Sham Marriage Lawyers

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What is a Sham Marriage?

A “sham marriage” is a marriage that has been entered into to deceive public officials or society about its true purpose. Sham marriage arrangements typically involve both people agreeing to get married to get certain benefits. Usually these benefits are only reserved for married couples.

Sham marriages are also known as fake marriages or fraudulent marriages. It is a violation of U.S. law to enter into a marriage for fraudulent purposes. 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. 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 a marriage scheme, they will face severe legal punishments.


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:

  • Void marriage: This refers to any type of marriage that does not meet the legal requirements for a valid marriage. Sometimes only one party will be aware of that the marriage is not legally valid and can take advantage of the other person
  • Marriage blanc: This is marriage without consummation. This means the couple has not demonstrated that they were living as a "normal" married couple
  • Arranged marriage: Many marriages are arranged for business or non-personal reasons.  But, some arranged marriages are legal
  • “Hollywood marriage”: Marriages that are entered into primarily for their publicity value or to create a social phenomenon
  • Marriage of convenience: Any type of marriage that is entered into for reasons unrelated to love or family. They can sometimes be legal but if they involve fraud then they may carry penalties. Sham marriages fall into this category

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:

If one person created a sham marriage (i.e., one party intentionally deceived the other), the guilty party may have to pay retribution. This is especially true if the arrangement resulted in losses to the innocent party. Often the marriage will be legally annulled. Serious offenses may be recorded on one’s criminal record.

How Do Courts Determine Whether a Marriage Is a Sham Marriage?

Legal authorities may use a variety of factors to determine whether a marriage is based on legitimate reasons. These factors include:

Should I Get a Lawyer for My Sham Marriage Issue?

Yes. Sham marriages are serious violations of federal and state laws. The authorities do not take them lightly and will lead to serious consequences. If you are involved in a sham marriage, it is in your best interest to consult with a family law attorney or an immigration lawyer. An experienced lawyer can determine your best interests under state and federal marriage laws.

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Last Modified: 04-08-2016 11:55 AM PDT

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