Sham Marriage Lawyers

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What is a Sham Marriage?

A 'sham marriage' is a marriage that has been entered into for the purpose of deceiving public officials or society about its true purpose. Sham marriage arrangements typically involve both people agreeing to get married in order to obtain certain benefits which are only reserved for married couples, such as a change in immigration status or obtaining U.S. citizenship. 

Sham marriages are also known as fake marriages or fraudulent marriages. It is a violation of U.S. laws to enter into a marriage for fraudulent purposes for the purposes of deceiving state or federal officials. Violations of sham marriage laws can result in severe legal consequences.

Why Do People Enter Into Sham Marriage Arrangements?

By far the most common reason that people agree to a sham marriage is for immigration purposes. Usually, a non-citizen will cooperate with a U.S. citizen so they can file for a fiancé visa or for a visa based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. Such fake marriages are handled like a business transaction; the U.S. citizen is typically paid a large sum of money for agreeing to marry the non-citizen. 

In most cases, the couple will seek a divorce some time after the desired immigration status has been achieved. If a couple is caught participating in such marriage schemes, they will have to face severe legal punishments, such as the non-citizen being deported out of the U.S.   There are a variety of illegal fraudulent marriage arrangement schemes that attempt to avoid strict immigration requirements. 

Besides fraudulent immigration intentions, sham marriages can also take other forms. These almost always involve some sort of financial gain and include many types of schemes such as:

What Are the Legal Consequences of Sham Marriages?

Sham marriages carry severe penalties with them. For example, if the sham marriage is based on immigration fraud, penalties can include a $250,000 and a prison sentence of up to five years in a federal facility. Also, a non-citizen party can become subject to penalties like deportation, loss of their current immigration status, and could possibly be barred from re-entry into the United States.

If a sham marriage was entered into in a non-mutual way (i.e., one party intentionally deceived the other), the guilty party may have to pay retribution, especially if the arrangement resulted in losses to the innocent party. In many cases the marriage will be legally annulled. Serious offenses may be recorded on one’s criminal record.

Legal authorities may use a variety of factors to determine whether a marriage is based on legitimate reasons, such as: the length of the marriage or engagement period, differences in the spouses’ ages, previous marriages to foreign nationals or U.S. citizens, the existence of children living outside the U.S., and large differences in the spouses’ incomes.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Sham Marriage Issue?

Sham marriages are serious violations of federal and state laws. They are not taken lightly by authorities and will lead to serious consequences. If you feel that you are involved in a sham marriage situation, it is in your best interest to consult with a family law attorney or an immigration lawyer. A lawyer can determine what your best interests are under state and federal marriage laws. 

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Last Modified: 10-10-2013 12:13 PM PDT

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