. The husband was subsequently awarded full custody. Once out of the U.S., the children were no longer under the jurisdiction of any U.S. courts, and Rutherford's attempts to win custody were dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction.
Rutherford's claims are believed to be false and created to obtain full custody of their children. While this case is unusual, it highlights the importance of providing courts with accurate information, especially when one or both spouses is a non-citizen.
Hiring a qualified attorney is one way you can ensure you are telling a consistent and accurate version of events. An experienced legal team, such as the Lento Law Firm, can help you.
PFA Orders Against Non-citizens
If you've had or risk having a PFA Order against you, as a non-citizen, you need to be even more proactive than a U.S. citizen. A PFA Order can have a negative impact on anyone's life, but the stakes are higher for those in the U.S. on a visa or green card. Even without any criminal charges, a PFA Order may affect your employment and your ability to remain in the United States.
On its own, a PFA Order is unlike to be enough to trigger deportation proceedings. Violating a PFA Order, or conduct that rises to the level of criminal charges, could result in deportation.
Even if not deported, you may have difficulty renewing a visa or applying for permanent residence or citizenship.
A PFA order against you could hurt you when you renew your visa or apply for permanent residence or citizenship. As a result, you may be tempted to avoid mentioning a PFA Order to USCIS.
If you've had a PFA Order granted against you, even a temporary one, you should be prepared to disclose that information to USCIS. Under no circumstances should you hide a PFA order from USCIS, even if it was later withdrawn or did not rise to the level of criminal charges. This is especially the case for those who hope to become U.S. citizens. In general, USCIS looks at behavior in the previous five years before the date of your application, and applicants must be able to show good moral character.
That you have a PFA order against you is not a permanent bar to successfully applying for a green card or citizenship. Failing to disclose the information, however, could be used as evidence of poor moral character and as grounds for denying your application.
In Pennsylvania, PFA orders do not appear on a criminal history report. They are, however, part of a statewide database, PFAD. Courts and law enforcement are the only entities with access to the information, although other parties can request access. A PFA Order may also appear on a background check. In other words, you will not be able to hide a PFA order.
Non-citizens who have a PFA order against them, even one that does not result in criminal charges, should be prepared to disclose that information when renewing or applying for visas, green cards, or naturalization. They should be prepared to explain and show why the behavior in question does not represent them or indicate they possess poor moral character. You should be able to show how you've changed since the incident and how that PFA no longer represents you.
If you have a PFA Order against you, work with an experienced legal team. A lawyer familiar with PFAs can help you navigate the process.
Good Moral Character
The U.S. requires non-citizens who apply for permanent residence or citizenship to have good moral character. USCIS defines good moral character as "character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides."
For most applicants, USCIS will look at the five years preceding the date they filed their application. USCIS has the discretion, however, to look at a longer period of time, and some actions may bar you from permanent residency or citizenship regardless of how long ago they occurred.
A PFA Order alone is not an automatic bar to permanent residency or citizenship. Depending on the severity of the conduct that resulted in the PFA Order and your other behavior, a PFA Order could be used as one piece of evidence to deny your application. In some cases, several small incidents, taken together, can result in the USCIS denying an application.
To that end, individuals with a PFA Order in their recent history should be especially cautious in their other behavior. The use of controlled substances, for example, can be used against evidence of good moral character. While several states (not currently Pennsylvania) do allow the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, marijuana use remains illegal at the federal level. While a single possession charge will not affect your application, multiple charges coupled with a PFA Order could result in USCIS deciding you do not meet the standards for good moral character.
A PFA Order alone may not end your visa or derail your plans for citizenship. It can, however, tilt the scales against you if you have other issues on your record. This is one reason why, if you believe a PFA Order is based on false or exaggerated evidence, you need to fight for it to be rescinded as soon as possible.
More serious charges could make a denial of your application more likely, especially a criminal conviction. One ground for inadmissibility to the United States is a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude. One of the crimes that fall under this umbrella is domestic violence against a spouse. In addition, admitting to that crime may also be grounds for inadmissibility.
If you're facing domestic violence charges, do not automatically agree to a plea bargain. While a plea bargain may be the best choice for a U.S. citizen, for non-citizens, a plea bargain could affect their ability to remain in the United States.
Some charges, even those agreed to under a plea bargain, may be detrimental to future applications with USCIS.
To take one example, aggravated assault is considered a crime of moral turpitude in Pennsylvania. Pleading to aggravated assault would therefore put you in danger of not being able to remain in the United States.
This is why it's especially important for immigrants accused of domestic violence or who have a PFA Order against them to work with an attorney. An attorney can help you navigate the process but also keep you from making decisions that could affect your future immigration status.
Employment Visas and PFAs
In Pennsylvania, anyone with a PFA Order against them faces the potential for reduced job prospects or even losing their current employment. This can be especially concerning for non-citizens, especially those on H1-B or other employment-based visas.
H-1B visas are tied to a specific job. Anyone laid off or fired from a position has a short window of time to remain in the United States. Those who hope to remain in the United States have a 60-day window to locate a new employer. If they do not, they must leave the United States or risk being an unlawful presence.
If you lose your job due to a PFA Order or have your employment terminated for another reason after a PFA Order is filed against you, you have an especially difficult task ahead of you. Within 60 days, you will have to locate an employer who is both willing to sponsor your H-1B visa and who will not count the PFA Order against you.
For those unable to locate a new employer within that window of time, they must depart from the United States. Remaining in the United States after the expiration of a visa means you're an unlawful presence in the United States. Exiting the country before your visa expires is especially important for those with PFA Orders. Remaining in the United States as an unlawful presence jeopardizes future visa applications. Coupled with a PFA Order, you would have several marks against any future application.
Once you've departed from the United States, you can reapply or continue your job search. Depending on the situation, finding a U.S. employer does not guarantee you will be able to return to the U.S. Even once you get a job, you face the risk that USCIS will no longer approve your visa.
PFA Orders and Custody
Even if a couple remains married after a PFA Order, the defendant may have reduced or limited access to any child. In cases of divorce, Pennsylvania's standard custody rules will apply.
In general, a parent's immigration status will not factor into any custody decisions in Pennsylvania. A PFA Order against one parent will factor into any consideration of custody more than either parent's immigration status.
What this means is that if a PFA Order is issued against a U.S. Citizen spouse, courts may determine that the non-citizen parent should be awarded full custody. A parent's immigration status is not relevant to their ability to provide for or raise a child.
A Child's Best Interests
While courts will consider a variety of factors when determining custody, the umbrella term is what's in the best interests of the child. A parent's income matters less than their ability to provide a child with stability.
For parents with a PFA order against them, they may face reduced or terminated custody or visitation. Depending on the terms of the PFA Order, a parent may be limited in attending school or sporting events if the other parent is attending. They may have a reduced ability to communicate with the child.
In some cases, even if there's no evidence that you've mistreated your child, a judge may rule that the PFA Order and the related evidence suggest that you may be a threat to your child.
If you have a PFA Order against you, you need to be prepared to show why the PFA Order is irrelevant as far as your ability to support and nurture your children. You should show how the lack of a relationship with you would be detrimental to your child.
On the flip side, if you have sought a PFA Order against your spouse, you should not assume that the PFA Order will automatically grant you full custody. You will need to show how and why the PFA Order or other behavior indicates that your child will not be safe with the other parent.
Regardless of a PFA Order, both parents should keep in mind that Pennsylvania views parents who encourage a child to have a relationship with both parents favorably. Even when there is a PFA Order in place, courts may still believe parents should share custody. In these situations, you should be prepared to show how and why you would support the child having a relationship with both you and their other parent.
The exception is if you believe the other parent is a danger to the child or a flight risk.
One area where a non-citizen parent's immigration may come into play is if there is a risk that they may try to leave the country with their child. Once out of the United States, Pennsylvania courts have limited jurisdiction over the children. To address this risk, in 1993, the U.S. Congress passed the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act.
This Act makes it a federal, not state, crime for any parent to remove or attempt to remove a child from the United States with the goal of obstructing another person's custodial rights.
Any attempt to remove a child from the U.S. could result in a parent facing charges at the federal level. That a parent filed a PFA Order against the other parent will not act as a defense.
If one parent is a non-citizen in a custody dispute, courts may be more willing to consider whether the parent is an international flight risk.
PFAs, Divorce, and Immigration
In some cases, you or your spouse may decide to file for divorce after a PFA Order. Assuming you meet the residency requirements, your divorce will be subjected to the laws of Pennsylvania.
For non-citizens divorcing in Pennsylvania after a PFA Order, they will need to consider additional factors such as their current immigration status.
Even in cases when one spouse has been granted a PFA Order against the other, USCIS may not believe the conduct rises to the level of an abused spouse. In these cases, both spouses should be aware of the general requirements for divorce when at least one spouse is a non-citizen.
Conditional Green Card
If a U.S. citizen spouse and a non-citizen spouse decide to divorce before the latter's green card is permanent, the non-citizen's ability to remain in the United States may be in jeopardy. It generally takes two years for a green card to become permanent when a spouse obtains a green card through marriage.
If a couple divorces before the non-citizen spouse gets their permanent residence card and the non-citizen spouse plans to remain in the U.S., they should be prepared for increased scrutiny of their application. One of the requirements is that marriages must be bona fide and entered into in good faith. Individuals cannot marry solely for one person to obtain a green card.
For spouses who divorce before the green card's approval, the conditional resident will have the burden of proving to USCIS that their marriage was genuine. They will have to prove that the marriage was legitimate and entered into in good faith to qualify for permanent residence.
As a reminder: Even if the non-citizen spouse is applying for permanent residence or citizenship as a VAWA self-petitioner, they will still need to show that the marriage was entered into in good faith and not to evade U.S. immigration laws.
For conditional resident spouses who wish to remain in the United States, they should seek the help of an experienced lawyer. Failure to provide sufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage could result in an application being denied and the non-citizen spouse having to depart the United States.
For those with conditional permanent residence and a PFA Order against them, remaining in the U.S. may be difficult. If USCIS believes you are at fault for the breakdown of your marriage, your request to remain in the U.S. may be denied.
In these cases, you will need to show other reasons why the marriage ended or otherwise establish why you were not at fault.
Those who have permanent residence prior to their divorce will not have to worry about changing their status. The biggest change is that permanent residents divorced from their U.S. citizen spouses will have to wait five years before they can apply for U.S. Citizenship.
When a U.S. Citizen marries and brings their spouse into the U.S., they have to file an affidavit of support. The U.S. Citizen spouse becomes the financial sponsor of the non-citizen spouse.
Divorce does not end that requirement. Even after a divorce, a U.S. Citizen who sponsored their spouse for a green card is still expected to support that spouse.
When a U.S. citizen spouse filed Form I-864 with USCIS as part of their spouse's green card application, they agreed to support their spouse. The purpose of requiring support is to prevent the non-citizen from relying on public assistance. The amount of support required by law is at least 125% of the U.S.'s poverty guidelines. In Pennsylvania, for example, that support would equal $18,225 for a single person in 2023.
That obligation of support continues after the divorce. The obligation continues until one of the following conditions occurs:
- The ex-spouse becomes a U.S. Citizen
- Earns 40 credits of work toward Social Security (equivalent to ten years)
- Permanently leaves the United States
If U.S. Citizen spouse dies, the financial obligation terminates. The estate is not required to provide support for the non-citizen spouse. The non-citizen spouse will then have a two-year window to apply for citizenship.
Experienced PFA Representation
PFA Orders can be stressful for anyone. They can be especially difficult for non-citizens because of concerns over how a PFA Order may affect their ability to remain in the United States.
For plaintiffs, they might be concerned about losing their immigration status, financial insecurity, or losing custody of their children. Depending on their immigration status, options exist to allow them to apply for permanent residency, citizenship, or work authorization.
For defendants, a PFA Order could negatively affect their ability to remain in the United States. This is especially the case for those on work-based visas or conditional permanent residence. For defendants who have been falsely accused, being proactive is crucial to minimizing the impact on your immigration status.
While a PFA Order may affect child custody, a parent's citizenship will generally not factor into any custody considerations. The one exception is if they are believed to be a flight risk.
If either party decides to divorce, they should be aware of how both the divorce and the PFA Order could affect the non-citizen spouse's ability to remain in the United States. In most cases, a U.S. Citizen's spouse will still be expected to financially sponsor the non-citizen spouse.
All parties should focus on providing accurate information throughout the process. False or exaggerated claims of abuse or failure to disclose information to USCIS could result in an application being denied or even deportation.
For non-citizens who have built a life in Pennsylvania, being able to continue that life and remain within their supportive community is vital. The Team at the Lento Law Firm is here to help ensure you can continue your life with as little interruption as possible.
The Lento Law Firm can guide you from the initial PFA Order to filing documents with USCIS or filing for divorce and custody. We recognize the unique and personal nature of family law issues, and we tailor our services to each client and each client's situation. Contact us online or by phone.