If your spouse immigrated to the U.S., the odds are very good that you signed paperwork agreeing to provide financial support for him or her for up to 10 years. What if you are now divorcing? Is that support considered along with alimony, or is it a separate issue? Here's what you should know.
You Are Still Legally Required to Provide the Financial Support
The form that you signed is commonly called the I-864 Affidavit of Support, and it's a contract between you and the United States government, not your spouse. Your legal obligations under that contract are spelled out in Part 8 of the Affidavit and they're quite specific.
Regardless of whether you divorce or not, you're still obligated to provide your spouse with financial support for up to 10 years. If not, you can be sued by your ex-spouse, the government, or both. The government will usually press suit if your ex-spouse receives any financial aid based on poverty or disability, such as SSI, food stamps, or welfare benefits while waiting for you to meet your obligations.
If other co-sponsors (such as your mother, father, or other relatives) gave affidavits of support as well in order to get the government's okay to bring your ex-spouse into the country, they are also obligated until that 10 year period runs out.
You May or May Not Be Required to Pay Additional Spousal Support
The problem with family court is that divorce judges aren't immigration judges, and vice versa. So the judge hearing your divorce may not choose to address the support required by the I-864, and will likely only address your spousal support obligations under the laws of your state.
That means that you could end up paying additional spousal support for whatever period the court requires on top of the support mandated by your earlier agreement with the government.
Your Ex Is Not Required to Mitigate the Necessity of That Support
In many cases, men and women receiving spousal support are required to mitigate the necessity of such support whenever possible.
Spousal support is intended as a way to make things fair for the spouse who may have had less income or sacrificed an education or career for the sake of the other spouse's education or career. Generally speaking, it's there for a limited time to help the less financially secure spouse get on his or her path to independence.
There's no rule requiring your ex-spouse to mitigate your support obligation under the I-864, however. Like it or not, your ex can drag out the payments for the entire 10 year period and make no effort to become self-sufficient.
Hopefully, your ex will take whatever steps necessary to become capable of self-support. If not, you can't really do anything about your financial obligation under the I-864 but you can certainly challenge his or her right to additional spousal support in court over the issue.
Since the amount of support required by the I-864 is fairly low (125% of the federal poverty level), it's very possible that the additional spousal support is substantially higher—a reduction in that alone could vastly benefit you! Contact a divorce lawyer to talk about the possibility.