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Did you know October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Are you a victim? Educate yourself on family law and immigration options.
October 1, 2017: 8:45 PM ET

By Patricia Elizee, Esq.

October is not only breast cancer awareness month! It is also domestic violence awareness month. If you are a victim of domestic violence just know that you are no alone and you do have options. If you are an immigrant and think that you have less available resources, know that you can get your green card without the help or knowledge of your abuser.

There is much uncertainty and fear in the life of any undocumented person living in the United States. The biggest fear is of being discovered by ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, being separated from their family, and being deported back to their home country. Just imagine if it is the immigrant's spouse who is threatening to reveal their status to immigration for deportation. In most instances immigrant victims are scared to report any abuse due to their illegal status and the fear of being deported. Unfortunately, many victims do not know that they have access to both immigration and alimony relief.

The Violence Against Women Act a VAWA or VAWA allows an abused undocumented spouse of a US citizen of Legal Permanent Resident to self-petition for their green cards. Generally, for an immigrant to qualify for a green card and adjust their status to that of a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), a US citizen or LPR relative or spouse must first petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an immigrant visa on their behalf. Currently, VAWA allows a battered or abused spouse of a United States Citizen or an LPR to file an I-360 form with USCIS and self-petition to Adjust Status. Congress recognized that immigrants are more vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence due to their immigration status and created the self-petition process to encourage victims to free themselves of their abuser. Once the I-360 self- petition is approved, the applicant can then file an I-485 adjustment of status form to obtain the green card.

To qualify for relief the immigrant victim must first prove that they entered into a good faith marriage with a US citizen or LPR spouse. They must also show that they are being or were abused in the past and that they are an individual of good moral character. Under the current process, USCIS adjudicates the victim's application confidentially and does not contact the alleged abuser.

The victim also has relief available to them in family court. Alimony is a right to financial support that each party to a divorce has. Where there is no prenuptial agreement, that right is not waived. You have a right to ask for alimony once the divorce case is filed and pending in court. A temporary alimony can be granted while the case is being decided.

The State of Florida provides a statutory right to alimony. Currently, there are four different types of Alimony that the judge can grant when terminating the marriage: bride the gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent, or a combination therefore. In any alimony case the judge will have to first determine that the person asking for alimony has a need for it. The Judge will then have to make a determination that the other party has the ability to pay the alimony. Please note that the judge is able to consider whether your spouse committed adultery when decided whether to award alimony.

Bridge the gap alimony is awarded to assist a party by providing them support to allow them to transition from being married to being single. This allows a party to present their short-term plan on how they will transition from being married to single. This plan may include for example a training program or certification course to prepare them to return to the job market. Bridge the gap alimony cannot exceed 2 years. It also ends if the person receiving it remarries or upon the death of either party. The amount cannot be modified in amount or duration.

Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to assist a party in establishing the ability to support themselves through the redevelopment or previous skills, education, or training. There must be a specific rehabilitative plan. This type of alimony can be modified.

Bridge the gap and rehabilitative alimony are great sources of relief for victims of domestic violence that are trying to get back on their feet. Where you are able to show the judge that you have a financial need for more than a short term support, the Court is able to award durational or permanent alimony.

Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of Elizee Law Firm, a firm focused on immigration and family law issues.
Ms. Elizee can be reached at 305-371-8846, 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131.


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