Integrity Legal

3rd Jun 2009

The Thai legal system is based upon a system known as civil law. Unlike common law countries, civil law countries generally do not recognize marriages that are not duly registered. In a common law jurisdiction that upholds the concept of “common law marriage,” a couple that holds themselves out to the public as married can be deemed to be married by operation of law. This is not the case in Thailand where even having a wedding ceremony, referring to one another as man and wife, and sharing tax liability will generally not be enough for any court to recognize the existence of a marriage.

This marriage recognition system can have an impact with regard to US Immigration because one’s marital status in the eyes of USCIS can determine what type of visa a couple can apply for. There are some situations in which USCIS will recognize a customary marriage when the couple has no ability to register a marriage in the appropriate jurisdiction, this issue can arise in refugee marriages. However, this is the exception and not the rule. In most cases, USCIS will make determinations based upon actual marital registration status.

Therefore, if a couple has conducted a customary wedding ceremony (religious or otherwise) and has yet to register the marriage at the Amphur office, then it is likely that USCIS will view the couple’s status as unmarried. However, it may be wise to retain attorney assistance in cases where marital registration is an issue, because failure to properly explain the couple’s marital situation could lead to a visa denial by USCIS based upon the decision that the couple does not meet the statutory requirements for the visa category.

From a strategic point of view, marriage registration can be beneficial or disadvantageous depending upon where the US petitioner resides because residence will determine which USCIS office has jurisdiction. In some cases being married will qualify the couple for an Immigrant Spouse visa that would have a comparatively quick processing time because the US Citizen petitioner qualifies for overseas filing. In other cases, being unmarried may be an advantage because a K1 visa can be obtained. Regardless, decisions pertaining to marriage should not be made solely or the purpose of acquiring US Immigration benefits. It is always wise for couples to make informed and thoughtful decisions after careful research and investigation.

Issues regarding a couple’s relationship status will likely become even more complex should Congress decide to pass the Uniting of American Families Act which would entitle Permanent Partners of US Citizens to Immigration benefits.

(Please take notice: this blog post should be used for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of competent legal advice from a licensed attorney. An Attorney-Client Relationship is NOT created between the author and reader of this piece.)

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