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Court Rules in Case of Pre-Marital Agreement vs. I-864 Duties

In modern times the prenuptial agreement has become a popular way to ensure that a prearranged financial plan will be followed in the case of divorce. Though prenuptial agreements are generally legally binding, there are situations in which the agreements may be superseded by other contracts which contain obligations that one or both of the divorcees must adhere to. In a recent case, which combined marriage law with immigration law, the courts were asked to consider just such a situation.

Before Ayla Erler married Yasher Erler on April 15, 2009, the couple signed a prenuptial agreement in which they agreed that, should they decide to divorce, both parties would walk away from the marriage retaining their individual assets. Additionally, they agreed that neither party would receive alimony. Generally, this kind of case would be relatively strait forward. But in this case, after signing the prenuptial agreement, but before marrying, Mr. Erler also signed the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Form I-864, aka “Affidavit of Support.” In signing this form he indicated that he would provide the necessary support to ensure that Mrs. Erler’s income never fell below 125% of the federal poverty level.

After the divorce, Mrs. Erler remained unemployed, only receiving about $200 per month in food stamps. Mr. Erler helped his ex-wife was moving expenses, but did not continue to provide her with financial support which was required to keep her overall income above the poverty level. Mrs. Erler sued her former husband, claiming that because he did not provide her with said financial support, he was in violation of his I-864 responsibilities. lawyer for Mr. Erler claimed that the prenuptial agreement superseded the agreement which was made when he signed Form I-864. In other words, the prenuptial agreement made his financial duties under form I-864 null and void.

After hearing the reasoning from both sides, the court ruled that Mr. Erler’s argument – that the prenuptial agreement had voided his duties under Form I-864 -was invalid. The court found that not only didn’t the prenuptial agreement itself void the duties which were accepted upon signing Form I-864, but that the granting of the divorce also was insufficient to avoid those duties. Next the court had to consider whether Mrs. Erler’s income had superseded 125% of the federal poverty level.

After separating from Mr. Erler, Mrs. Erler lived with her adult son, who earned over $3000 per month income. Mr. Erler claimed that she lived in a two person household which, when taking both people into account, was well above the federal poverty level. Mrs. Erler contended that since she had qualified for federal food stamps as a single person, she could not be considered part of a two person household for purposes of the trial. At issue was the fact that Congress and immigration authorities each used a slightly different definition for household and how to calculate the number of people in a household. In the end, the court ruled that’s the plaintiff and her son constitute a two person household, and that the income of their household exceeds 125% of the federal poverty level. So, while Mr. Erler’s duties remained, the conditions to enforce the duties had not been met.

Our Austin immigration attorney are experienced in handling all manner of immigration law. Whether it’s a matter of marriage and divorce, as we have seen in this case, or any other immigration related legal situation, you can count on the Lyttle Law Firm to assist you. Call us today at 512-215-5225, or visit our website.

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