Common Immigration Pitfalls on Philippine Marriages

By:  Dennis E. Chua, Esq.

A marriage celebrated outside the United States is valid and will be recognized here in the United States if that foreign marriage was valid in the country where it was celebrated.

Often, we see cases where clients still fail to have their previously contracted marriage in a foreign country dissolved before they enter into a subsequent marriage.  This has led to certain complications in their cases  which has resulted in the denial of their immigrant petitions or applications for adjustment of status filed with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.   Here are some of the more common scenarios that we have encountered.

1. Pedro was married in the Philippines in 1990 before a Judge in the Regional Trial Court.  Marriage was registered with the National Statistics Office in the Philippines.  Pedro left for the United States and decided not to return to the Philippines.  He  met  Jenny, a US citizen in California and after a whirlwind romance, they eventually decided to get married.  Pedro thought all along that his marriage in 1990 was not recognized in the United States as his previous marriage was contracted in a foreign country.  After their marriage, they filed for a concurrent application for adjustment of status and immigrant petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The immigrant petition and application for adjustment of status was denied because Pedro’s subsequent marriage to his US citizen wife was not valid as he had a prior and subsisting marriage.

2. Katrina  was married in 1985 in the Philippines.  In 1990,  Katrina’s husband abandoned her and was never to be seen again.  In 2000, Katrina filed for a presumption of death declaration  with the Regional Trial Court in Manila.  The Court gave due course to her petition.  In 2005, Katrina visited the United States and decided to stay for good.  She then met  Ethan, US citizen.  Thinking that she was already free to marry because of the presumption of death declaration she obtained from the Philippine court, Katrina married Ethan.  After the marriage, they filed for the corresponding application with the USCIS.   After their adjustment interview.  Their case was put for further review.  The USCIS went on further to forward the case to the US Embassy in Manila to look into the whereabouts of the first husband of  Katrina.   The USCIS discovered that the first husband of Katrina was still alive and residing in Marikina, Rizal.  The USCIS then denied the application on the ground that the prior marriage of Katrina was not validly terminated.

3. Abigail married Andrew in 1998. Abigail later learned that Andrew was previously married to Anastacia in 1995.  Abigail left Andrew and flew to the United States.  While here in the US, Abigail met Anthony a US citizen. They had an amorous relationship and eventually got married.  Anthony filed the petition documents for Abigail. After the interview, Anthony’s petition for Abigail was denied.  Abigail tried to argue that her marriage with Andrew was null and void from the very beginning as Andrew had a prior existing marriage.   The position taken by Abigail was not accepted by the USCIS.  The USCIS even cited a Philippine Family Code provision stating that a judicial declaration of nullity must first be obtained by Abigail before she can contract a subsequent marriage.

It is therefore important to assess the validity of a marriage contracted in a foreign country before a subsequent marriage is entered.   A simple misstep may have serious immigration consequences more so that the USCIS is now issuing Notices to Appear for removal proceedings  once the application for adjustment of status is denied.

Atty. Dennis E. Chua is a partner in The Law Firm of Chua Tinsay and Vega (CTV) –  a full service law firm with offices in San Francisco, San Diego and Manila.  The information presented in this article is for general information only and is not, nor intended to be, formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Call or e-mail CTV for an in-person or phone consultation to discuss your particular situation and/or how their services may be retained at (415) 495-8088; (619) 955-6277; dchua@ctvattys.com.