Sometimes, divorce is an unavoidable part of marriage. In other instances, though, that marriage wasn’t all it seemed to be. You may have heard the term sham marriage or marriage fraud before, and these are applied to situations where marriage is performed not to build a lasting relationship, but to gain some sort of monetary benefit or other advantage that might be more difficult to acquire through other means.
Generally speaking, in a fake union, the two parties sign the necessary paperwork, and may even have a ceremony, but once they have obtained their true prize, they’re off to consult a lawyer for the dissolution of their marriage, as there is no point to the “couple” remaining together.
Specifically, though, marriage fraud has parameters that are clearly defined by the Department of Homeland Security. It is a serious scheme that can take one of three forms:
- A U.S. citizen is paid, or asked to perform a favor, to marry a foreign national already residing in the United States
- “Mail-order” marriage where either the U.S. citizen or alien knows it is a fraud
- A foreign national defrauds a U.S. citizen who believes the marriage is legitimate.
There’s an element of trickery in all three instances (hence fraud), and this sort of activity is highly illegal, according to expert Tsigler Law, a federal crime attorney in Brooklyn. For a marriage to be valid in the eyes of the law, it has to fulfill certain requirements. Namely, both parties in the marriage have to cultivate a marital relationship, and prove their intent to be married through actions that indicate such.
Homeland Security has special task forces for dealing with marriage fraud, and both US Citizenship and Immigration Services and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement dedicate considerable resources to detecting marriage fraud and holding the perpetrators responsible.
Should they become suspicious of a marriage, they do have the authority to investigate, which includes sending inspectors to the couple’s home, interviewing friends and family, and try to determine if a couple exhibits the signs that an average married duo should.
As for the consequences for marriage fraud, they can be severe. As alluded to earlier, marriage fraud is a federal offense. The penalties can include a fine of up to $250,000 (for both US Citizen and Foreign National). What’s more, a charge of marriage fraud may also lead to a charge of visa fraud, harboring an alien, conspiracy and making false statements. Each of those comes with a prison term, so, as you may have guessed, it’s best not to commit marriage fraud for any reason whatsoever.