Considering Divorce with a Non-US Spouse

Parent Q&A

  • International baby and divorce

    (9 replies)

    I'm French and Canadian, living now in France. My American wife (marriage in 2015 in Santa Clara) spent a few months in Europe and left me abuptly in February when she learned she was pregnant. Our baby should be born by the 4th of September at Stanford Hospital. My wife is now claiming that she wants to be absolutely a single mom without right of Visitation for me. She filed for nullity and family violence based on her unsound mind at time of marriage. I responded I wish for full custody as well and for a balanced and shared parenthood, where she can be with our child as long as she wants, as long as I am not excluded as a father. Both of us are self represented. I have requested mediation but to no avail as yet. I'm planning to move to California very soon. What is the reality of such a situation when there is no court order yet, what is really best for our child? I wish I would get info about the pregnancy and our child... I wish I could contribute to give a name to our child. I feel happy to be a father but unfortunately with little rights to do and know anything during the pregnancy. Thanks for sharing your experience and offering your kind and peaceful advice.

    Based on my experience in court, in general, California Courts prefer shared custody.  Studies show kids who have both parents involved in their lives do better in the long run.  If you want it, you will likely get it- especially if you move here.  Shared arrangements for a newborn infant are complicated- especially if you are overseas, which will mean your time with your child will increase more slowly and probably require you to come to the child for the visits until the child is old enough to travel.  If you are already here, you are likely to get up to 50/50 physical custody and shared legal custody.  If she breast feeds, your initial visits may be for a couple hours a day between feedings until a strong milk is established and she can pump.  The more frequent contact you can have with your baby and the more parenting care you can provide, your physical custody arrangements can more quickly increase up to 50/50, so it's great you are looking into this now.   Plus it takes a while to get on a court calendar.  Since it sounds like you will be fought strongly, it will be very helpful for you to get a lawyer who can advise you of the laws, help you make reasonable shared custody plans to advocate for in the mediation session that will be required before you go to court, and support you through a challenging process.  The family violence charge will need solid evidence if it is to be taken seriously by courts and a lawyer can really help here as well.  Even if it is proven, you could still get supervised visitation initially to demonstrate your healthiness as a father.  Taking baby care classes ahead of time can also show the courts your commitment.  I have to say the court process can be difficult, but it is worth it for your little one.  A good lawyer, who cares about the child's wellbeing more than your "winning", to support you can really be helpful.  I'm sorry you have to deal with this.  It's worth it to be part of the child's life!  Good luck!

    A friend went through a similar problem although not with the international issue.  Decide here and now how much you want this as it will be time consuming, expensive, and painful.  If you decide to proceed...  1.  Write down your courtship/marriage/separation story in as much detail as you can -- names, places, dates, etc.  Every single detail (even before the pregnancy) may become an issue, so get it all straight now and document whatever you can using receipts, emails, etc.  If necessary, find articulate people who can corroborate your story or be a character witness.  No lies or exaggerations.  Just the facts.  Include details about how you have reached out and tried to be included already in this child's care.  2.  Create a log of all your interactions with your wife and save all evidence (back up email files, take photos of texts, organize your photos, etc.).  3.  Once you have everything documented and are organized (and you'll want to move on this as quickly as possible), find a very good lawyer who is fair but thorough.  (Lawyers bill on the fraction of the hour, so this is where your organization really helps.  You'll have whatever they need without delay.  This also helps you look very mature to a judge.)  4.  Take the high road in every single interaction from this moment forward no matter how frustrated you become.  You want to prove to the court that you are mature and capable of being a good father.  Assume any ugly words or actions on your part can and will be used against you.  Also, if this works out, you will need to work with your wife peaceably for the next 18 years and beyond for the sake of your child.  Controlling emotions/reactions can be hard so get counseling (preferably with your wife) and build a support network of kind and positive family/friends.  They will be your backup and your child's "village," so choose well.  5.  You may or may not win and thus you may or may not get a chance to spend much time with this child early in their life.  I would recommend starting a sort of journal for your son or daughter, writing them a collection of letters that they can read later.  Let them know how excited you are to be a father, what you'd like them to know about you, your family history, and life advice.  (Be very courteous when discussing your wife in these missives.)  If the worse happens and you can't establish a relationship with this child until it is older, you can at least prove you tried hard to be a father and thought of them often.  If the best happens and you are involved in the child's life, this writing will help you clarify your role as a father and will be a great gift to them upon adulthood.  Best of luck.  I hope you can work out a peaceable solution.  My friend was able to in the end despite horrible claims of abuse and such heaped on him by his soon-to-be-ex wife.  He is now remarried with a total of three sons.  He has shared custody of his first son and they have managed to create a good family life for the child on all sides.

    I'm very sorry to hear about your situation.  The little I've heard about such things suggests you should jurisdiction shop and file first in the place best for you.  I don't know if that is California, France, or otherwise.  I've heard secondhand from friends that in the US even if you win custody rights that if the mother declines to let you see the child that the authorities are reluctant to prosecute the mom.  I say this because I'm not sure even jurisdiction shopping may help, but it cant hurt.

    This is going to be a difficult time.  I think you need a lawyer, good luck.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Separating from a foreigner

May 2013

My partner and I have been together 10 years, never married. I realize CA does not recognize common law marriage. We have property (both our names on deed) and a 5 yr. old child. He is also a foreigner with a green card renewed in either '09 or '11. I'm wondering how to go about separating from someone whom you are not married to? What rights I do have (mother, american)? and he? how does custody work? I'm unemployed at the moment so I need to talk to someone either pro bono or at a sliding scale to help me understand how to get my ducks in a row. We will try counseling but I'm afraid I already know the outcome, sadly. any suggestions, advice? Thanks. anon

California does not distinguish between children born in or out of wedlock. Child custody and child support issues are treated the same. Also, whether both parents are Americans or only one is or neither are makes no difference. The only problem is whether one or both parents wish to take the child out-of-state or out of the country. The courts look at what is the best interest of the child to decide custodial arrangements, whatever the parents marital status or nationality. I am not sure about the division of property, especially real estate---it would depend on your written or oral agreement, and who paid what. Sharon

Divorcing an immigrant

Oct 2008

I am currently going through a divorce. My ex and I have been separated for more than 7 months now. It will still take a couple of months before our divorce is finalized. My ex is not an American citizen, and it is nearing the time for his immigration appointment to get his greencard.

I now realize that I was just used by him as a means to get into America. I hate the fact that I was used like that and want to ensure that he doesn't get the greencard. Has anyone gone through a similar situation? If so, what process do I need to go through to notify the INS of our separation? Will our divorce prevent him from getting a greencard? Will the fact that we have a 1 year old daughter play any role in this?

Any tips or advice will be greatly appreciated. S.

One thing that you might consider in all of this tangle is what role you would like for your ex to play in your child's life. am divorced and do not particularly like my ex-husband, but he is a very important person in my son's world and I consider it essential that my son have his father in his life. If your ex loses his chance at a green card, will he be separated from his daughter, perhaps permanently? Whether or not he tricked you into marrying him in order to get residency status, he is still the father of your daughter. I would give this issue significant consideration, trying to leave aside your own feelings of hurt and betrayal. divorced mom

I have no advice, but wanted to ask you a few questions. First, do you really want to deprive your daughter of her father, or make sure that your daughter's father has to work illegally to be near her? Make sure the answer is yes, before you take revenge on him. Because by taking revenge on your ex, you will be taking revenge on your daughter. You might hate the man, but will your daughter be missing an important person in her life? I ask, because my mother never got over losing her father through divorce. Revenge is often not useful.

i was married to someone from another country and we divorced before his green card came through. you are very angry -- please keep a cool head and be guided by the fact that you have a 1 year-old daughter with this man. unless he has been a rotten, absentee father and does not love the baby, don't be vindictive.

however the INS decides to proceed -- there are too many variables re: his country of origin, etc. to predict how it will resolve -- you do not want to tell the INS you were ''used'' unless you have IRREFUTABLE PHYSICAL PROOF. proof is not heated arguments or even the fact that he may have had an affair. are you saying that conceiving your daughter was part of him ''using'' you? if you look into your heart, were there signs of discord that you ignored at the time?

also, what if the INS doesn't believe you? what if your ex -- to save his own skin -- says you're lying and he gave you cash? do you really want to tangle with a federal government agency? are you aware that the INS is now since 9/11 under the control of homeland security? you could be under investigation as well.

i went to see an immigration lawyer in LA during my separation. he said that there was a 50% chance my husband would be allowed to stay in the country. he also reminded me that when my husband and i began the process, i signed a paper saying that, in essence, i sponsored him and that if he went on any public support (i.e. welfare) i could be responsible to pay it back for 7 years. divorce does not change this. however, the lawyer said he did not know of a single case where this was enforced.

if you have proof that your husband is into something illegal or criminal or belongs to any organization that has a terrorist affiliation, go to the INS.

my husband cheated. Furious, i threw him out of the house but not out of the country. i wrote him a letter stating that our marriage was not for a ''green card'' but a relationship that went wrong, sadly like so many. that was 5 years ago-- he's still in the country.

you may not like this advice now, but how will you feel when your daughter is old enough to understand that her father was sent out of the country by her mother, never to be able to return?

you can live with your anger, it will pass. you can't live with the possibility that your daughter will hate you years from now.

see an immigration lawyer for professional advice. peace. sleeping peacefully in oakland

It may be hard to say or decide what's right here, but I can tell you of someone I know who did do what you are asking. The result is that the son of the ex-couple, now hates his father ( the one who took away or made possible for the mother to loose her residency ) And he really loves his son, the only one and wants to have a good relationship with him, but it has been poisoned by his act. He feels bad for his mother who still does not have papers and complains to his father about it. So consider this story a possible outcome. The guy lives in Concord. So, think it hard and through before you decide :) a friendly advisor

Wow. You say you feel ''used'' by the man but you must have had some deep feelings for him at one point since you made a baby with him. I think you better think of the long term consequences of your actions because your child does have a right to see his/her father and by preventing the greencard (residency) situation to fall apart in the end is drastic (as you know it's not an easy journey to reach milestones). If you're trying to get revenge, if you really believe it's best that this man be barred, then do what you need to do, but try to remember how you're affecting the life of your child. I'm speaking from the POV of a person who is married to an immigrant, too. Good luck. anon

You sound really mad and betrayed, and you have a right to be. However, you said you have a child with this man. You need to put your mad feelings away for a sec and ask yourself if you want your child to have a relationship with her father as she grows up. If he is deported then she may not have very much contact with him, unless you go on costly trips to visit him, or if and when he comes to visit her. Is getting revenge for feeling betrayed by turning him in worth her not knowing her father? Yes, he may have used you for a green card, but now that you know that you may be able to also say to him that you feel it's important that he has contact with his child and needs to also support her financially. He did get himself into this after all and now has to take the responsibility. You know some people will PAY to marry someone to get the green card, so maybe NOW he has to pay... Good luck to all of you. anon

Normally, both of you need to be there for the interview, together. He is getting interviewed, but you have to be present. If you are not there, they don't even conduct the interview. let alone simply give him the GC. Also, on a GC of this type they attach a 2-year condition, to make sure this is not a fake marriage that lasts until the green card is issued.

That said, you should look into the forms you had to fill out as the sponsor. If the instructions tell you that you must notify them in case of dissolution/separation/divorce, you need to do that. You have responsibilities, and are subject to the laws as well.

It's well understood that if the marriage isn't actually there, they won't give out a GC. He might have another way of staying in the country, but this is not a trivial matter, in general. You cannot just move from one type of visa, or immigrant category to another, etc. Some people seem to think that ''they'll never find out'' but this is a rather tragic mistake to make. Typically, in cases like this, they'd need an immigration lawyer to get through the maze of complex rules, etc.

If your daughter is his daughter, they do not think about this, unfortunately. Sadly, this forces the removal of one parent from the country in some/many cases. In general any type of development like this imposes more severe limitations on the prospective immigrant than it does on the citizen. Other countries have much more gentle laws for the fact that we as humans are not always that predictable, and that life can change.

If he has to leave the US and go back to his country of origin, depending on how they process the case, it may be easy, hard, or even impossible for him to enter the country again. Of course, it may make it really difficult for your daughter to see her father again any time soon, or frequently. anon

So you're really angry, and you have this big form of leverage over him. In fact, you could seriously mess with his life. But who benefits if you do? Certainly not your daughter. She's too young now to understand, but in only a few years she will be old enough to be (justifiably) angry with you for deliberately interfering in her relationship with her dad. And you're not even doing yourself any favors: if child support is a consideration, then you could be shooting yourself in the foot by forcing him to leave the country. You're also setting yourself up for some pretty complicated logistics: single parenting ALL the time, sending your kid to another country every time she wants to see her dad... How is this better than just allowing the INS to make the decision it makes?

So my advice is that you sign up for Kids' Turn and start reading books like ''Joint Custody with a Jerk'' so that you can learn to keep your sights on your daughter's best interests and not get dragged down into the mire.

I went through a divorce a couple of years ago, and my ex (who is from Europe) briefly considered moving back. But it would have been so much harder on the kids -- and on both of us. And believe me, I DO know what it's like to be pissed off at an ex. Mine has been narcissistic, childish, and just plain mean since the split. But I firmly believe that taking the high road is better for me and my girls. It ain't easy, but it beats the alternative. Good luck to you

I think you are very angry and very wrong about being used for getting a green card. If I were to do this strategically, I would tolerate whatever bothers me until I have my green card and then divorce you! I think you are making a really bad choice envisioning yourself as an informant, because one day your child may understand that you played a vital role in making sure that the father got deported. I am 100% sure it will happen anyway without you having to call immigration. Immigration is amazingly thorough! You can save yourself that extra little revenge and subsequent guilt.

I married with the intention of getting a green card along with getting a great man - and guess what - I am still happily married to the same man for 22 years, although I have one of those older green cards that does not need to be renewed and the marriage had its normal share of ups and downs.

Relationships are real - which ones last or don't is a different story. I encourage you to look at the relationship the two of you had and not simply place the blame outside (''He just wanted a green card''). The victim role you place yourself in is neither healthy for you nor is it a good role model for your child. Anonymous

Tricky situation. Are you sure you mean the appointment to get his green card and not citizenship?

If you mean to get his green card. Then yes if your separated you can notify BCIS that this is the case, and I think his application will be canceled. The issue will be that even though your married, he still needs a US Citizen sponsor to be here, and at present that's you (provided you make enough money), so remove the sponsor he's lost. I may be wrong but I don't think your child has any bearing on this.

However, I'm sure that because of the child even if this application is denied he can reapply under a different application connected to her.

If you mean citizenship. Sorry he's got his citizenship in hand no problem. Officially if you get your green card though marriage you only have to wait 2 years from date of card issue (not marriage) until you are eligible for citizenship. But all that you need to prove at this point is really that the marriage was/is real. So if the marriage ends before that point, your still really proving the same thing. If you have a child together, I think that's pretty easy proof that it was real, whether you feel that way or not, and I think, even if you get divorced he'll find it easy to get citizenship. If he's filing as divorced you don't need to be at the interview, nor do you need to provide any information. The only thing I think you could do is write a letter to the BCIS stating you think the marriage was false, but you'd have to reference his application, Alien Reg # etc. and with the child as evidence, I don't think it'll do much good.

The only positive is that if he does get citizenship or his green card at least then you can get child support from him. In another country you have no chance. Immigration - the bain of my life!

Hi I won't repeat all the things that have already been said but i agree with all of them. One thing i wanted to ad is that you should be very careful what you wish for. Say he has to leave the country, your child will still be is child and he might (and should) fight for some custody / regular visits with his child. If that happens, how will you feel when you have to put your child on an airplane and not see her for an extended period of time? How will she feel? It's not like you can have her the week and him on week end. It's disturbing for children no matter how old to live in one environment and then be displaced somewhere else for a months, with someone they barely know, in a place where they don't speak the language. It sounds to me that since this relationship isn't working, you want him to disapear and never be around so you can have the life you want. I get how that would be much easier for you. But would that be best for your child? anon

Husband in China wants divorce and custody

March 2008

I am looking for a divorce lawyer to help a friend who is a SAHM with no income. Some quick facts:
- Her husband left her while she was pregnant and went to work in China for an American company(even though there are many jobs here he could have taken he claims he couldn't find a job)
- He has always been verbally and mentally abusive to my friend and talks down about her to me (I IM with him on a regular basis but he doesn't know I know what's going on)
- Their son who is now a year old was born full term but had a long NICU stay and continues to have many issues.
- When he comes to visit he gets upset that the baby cries b/c he is constipated or sick and hits him and tells him to shut up
- Since moving to China he has not sent her a penny and has all his money in a bank in China
- She is living off her savings and some money her mother has given her
- He has access to her accounts and questions anything she buys or why money has been taken out
- He is threatening to take the baby away from her and take him to China and hire 2 full time nannies who he says will do a better job taking care of him than she does
- Her English is shaky and she is shy and he is taking advantage of this-trying to keep her down and keeping her in a constant state of being scared that he will take her son

Can any help me find someone who is low/no cost (or will accept payment after she gets money from her husband) that might be able to help her? Appreciate any help

You can tell her to call the SF Bar Associations VLSP ( to see if she qualifies for free legal services. Also they run a lawyer referral service if she can afford to pay some fees. anon

Tell your friend to contact Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. APILO is a public interest, non-profit law firm that has lawyers that will work with your friend on a sliding scale basis. They have offices in Oakland (510/251-2846) and San Francisco (415/567-6255) or email info[at] cme

If your friend's husband is hitting their one year old child, I would highly recommend she obtain a restraining order against him. If she qualifies, she could also obtain temporary custody, child support and spousal support. I recommend contacting Family Violence Law Center at 510-208-0255. I also recommend attorney Margaret Gannon who handles a lot of domestic violence/international custody cases. Her number is (510) 452-1700, but I have no idea if she could take a no/low fee case. anon

Divorce between American & Greek

Sept 2007

My husband is American and I'm Greek. We're talking about divorce. One of our child was born in Greece, the other here in Berkeley. I don't know what are my rights in case we decide to live in different countries, what court prevails, what about custody and alimony, etc... Could you recommend a good lawyer that might have expertise in such cases? I desperately need legal advice. Thank you very much anon

hi, i have enjoyed my affiliation w/ laura basaloco-lapo, who is helping me tie up the last legal ends of my divorce. i was recommended to her by my dentist, who was recommended to me here on bpn. i believe she is brazilian and she writes me that she is about to receive ''letters rogatory'' whatever that is, from brazil so as to be able to serve papers on an american living in san francisco. her contact info is: phones: 415:392-2018; direct line: 415:433-6727; email: lapo2000[at] best of luck. doug

I am a foreigner and US divorce is difficult

Sept 2005

Hi, I am going through a divorce, that is quite difficult. Ihave a 4 year old son and am mostly concerned about him. We went to mediation and my husband who is very bossy controlling and manipulative, got his way on everything. I am a foreigner, so this whole situation feels very overwhelming, and I got easily intimidated. Now I decided to get a lawyer, because our son had to witness animosities anyway and I need to protect myself. My husband brings him back without shoes and tells my son that I would throw away the shoes that he bought new.Just one example. How can I protect my child ?I already suggested to go to counceling for our childs sake and he declined.Everything I would say would not be heard.When he finds out I have a lawyer he will become even angrier.Has somebody been in a similar situation ? Are there support groups, maybe among women from other countries who are stuck here now too ?
worried mom

Try International Institute of the East Bay. They have the Violence Against Women Program. I don't know if it's your case, but perhaps they can help. Anon

Being a foreign person myself I totally empathize. I cannot offer any legal advice, unfortunatly. Your decision to talk to a lawyer is the right one. If I were in your shoes I wuld contact local associations of people coming from the same country as you. I'm sure there are some in the Bay area, probably even a lawyer from your country and other people who went through the same problem. If you're thinking about a divorce, it would be a good idea to compare laws between the 2 countries and bare in mind that the settlement here will probably force you to leave in California if you want any part in the custody of your child. foreign wife

I'm a foreign national male whom has just completed an insane dissolution involving 2 daughters which took 4.5 yrs. You have the same rights to your son irregardless of nationality. Getting a lawyer involved to protect and get back some of your rights and time with your son is a good start. Everyone goes through a period of ''temporary insanity'' during the early stages so take it as that. Keep in mind that the court and family court services (mandatory custodial mediation) will always try to accommodate the needs for the child to be involved with both parents depending on how the issues/challenges are framed. As far as a support group for foreign nationals going through divorce, Im not aware of one at his time. DJ