This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of ‘Gina” and her green card marriage. This is not a commentary on new Americans (as I used to work with new Americans, for Pete’s sake) this is simply one woman’s story.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am 32 years old, a graduate of UCLA, and now a single mother. A few years ago I discovered that my husband and the father of my son had married me for a green card.
How did you meet your husband?
I met my husband at work. I began working for a university shortly after I graduated from college and he worked there as well. He began working there part time as a student while studying English and quickly earned a place as a full time staff member.
He had begun managing the department copy center only a few weeks before I was hired. He was asked to train me regarding the department’s volunteer program (he had been running the program while they were looking for someone to fill my spot), which allowed us to meet officially and we seemed to hit it off immediately and began spending time together both in- and outside of work.
He was a relaxed, charming person, with a wonderful ability to poke fun at himself and I found myself wanting to spend more and more time with him.
How long did you date before you got married?
We became friends immediately after meeting and began dating less than two months after that. We often argued because I was ready for more of a commitment than he wanted at the time. After about eight months we became exclusive and a few months after that we became engaged, however, I broke off this engagement because he still seemed to be holding back.
We didn’t speak for about six months after that but then he called and asked if he could take me out for my birthday. At dinner he talked about how much he missed me, how he felt he was ready to settle down and pictured that with me, and asked if I would be willing to try again.
I agreed with a few conditions, all of which he met. He seemed whole-heartedly committed this time and I fell even deeper in love with him.After several months he proposed to me again and I accepted. Total we dated and were in a relationship for approximately three years (minus the break). We discussed having a family.
He had been told that it would be unlikely that he could have children, though surgery might improve his chances, so we planned to be married for six months to a year, then try to conceive for a year, if that failed we would try surgery/fertility treatments for one year, and if that failed, we would adopt. Eight days before our wedding we discovered that I was pregnant without trying and in spite of using birth control.
Did you (or anyone in your life) ever have any inkling that your husband was marrying you for any reason other than love?
I never had any inkling that he was marrying me for anything other than love. No one ever said anything to me beyond: “are you sure?” and since I had absolutely no doubts this never even gave me pause. I discovered much later (after I discovered everything else) that seemingly everyone knew – in fact they knew things that, had they told me, would have brought a stop to even a typical relationship.
When did you begin to suspect that he wasn’t in the marriage for the right reasons?
It took me more than a year to suspect he wasn’t in the marriage for the right reasons, though it should have occurred to me immediately. Within three days of being married (we were still on our honeymoon!) he began to act like a completely different person.He became volatile, yelling at me multiple times a day.
While still on our honeymoon he began requesting rooms with two beds, telling me that I snored and it was too much, he need a little space so he could sleep.I was terrified and convinced that there was something wrong with him. I thought that he had developed some sort of mental disorder (or had had one all along and never told me) and that he desperately needed help.
Soon I realized that this was not a mental illness but a part of his personality that I had never seen before. He began to become more and more mentally and emotionally abusive towards me and he would disappear for days at a time.After our son was born he would take week long vacations every month, and was never home between 6:30am and 9pm.
When our son was six months old it had been more than a month since he had seen him and more than two since he had held him. At that point there was no reason for me to stay, and I didn’t want my son to grow up in that household or with a man like that as his role model. I packed the bare necessities, picked up my son and left.
What did you do once you discovered his real motivation for the marriage?
I began to really worry about what was going on when I discovered legal documents belonging to my husband. He had a second social security number, second driver’s license, a (presumably fake) green card saying that he was a citizen of Mexico when he was actually a citizen of Brazil.
He had inheritance documents from when his father had died (a year after we were married) saying that he was single and had no children, his Brazilian id and voter card which he had somehow managed to keep current. All of this was neatly bundled together in an envelope along with extra passport size photos each taken with different looks (different clothes, different hair, he looked almost like a different person in each one).
Along with this he had airline miles cards, credit cards and bank cards from several different countries – the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and others.I didn’t really begin to put it all together until I spoke with an attorney and later an immigration coordinator.
Neither was surprised by any of this at all, in fact, they both said things to the effect of “I would be surprised if he didn’t have them.” Apparently green card marriages in which the non-citizen marries an unknowing citizen for immigration purposes is stunningly common and almost always ends with incredible heartbreak and consequences for the citizen.
Can you tell us about the divorce process?
The divorce process is complicated and stressful, especially with children involved. I had assumed that because my husband married me under false pretenses that the marriage would be easily annulled. My lawyer quickly contradicted me.Annulments are granted only on very specific grounds which you must be able to prove, and they can be just as expensive as divorces.
If the annulment is denied you then have to start all over again by filing for divorce and paying court fees, etc. Annulments also don’t deal with child custody, in fact if there is a child from the marriage it is almost guaranteed that the annulment will be denied.The divorce process itself can also be further complicated when international issues are involved.
My husband left the country in the middle of our divorce bringing everything to a halt. I had to petition the court to allow me to proceed by publication and was forced to take out an ad in a local newspaper publicizing our court date in order to proceed.
If he had left before the original court documents had been served it would have complicated things even further. I have heard horror stories of people who remain legally married to someone decades after their marriages have ended because one party disappeared.
In my case, I have been trying to complete my divorce for almost three years and every time I get close a new complication arises.When children are involved it can be even more complicated and the emotional stress multiplies a thousand fold.
Even though the other party is not a citizen they are the child’s parent have parental rights. In most cases they will receive at least partial custody and things like one parent taking the child to another country for a vacation or to visit family must be carefully considered and decided.
What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?
My advice for anyone considering marrying someone who is not a citizen is to think things out very carefully, ask a lot of questions and pay attention to the answers, and have a plan just in case things go wrong –even if it is not for a green card things can go wrong in any marriage.
Speak with a lawyer before you marry (look for one who has experience with both family law and international or immigration law).Look up whether the other person’s native country is a member of, and more importantly, has a history of complying with the Hague Convention (international agreement regarding child custody).
Create a pre-nup or stipulated judgment prior to marrying which outlines child custody, visitation and citizenship of any children.Know that you can marry someone without immediately sponsoring them for a green card (you can even marry them and never sponsor them for a green card), and that if you do sponsor them it is an expensive process which takes at least two years.
In short, be knowledgeable and keep your eyes open. Since beginning to share my story with others I have realized that my situation is actually very, very common, but I have also heard from those who are very happy and in love, and who couldn’t imagine their lives without their spouse.
Any questions for Gina? Has someone ever dated you for the wrong reasons?