What Is an Arranged Marriage and How Is It Different From a Sham Marriage?

770-609-1247 - Divorce Lawyers & Attorneys GeorgiaHow do you “find” a person you want to marry? The answer is you don’t because you first fall in love with a person and later you decide to get marry with that person. However, in some countries, this may not be the case where they still have arranged marriages. Unlike love marriages which is more common in the US and Europe, in arranged marriages you find someone that has been picked out for you based on your (and often your family’s) background. It is more like a practical partnership than a romantic union. However, that does not mean that arranged marriages are a “sham” marriage which is illegal under the US immigration law. You should not attempt to hide any fraudulent marriages behind the name of an arranged marriage. Below explains a few reasons why an arranged marriage must be distinguished from an illegal sham marriage.

What is an arranged marriage?

Arranged marriages are still common in some countries including India, Pakistan, China, Korea, and Japan. In South Korea, for example, approximately 30 percent of all marriages today are arranged marriages. Moreover, the second and third generations of Asian Americans in the United States also choose to enter into an arranged marriage. [See a New York Times article, “Love and Marriage, South Asian American Style”]

In an arranged marriage, persons other than those who are getting married match two people. They investigate the backgrounds and consider every aspects like wealth, occupation, health conditions, and habits. The two people then get to meet each other with one goal in mind: marriage. Arranged marriages these days are modernized and it is not the case where you meet your spouse on your wedding day or your parents decide your spouse. The two would go out on a date for some time and decide on their own whether the other is likeable or not. If the two agree to marry, they would proceed with the wedding and the ceremony.

It is generally the case in arranged marriages that love has to be developed after the marriage. In some cases, however, the two people may build a romantic relationship before getting married, not so much different from online dating apps. Nevertheless, the central idea of an arranged marriage is still about meeting a compatible partner. You enter into a marriage expecting that you will learn about your spouse, such as the likes and dislikes, and will grow to love your spouse.

How is an arranged marriage different from a sham marriage?

Arranged marriages could not go well and may end up in divorce. However, just because the arranged marriage failed, that does not mean that the marriage was a sham marriage from the beginning. According to the Courts, a marriage is a bona fide marriage (in other words a real marriage) if at the time of the marriage, there was an “intent to establish a life together.” [Bark v. INS, 511 F.2d 1200, 1201 (9th Cir. 1975)] It is perfectly legal to marry someone you have known only for a short period of time and you may not yet love (often is the case in arranged marriages), if you believe in good faith that you will build a life together with the person and that you will carry on your marriage. On the other hand, it is illegal and you will be subject to civil and criminal penalties, if you marry someone under the same circumstance but with an intent to evade the immigration laws. It may be attempting to disguise your sham marriage as an arranged marriage, but you must keep in mind that a fraudulent marriage is clearly different from an arranged marriage and that marriage fraud will lead to serious legal consequences.

Under U.S. immigration law, a marriage is regarded as a sham if it is entered into a marriage for the purpose of evading the immigration laws or obtaining US lawful permanent residence status. [8 U.S.C. 1227] You will be charged with marriage fraud which is a felony offense subject to a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. [Refer to our other article titled “Marriage Fraud in Immigration Law” for further explanations on penalties and further consequences of marriage fraud.] For US national security reasons, if an immigrant obtains an admission to the US based on a marriage, the marriage will be subject to closer scrutiny. Under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(G), if your marriage is terminated or annulled by the court before 2 years have lapsed after you entered into the US based on the marriage, you will be subject to the statutory presumption of marriage fraud. This means that your marriage will be presumed to be fraudulent by law and you will bear the burden of rebutting that presumption. You will be required to provide persuasive evidence to show that the marriage was not entered into to evade the immigration laws.

Even if you are currently residing in the US under a valid status, if you make an attempt to continue your stay in the country or to procure any other immigration benefits through marriage, you are committing marriage fraud. If your spouse finds out after the marriage that you married for the green card, it is likely that your spouse will ask the court for an annulment. An annulment is a court order which declares that a marriage never existed. Although a divorce and annulment both will have the same end result, the termination of a marriage, an annulment treats the marriage as if it never happened. [Refer to our other article titled “When is Annulment an Alternative to Divorce?” for further information on an annulment.] Courts will grant an annulment if it is shown by the facts and circumstances that the marriage was formed with an intent to avoid the immigration laws or obtain any immigration benefits. Courts will look into the evidence post-marriage conduct such as whether the couple lives together in the same house, holds themselves in public as a married couple, or their families, friends or neighbors acknowledge them as husband and wife.

Once an annulment is granted, there is a possibility of visa revocation and you can be deported (removed) from the United States. You will be charged with marriage fraud, visa fraud, conspiracy and making false statements, each charge carrying prison sentences and financial penalties. In addition, history of fraud remains on your immigration records, making it virtually impossible for you to get an admission into the US under any visa or a green card in the future.

An arranged marriage can seemingly be a practical partnership with no romance involved. However, an arranged marriage must be distinguished from a sham marriage. In arranged marriages, both parties enter into the partnership with one goal: beginning a married life together, and the parties anticipate that love and respect for each other will grow afterwards. Marrying a person just for citizenship purposes on the other hand is marriage fraud. You are not only exposing yourself to any criminal and immigration consequences, but also gambling on your own life. So before you take any drastic steps, it is important to think twice or consult with an attorney.

Divorce, annulment and arranged marriages

Divorce in arranged marriages is essentially the same as it is in any other marriage.  Arranged marriages frequently involve more issues regarding the parties’ family members and assets exchanged as a part of the marriage and marriage ceremony.  Therefore, divorces in arranged marriages usually have more family input which typically cause the divorce to be more complicated.  Uncontested divorces in arranged marriages are usually more difficult to negotiate and obtain, and frequently become contested.  However, most contested divorces in arranged marriages do actually settlement before going to trial in front of a judge.  Despite the differences and complications arranged marriages present, the legal principles of Georgia divorce and domestic law are still applied the same way.  Annulments in arranged marriages are possible, but the necessary elements required for an annulment may be more difficult to prove as there is typically more time for the parties to learn about each other and the marriage is not usually done in haste.

Divorce, annulment and sham marriages

Divorce in sham marriages is essentially the same as it is in an arranged or any other type marriage.  This is because even if the marriage is a sham, if both parties knowingly contributed or acquiesced to the sham, they will still have to get divorced.  An annulment is possible if one of the parties was taken advantage of and is a victim of marriage fraud.  However, if the parties have had children during the marriage, an annulment will not be allowed ( See O.C.G.A. § 19-4-1 ).  As with any annulment case, the annulment will have to be filed as a contested matter, and generally cannot be settled like a divorce can.  Despite the differences and complications sham marriages present, the legal principles of Georgia divorce and domestic law are still applied the same way.

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Updated: 2017-10-09