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What to do when your U.S. citizen spouse is abusive

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An immigrant living in this country wants to become a permanent resident through her marriage to a U.S., but her spouse is cruel and abusive toward her. Does she have to decide between staying in an abusive marriage and leaving the country?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) seeks to protect certain married immigrants, their children and their parents from domestic violence at the hands of a U.S. citizen, while still giving them the chance to live in this country permanently. Despite its name, both male and female victims may be able to qualify for a green card under VAWA’s provisions.

To be eligible, you generally must be married to an abusive citizen or permanent resident, or else the marriage must have ended due to death or divorce within the past two years. The law also requires the applicant to have suffered battery and/or extreme cruelty at the hands of your spouse, and that you got married in good faith, not solely for immigration reasons.

Leaving an abusive relationship can be scary anytime, especially if you are afraid that your spouse will react violently or if children are involved. The spouse may claim that you must stay with them or get kicked out of the country. But nobody, including foreign nationals, should have to tolerate abuse.

Filing for a green card under VAWA will likely go easier and faster with the assistance of an immigration attorney. An experienced attorney can help you avoid mistakes, and help you appeal a rejection if necessary.

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