- 1. Most Common Evidence
- 2. Home or Other Real Estate: Joint Ownership or Lease (Currently or in the Past)
- 3. Joint Responsibility for Financial Liabilities
- 4. Joint Ownership of Assets
- 5. Insurance
- 6. Engagement-Related Documents
- 7. Wedding-Related Documents
- 8. Travel Together
- 9. Legal Records
- 10. Communications History
- 11. Miscellaneous Documents
Do you have an immigration case which will require you to prove the validity of your marital relationship to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or to a U.S. Consulate? For example, are you seeking to (a) immigrate based on a spouse’s Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, (b) get a K-1 visa based on a fiance’s Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance, or (c) file a Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence? This article describes 11 things you can do to better document your relationship.
To qualify for a visa on the basis of marriage, it is important to prove that the marriage was entered into in “good faith” and not for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws. Similarly, to qualify for a K-1 fiancée visa, you need to prove an intent to enter into a good faith marriage.
Federal immigration agencies look at the “totality of the evidence” to determine if they are persuaded that the marriage (or, in the case of K-1 fiancees, the intended marriage) is valid rather than entered into solely for immigration purposes. Some evidence is particularly persuasive: for example, evidence that the couple has children together and owns real estate jointly.
Federal immigration authorities consider that some factors may indicate a sham marriage. For example:
- Large disparity of age;
- Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language;
- Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background;
- Family and/or friends unaware of the marriage;
- Marriage arranged by a third party;
- Marriage contracted immediately following the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States;
- Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge;
- No cohabitation since marriage;
- Beneficiary is a friend of the family; and
- Petitioner has filed previous petitions in behalf of aliens, especially prior alien spouses.
Where such red flags exist, more persuasive evidence of the validity of the marriage will need to be submitted.
Submit copies of as many documents as you wish to establish this fact and to demonstrate the circumstances of the relationship from the date of the marriage to the present date. The list of documents below is illustrative, so feel free to provide other persuasive evidence.
1. Most Common Evidence
- Written statement by the petitioner regarding the validity of the marriage
- Photo Album documenting the history of the relationship
- Federal income taxes showing your filing status as married (filing jointly or separately)
- Birth certificate for child born of the marriage.
- U.S. credit report: If you have lived together in the U.S., get copies of both of your credit reports.
- Register a joint overseas trip or residence with the U.S. Department of State’s “Travel Registration” System: https://travelregistration.state.gov: This system tracks U.S. citizens who are traveling or living overseas. Registration allows citizens to record info about their trip abroad so that the State Dep’t can assist in an emergency. You can record info about each person traveling or living overseas with you. You also have the option to list your fiancée/spouse as your emergency contact. Save the confirmation for your records. Also, keep your user name and password in a safe place so that you can access the site again in the future.
2. Home or Other Real Estate: Joint Ownership or Lease (Currently or in the Past)
If you have owned property together, please provide any of the following documents you have. The key document would be the deed showing both owners’ names. Other relevant documents may include the purchase contract, closing papers, mortgage agreement, mortgage account statements, property tax bills, home repair documents, and utility bills.
If you leased property together, the key document would be the lease agreement. Other relevant documents may include rent receipts, utility bills (gas, electric, telephone, water, cable TV, internet, etc.), repair records, and correspondence between you and the landlord. (If you have lost your documents, it may be worth checking whether the landlord still has them.)
- For cases where USCIS will interview both spouses, it’s important to both bring your key chains with matching house (and apartment security cards, if any) keys to the interview.
- If you rent a home together, but the lease only has one of your names, you may be able to ask the landlord for an amended lease.
- Before a U.S. citizen adds a nonresident alien spouse as a joint tenant to a deed, it may be wise to seek tax advice. This may be considered a gift subject to federal tax, although there is a $134,000 exemption (2010) for nonresident alien spouses.
3. Joint Responsibility for Financial Liabilities
Any documents showing you have purchased things together (e.g., vehicles, home appliances), taken on debt together, or transferred funds from one to the other. Examples include:
- Evidence of joint purchases (e.g., receipts, invoices, lay away agreements, installment contracts, service contracts, warranty agreements)
- Credit cards and credit card statements
- Debit cards
- Bank loans
- Wire transfers, bank transfers, or checks from one spouse to the other
4. Joint Ownership of Assets
If you have (or had) a bank or other financial account together, provide the records–from the account opening records (e.g., application) to the current account statement. If the account statements are voluminous, provide a representative sample of about 10 records (e.g., if you have had an account for 10 years, provide the first monthly statement for each year).
Some examples of financial accounts include: savings, checking, certificates of deposit, mutual funds, savings bonds, retirement (pension, 401(k), retirement, etc.), other investment accounts.
If you have (or had) joint insurance, provide the records. This may include the account opening records (e.g., application, quote, enrolment form), policy, and bills/account statements. If the bills/account statements are voluminous, provide a representative sample of about 10 records (e.g., if you have had an account for 10 years, provide the first monthly bill/account statement for each year).
Some examples of insurance include: health, dental, disability, auto, life, home, and renter’s insurance.
6. Engagement-Related Documents
- receipts for expenses related to the engagement party: Ideally the receipt should specify the event (e.g., “Flowers for the engagement party of Steve SMITH and WANG Hong”)
- engagement ring: Receipt showing the purchaser’s name and the fiancée’s name; close-up photo of any engraving on the ring
- newspaper announcement of the engagement
7. Wedding-Related Documents
- Documentation of wedding-related expenses. The documents could include receipts, evidence of deposits, or correspondence with vendors. Ideally the documentation should specify the event (e.g., “Flowers for the wedding of Steve SMITH and WANG Hong”). Examples of vendors may include the church, reception hall, or restaurant; the clergy or other MC for the ceremony; wedding gown and groom’s suit; caterers, cake, flowers, candles, religious items; videographer or photographer; limo driver; wedding band.
- Sign-in book or scroll: Ask wedding guests to sign their names and write a special message for the bride and groom.
Wedding video: Consider making
a written transcript of parts from the video of the ceremony discussing your relationship (e.g., someone talking about how you met or how much you have in common).
- If you are planning your wedding and will have a videographer, have the videographer do brief “interviews” of the guests, asking questions like: How do you know the bride and groom? What do you think they have in common? Tell me about something you’ve done with the bride and groom together? Then make a transcript.
- Wedding rings: Receipt showing the couple’s names; close-up photo of any engraving on the ring.
- Guest list
- Wedding items with the couple’s names: E.g., wedding invitations, wedding program, dinner menu, napkins, thank you letters, religious wedding certificate or Jewish ketubah
- Newspaper announcement of the wedding
8. Travel Together
Provide evidence of travel together, including evidence that one of you has traveled to the other’s home before you lived together. Examples of evidence include:
- air, train, rental car, or bus tickets, reservations, and boarding passes;
- hotel reservations and bills; and
- passports (or Hong Kong travel permit) showing that you traveled together internationally at the same time (or showing that one traveled to the other’s country before you lived together).
Tip: If a U.S. petitioner will be in China at the time of the applicant’s appointment at the U.S. Consulate, the applicant can prove this by bringing the petitioner’s original passport to the appointment.
9. Legal Records
- wills, trusts, power of attorney, contracts, papers from a lawsuit naming both of you
- any non-U.S. visa application by one spouse listing the other’s name
- prenuptial agreement or post-marital agreement
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security change of address forms (e.g., Form AR-11, Change of Address; or Form I-865, Sponsor’s Change of Address)
10. Communications History
These could be communications between the couple (e.g., an email from one spouse to the other), from one spouse to a third party regarding the other spouse (e.g., an email from the husband to a friend discussing what the husband and wife did during Spring Festival), or from a third party to one spouse that mentions the other spouse (e.g., a cousin’s Christmas card to the husband that also mentions the wife).
Records of many types of communication could be helpful:
- letters and cards (with envelopes, if possible)
- cell phone short messages (SMS)
- instant messages (QQ, Skype, etc.). If your username is an alias (not your real name), then edit your profile to include your name and/or photo and give our firm a copy.
- messages on social media (e.g., Facebook or Sina Weibo or Tencent Weixin)
- phone records showing that you call each other often. Ideal phone records will show the customer’s name and phone number as well as the length of each call and the other party’s phone number. For example:
- Skype.com sells Skype Out, a service that allows calling from a PC to a phone. Phone records can be printed for the most recent 6 months. (Click on View > History).
- China Mobile’s GoTone customers can print out the latest 5 months of phone records at a China Mobile service center.
- Calling cards are not helpful.
- If each of you still haven’t met your respective in-laws, make the effort. It’s best to meet them in person and keep photos for your album. Also, consider communicating by mail (e.g., try sending a birthday card or Christmas card with a detailed personal note) or via the web (email or instant message or social media) so you can document your communications.
- For all communications, make sure they don’t include any information about illegal or improper conduct or private details that you don’t want to share with the government.
- If there are a lot of any type of communications between you (e.g., letters, SMS, emails, etc.), select about 10-15 that span the length of your relationship and that contain the most persuasive evidence of the validity of your relationship.
- If you have a lot of emails, you can also print out a list of the emails between the two of you. Here are instructions for Microsoft Outlook users:
- Search all folders for your partner’s email address(es). This should give you a list of all emails between you.
- Look at the headings for that list. Make sure you see “from,” “to”, “subject”, and “received” (i.e.,date/time). If you don’t see all those headings, put your cursor over the heading row, right click, select “Field Chooser” and add the missing fields.
- On the top menu, choose File > Print. Under “Settings,” choose “Table Style”. Then “Print”.
11. Miscellaneous Documents
- Pre-marital or marriage counseling: Some couples will seek counseling before and/or after the marriage with a therapist, social worker, or psychologist. The goals of couple’s counseling include, for example, improving communication, dealing with conflicts, and getting the most out of your relationship. Counseling may be especially helpful for cross-cultural couples, interfaith couples, interracial couples, or couples where one or both is an immigrant. You can submit to the government related evidence, such as the counselor’s bills and copies of any “homework” the counselor may have you do. Evidence that you have invested time, money, and effort in counseling tends to be strong evidence of the validity of the marriage.
- Religious records that evidencing the marriage, such as:
- Correspondence or other records showing that you both are members of the same religious institution
- Baptismal records for children
- Confirmation certificates for children
- Personnel records from your current and/or former employers naming the other spouse as the emergency contact or as the beneficiary of insurance
- Some funny things our clients have done:
- Tattoo with your significant other’s name. Even better, get pictures taken in the tattoo parlor as it’s being made.
- Skywriting message for your significant other
- Examples of other documents that together may show a shared address, home phone number, family name (if the wife has taken the husband’s family name), or spousal relationship include:
- Driver’s license or state ID
- Social security card
- Employee ID card
- Credit Card
- Club membership card
- Business card
- China foreigner residence registration reference card
- Library card
- Student ID card
- China household register
- Letters (with envelopes or courier way bills, if available)
- Hospital, medical, or dental records or bills
- PRC “birth control certificate” (准生证) naming both spouses
- An obituary in the newspaper for a friend or relative that refers to you as a couple.
- Proof you participate together in any clubs or organizations
- Children’s school records (e.g., transcripts, school registration forms, authorization forms for school field trips, etc.)
Thanks to Jacqueline Lentini McCullough for assistance with an earlier version of this article.