Divorcing Asians May Face
Tough Immigration Issues

By: Bradley Coates
Special to the
Oahu Island News

As Hawaii’s largest family law firm, we handle lots of cases involving Asian clients. In fact, we have even formed a special Asian Languages Practice Group within our office which consists of Asian-American attorneys and paralegals. We often wind up handling cases involving an Asian spouse marrying a U.S. citizen. Then, a divorce occurs. They may have children and/or own property together. One spouse may need alimony or might even face deportation following a divorce.

These are diverse and difficult cases and a plethora of variables often exist. The attorney’s at Coates & Frey are well-equipped to handle scenarios involving Asians married to U.S. citizens. Although our firm does not specialize in immigration law, we often work closely with our clients’ immigration attorneys in order to ensure that their divorce goals coincide with any immigration issues they may encounter.

This article is intended to provide a very basic overview of immigration issues that a divorcing Asian might encounter. Readers are strongly advised to consult with an immigration attorney about immigration matters.

Family-based immigrant visas are available. These focus on the relationships between family members and contain certain preferences. The preference categories are: First preference, unmarried sons and daughters of citizens; second preference, spouses, children and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents; third preference, married sons and daughters of citizens; fourth preference, brothers and sisters of citizens.

Employment-based immigrant visas are also available. These focus on “priority workers,” which has essentially been interpreted as “aliens with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, multinational executives and managers or members of the professions holding advanced degrees.” “Skilled workers, professionals and other workers” are also included. “Skilled workers” are those with skilled labor requiring at least two years’ training or experience. “Professionals” are persons with bachelors’ degrees who are members of the “professions.” “Other workers” are those performing unskilled labor for which qualified workers are not available in the U.S. For further information on visas, this Web site may be helpful: http://travel.state.gov/visa_bulletin.html.

Nonimmigrant visas are also available. The most common of these include B-1/B-2 visitors for business or pleasure; F-1 students; H-1B “specialty occupation workers”; exchange students, scholars, trainees, and teachers; K-1 fiancé visas; L-1 managers and executives; and M-1 students at vocational or non-academic institutions.

Removal or deportation proceedings can occur. Grounds for removability include being inadmissible at time of entry; violations of nonimmigrant status; alien smuggling; marriage fraud and criminal offenses. Criminal offenses include crimes involving moral turpitude; multiple criminal convictions; aggravated felonies; controlled substance violations and certain firearm offenses. They also include several criminal offense categories such as domestic violence, stalking, violation of protective orders and child abuse.

Once an Asian immigrant or their spouse files for divorce, he may be in danger of eventual deportation. A particular concern may be that the divorce could preclude the ability to turn a provisional or temporary Green Card into the next level of permanent resident alien status. Asian spouses who are involved in a divorce should immediately retain both a competent family law attorney and an immigration law attorney in order to make sure that “all the angles are covered” as completely as possible. For example, Asian wives and mothers may fall under the protection of the Violence Against Women Act, which may permit them to stay in the U.S. if they can show they were victims of domestic abuse.

Child-custody issues often arise if an Asian spouse cannot stay in the U.S. and instead wants to relocate back to Asia. The legal standard for an award of custody by a family court judge is the “best interest of the child” test. Under the law, no maternal or paternal preference exists, but the “primary caretaker parent” often has an advantage.

In the scenario wherein the Asian spouse wants to (or has to) return to Asia but does not want to leave his or her children behind, then a contested relocation custody case may occur. These contested relocation custody cases are very complicated and expensive.

Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has been a practicing divorce attorney in Honolulu for over 25 years. He has been selected as Honolulu’s best divorce lawyer and is the founder of Coates & Frey, Hawaii’s largest family law firm. Mr. Coates wrote an award-winning book on the divorce process, “Divorce with Decency: The Complete How-To Handbook and Survivor’s Guide to the Legal, Emotional, Economic, and Social Issues,” now in its second edition. This article contains general information and readers should not take any actions based on the summarized information contained herein. Instead, appropriate experts should be consulted for each individual’s case. Phone 524-4854 or visit www.coatesandfrey.com.