Documents Used to Prove a Bona Fide Marriage for Marriage Interview


Transcript

Hello, everyone. This is Ifeoma Odunlami from the Odunlami Law Firm. And I have another episode of empowering immigrants. So I'm just going to wait a little so that we can have more people sign in. And if you sign in, please let me know that you're here so that I know I'm not talking to myself. And so, the purpose of my Facebook Live is to give you information so that you are informed because an uninformed immigrant is at a disadvantage. So an uninformed immigrant is at a disadvantage. I'm going to say that again. An uninformed immigrant is at a disadvantage.


And when I talk about being informed, I'm not talking about getting your information from your cousin who got his green card five years ago and doing what he did that worked. I'm not also talking about going to Franklin in Newark, who has filed petitions for several people and has been successful by his own testimony. I'm talking about getting the information from the source, getting information from immigration attorneys, getting proper consultation so that you know what you need to do in your case.


So the purpose of my law firm and the passion of my law firm is to empower immigrants by giving you the information so that you are not at a disadvantage with regards to getting your green card, that's what you want. You want to get your green card. You want to get your naturalization. You want to bring a difference to your life, to your family, your children, and all of that, maybe even your parents. Like I've told you guys several times, I'm an immigrant. I came here as a student. I got my green card through [inaudible 00:01:54]. I filed for my mother. I had all my siblings in the U.S. at one point. I had another sibling who left to go to the UK, but we all have our papers. We were not born here. We became Americans through the immigration process. And that's the process I want you guys to get to know.


So today, I have a great topic. I do a lot of family-based immigration. People wanted to file for their spouses. And a lot of times when they come to me, a lot of times, some of them come when they've been denied. And at that point, we're trying to recreate the paperwork, trying to get them to get us more information so that we can now file a powerful petition. But I'm going to give you guys this information so that you begin to know what USCIS is looking for when they're looking at marriage-based petition. And I really believe that when you prepare your petition properly, it makes it easier at the interview.


I feel that, at least from what one of the officers had told me when I went for an interview, the couple had hired me just for the interview. He had said that when he got their petition, which they had filed, he thought it was a fraudulent marriage. He was going to deny them. And so, he already had his mind made up, that this was not a real marriage. But then when they hired me for the interview, I got them to get me more information and we were able to put meat on the evidence. So that's what today is about. We're going to talk about putting meat on the evidence that you send to USCIS.


So I have clients who come to me and they say, "Oh, we have all our information. We don't know why we're denied. We had life insurance. We had car insurance. We had a marriage certificate. We had all of this." But none of that is enough if there's not meat. That's what I'm going to call it. There's no meat to your evidence. It has to be compelling. It has to be convincing that it's real evidence. So if you just provide the documents, which are not really convincing, you may still have a problem because it's your burden of proof to show that you are in a bonafide marriage. And the definition of a bonafide marriage is at the beginning of the marriage, when you decide to get married to your American spouse and they decide to get married to you, what was your intent? That's what USCIS is looking for, what was your intent?


And your intent has to be that you want to get into this marriage for love or for companionship, but not solely for immigration benefits. So I'm going to go through some of the things that you need to provide so that you can have an easier pathway to getting your green card. So the marriage license, without a doubt is the first thing you have to show. That you are married. And to show that you're married, you have to show that you are available to marry. Which means that if you were married before and you were divorced, or your spouse passed away, that you have evidence of it. So if you are divorced, you have to have evidence of the divorce. And USCIS is very particular about this.


And for each country, they have requirements of what they will recognize in that country's divorce. In Nigeria, you have a decree nisi and decree absolute. And there are lots of fake divorces coming from Nigeria. So you need to know that giving somebody this document to file for you, they may not do it properly. So if you're in the United States, I want you to know this, you can divorce your spouse who is in another country. I urge you, if you get a family law attorney, they can do it for you. So you don't have to send money to somebody who is supposed to help you with a divorce, and then they don't do it properly, and then it becomes a problem in your current marriage. Because if you don't have a proper divorce, your current marriage is void. And you may not be able to get the benefits you're looking for in that relationship.


There are some states that have some exceptions like Texas, and some other states, where once you get the divorce, then the marriage that was void before now becomes a proper marriage, but that's not the case in most states. If the divorce was fraudulent, then the second marriage or the current marriage is void and cannot assist you in any immigration benefits. So let's get that clear, that you must look into making sure that your divorce is proper.


The second thing is, even if your spouse passed away, you have to get proof, a death certificate, a proper death certificate. USCIS has also has requirements based on what country you're from. So having talked about marriage, you want to show that if you were married before, you were properly divorced. If your spouse passed away, you have a death certificate. And now in some countries, I want to talk about this, like in Nigeria, there's traditional marriage, customary marriage, which typically does not have a proof of divorce because sometimes the divorce is just returning maybe the dowery back to the parents, or just going to the family member and saying, "We're divorcing your daughter," or your son, whatever it is. If it's a customary marriage, you may not need a certificate. And you want to be clear that it was a customary marriage and in your country, you're not required to have a certificate of divorce because it's a customary marriage.


So you want to check on that because USCIS has definite requirements depending on the country you're from. So if you're on the live chat, please make a comment. Say hello so I know I'm not talking to myself.


So let's start from one of the main things that we should have to prove that you're in a real marriage with a U.S. citizen or green card holder. Number one, if you're living together, you want to show evidence of cohabitation. And evidence of cohabitation is evidence of a bonafide marriage. Because most people, when they get married, they live together. Of course, that doesn't happen all the time, because sometimes people can not be together for one reason or the other. I've had clients who one of them was in college and they couldn't get together until they graduated from college. So if that's the case, you can explain that. But if that's not the case, you want to make sure that both of you are living together, unless you have extremely good reasons.


And one way of showing that you live together is having your driver's license showing that both of you live together. Hiya, [Yotunde 00:09:00]? How are you? So what I've noticed is a lot of people forget to change their driver's licenses. And maybe they do it just shortly before the interview and that makes it kind of look really suspect. So if you move from place to place, you and your spouse need to be on top of changing your driver's license to reflect that you people are still currently living together and you've moved to a new place. Both of you moved together. So that's really important. You don't want to go to that interview and give them your driver's license and it has a different address from your spouse. With USCIS, Sometimes you don't get a second chance to make a "good impression." So you don't want to give them a reason to think that there's something suspect. So you have to really be on top of this stuff.


Then the second thing is if you're living with your spouse, if you are renting, you want to have both of you sign. You want both of you to sign the rental agreement. And if for some reason your spouse cannot sign the rental agreement, maybe because they have bad credit. You want to see if you can put them as a co-tenant, somebody that can live there even if they're not signing the lease. You want to make sure that their names are there on that lease, them and all the people who live with you, the children, step-children, all of them need to be tenants on the lease. If you have a house, you want to make sure that you're on the deed. You may not be on the mortgage because you may not have the credit to qualify. But you want to be on the deed at least.


Now you want to have documents, bank statements, your tax records, your utility bills, all of this things should have the same address, of both of you and your spouse. Your names you don't have to be together on each document, but each document taken separately needs to show that both of you are relied in the same address.


So now, what else? That includes communications, like if you're buying things, say from Amazon, that works. You're buying things from Amazon. You want to show that it's coming to the same address. You want to show that people are sending things to you, maybe family, they're mailing stuff to you at the same address. So it's very important for you to show that you're sharing your cohabitation and the things I've mentioned are some ways to do that.


So let's talk about other things, such as children. Now, children are gold evidence, but you have to make sure that you're presenting it properly. If you have children together, that is really great. You need to have the birth certificates show that the father is on the birth certificate. I've had a couple who, for some reason, didn't have... I think there was a time people were afraid to put their names on the birth certificate if they didn't have papers, because I'm not sure, maybe they thought USCIS will be privy to it, no. If you have children with a U.S. citizen or your green card holder spouse, you want to be on the birth certificate. If you have stepchildren, you want to show a relationship with the stepchildren, such as you want to show pictures, vacations taken together, being together on the same chat group, being an emergency contact, maybe in the school of one of the children or... Let's see, what else? Showing maybe notes from the teachers where they're talking to you as well as talking to the natural parent. If the child is adopted, you want to show adoption certificates.


So when I talk of having pictures, I'm talking of showing that you can take your stepchild to the playground and you can take pictures to show that you have ongoing relationship. If you guys are taking pictures for Thanksgiving or for Christmas, and you're all wearing the same pajamas, that kind of stuff. Show that there's a relationship. And even if the stepchild doesn't live with you, which happens because sometimes they live mostly with another parent. If they come visiting, you want to be able to show that at least you guys are spending time together. That's really helpful.


Now, the big thing is evidence of co-mingling of finances. That's a big thing. And that's solid gold evidence if you do it right. Because USCIS realizes that people don't like to put their money together unless it's a real relationship. Basically, when money talks, bullshit walks. So you want to show that you and your spouse are in a real relationship and you've commingled your finances. How do you do that? You have a joint bank account.


Now, I've seen many bank accounts where there's no activity in there. That's not helpful. Just having your name and your spouse's name together on an account is not meat on this evidence. You want to show that there's activity by both you and your spouse on the joint bank account. You want to show that bills are being paid from that bank account, bills for the rent, bills for cable, whatever it is. You want to show that there are two debit cards in that account. And those two debit cards are working independently, which is both people are using their accounts together.


I mean, I know it's difficult for some people to have only one joint account. So there's no requirement that you should have only one joint account. You can have your separate account and your spouse can have their separate account. And both of you should have a joint account. And from this joint account, you need to be able to show evidence that this is a real marriage, because the burden is on you. I mean, people who are not involved in immigration proceedings may have the benefit of deciding, "Well, you know what? I don't really want to have a joint account." But you don't, because this is one of the strongest evidence of showing that this is a real relationship.


So another thing we want to talk about is taxes, taxes, taxes. I have clients who come and I look through their taxes and I see that they filed as head of household, or they filed as a single. If you're married and it's a bonafide marriage, you cannot. You must file as married. And not only must you file as married, your address must show that this is the address both of you live together in. So even if you will save money by filing separately, that's a problem. And I'm going to tell you straight up. So if this is what you've done, go to your accountant and amend your taxes to reflect that you're married. That works, amend your taxes. Do not take IRS tax filing that shows that you're single or that you're head of household. That's not helpful. Even if your spouse doesn't have a social security number, you still have to file as married.


Now, what else? If you have documents showing that you purchased big item tickets, that's always really helpful. Like you bought a car together, you bought furniture together. You purchased a house together, that's huge. I've had a client who when he was... This was actually a [inaudible 00:17:09] petition, when he was kicked out of the house. All he really had was just the deed because he had nothing. This woman had kicked him out of the house with nothing. And so, for a lot of people, you may not be able to be on the mortgage because you don't have credit. But at least you can be on the deed. So that's worth its weight in gold.


So let me see other things that you can use. If you have life insurance, wills, trusts, you want to designate your spouse as a beneficiary. And it's always helpful to show that you're making payments on this from whatever it is you signed up for it to the time that you're making the submission. Because sometimes you submit the stuff and USCIS is not impressed that you have life insurance. So what? Anybody can get life insurance. So you want to be able to show that you're making payment and you're maintaining payment. Same thing with utility bills.


So let's see, what else? I know a lot of my clients have joint phone account, where either one person is paying for both accounts and it's a joint account. That's helpful.


Now, let's talk about evidence of intimacy. That's what needs to be fleshed out. And that's where you get the meat in the case, where the officer has a sense of, "Wow, this is a real case." I know when I get documents from clients where they have all this evidence, you can always tell which... I mean, a lot of times I have a sense as well. Like well, this client, "How come you don't have anything to show that you've been married for two years, except your wedding pictures?" So this is the meat and potatoes of the evidence. You want to show intimacy. If you submit photographs. And typically, I actually like my clients to also submit photographs of when they were dating, to show that this is not a marriage that you just entered into just for the heck of it. You were together for a little while and then the marriage, you want to show pictures of the wedding.


If people came to the wedding, you want to show pictures. If you bought wedding rings, you want to have the receipts. Wedding rings for each other, gifts for each other, you want to have the receipts. If you did any of this special favors for the wedding, you want to include that, like the thank you cards you sent to people. Now, everyone can not have a "big wedding." For some people, they just go to the registry and that's it. But if you go to the registry, I encourage you to go with family members. Go with your spouse, go with your spouse's children, go with the grandma and grandpa.


Family members, as opposed to just random strangers. And I know everyone can't do that because sometimes if you are an immigrant, you don't know anybody. So you may not have anybody from your side. And your spouse may just not have anybody who may be interested in coming because family dynamics are different. But I'm saying, if this is available to you, do it different. And if you go out to celebrate, say you go to a restaurant with a couple of friends, take pictures. Those are the things that add meat to your submission.


Another thing that adds meat to your submission is if you are traveling. If you are traveling, you want to have a copy of the ticket, itinerary for both of you. If you stay in a hotel, you want to have that. And even if you are taking a road trip, say you have taken a road trip from South Carolina to New Jersey, you want to stop at key locations, such as you stop in D.C. If it's a fun trip where you are stopping at restaurants and eating and all that stuff, we want to see a peak into your life. We want to see the fun stuff you did on that road trip. Those are the things that add meat to your submission, that gives the officer this feeling that this is a loving relationship because of the way you've shown your life. You have to give them a slice of your life.


Now, if you have any interaction with your in-laws... I have a case where one of my clients... It's actually a consular case and they are all on Zoom. And there's a picture of all of them on Zoom chit chatting. That's really helpful. It's helpful that your husband or your wife's family members know about you or their friends know about you. So you want to take pictures. I'm not impressed with the pictures from Applebee's, where they're both of you staring at each other's eyes, or pictures where you are in the bedroom in semi states of undress. No, those are not helpful. We want to see pictures that show your family members know that you're a couple, your children know you're a couple, your employer knows you're a couple. So if you have HR, should be advised that you're married now. And you should put your spouse as a contact for you with your employer. Those are the kinds of things that give meat to your case.


Let's see. Now, we also look at text messages, especially with the consulate processing, where you can't really show that you have a joint filing, joint bills, or that you live together. You want to show that you're in communication. And when I say communication, I'm looking to see constant communication. I don't want to see a text message or a call where it was one month and then the next month. So we typically will ask our clients to show us proof of communication with their spouses; text messages, calls, showing that there is constant continued communications. And in a real marriage, that's really not difficult because you want to call your boo all the time, especially when your marriage is young. You want to talk to your boo, you call them once a day. So that should not be difficult at all. And that's proof that this is a real relationship, even if you're working different shifts.


Maybe you're working at night, your spouse is working during the day. I know that someone's checking out the other person and it doesn't have to be, "oh, I love you. You're the apple of my," eye kind of texts. It can be just regular text. "Oh, my God, I didn't have a great night. I'm sorry I didn't even get to see you this morning because I had to leave early. There was an emergency. Can't wait to see you at 3:00, come by for lunch. Pick up a chicken from the grocery store. I'm going to make dinner." Something, just casual. You know how couples talk, even the fights could be proof of a bonafide relationship. "You didn't talk to me. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. I won't do it again. I love you." Whatever it is. We all know what a relationship sounds like. So let the officer see it.


And then, we'll talk about social media. Social media, you want to be careful with that. You want to make sure that you're not projecting an image of yourself that's not accurate or saying things that are not accurate on social media. So if you're married, you need to go and change that status to married. Just be aware that social media is available for everyone to look at.


Now, let's talk about affidavits. On the pole of things that are really solid gold evidence, affidavits are really at the bottom. But if the people who are writing affidavits for you do it properly, it could be quite helpful. A lot of people think that they should do this form affidavits, where they're just, "My name is this. And I believe that John and Janet are married because they are a loving couple. I certify that this is a real marriage." No, the first thing you need to do is identify yourself. What's your name, where do you live, what's your number, what's your email, what's your phone number in case they want to contact you, they reserve the right.


And then, you want to talk about how you got to know the couple. How do you know them? And then, you want to talk about the things that make you feel that it's a real relationship. What is it that you know about them that makes you think it's a real relationship? It could be that you've been to their house. You've hung out with them. You guys have traveled together. You attended their wedding. What is it that makes you feel that it's a real relationship? And everybody's affidavit should be different from the others. We don't like the same stock answer.


So if friend A is giving an affidavit about how he or she knows it's a real marriage, it should be her personal experience. "I know it's a real marriage because I was there when they met. And I saw how the relationship continued and I know that they're happy together because the wife has expressed to me that this is the happiest thing." And then somebody else can say, "Well, I know it's a real relationship because we traveled together on vacation and I saw them interact with each other." So everybody's story has to be different.


So I have a call at one o'clock, so I'm going to start looking at the questions so I can get off. So Makan Traore says... You got an I-485. I believe I've answered this question before. You have an I-485 pending, based on an I-360 approval. USCIS updated your old I-130 pending since 2015, by saying that I-130 is closed because applicants or petitioners received a status of benefit through other means. So Makan, your case is a case where I need to get more information. I believe I've spoken to you before. And if I'm not mistaken, did you indicate that you were in proceedings? The best thing for you to do is to book a consultation with some attorney and get an answer to your question, because there's a whole lot of information that we're going to need from you to be able to answer your question.


All right. So the next question is Akinola Olumuyiwa Oshodi says, "What about situations whereby the registry didn't want people to come in? For example, the COVID period." Exactly, I understand that. COVID was just random different experience. So that was different. However, if you don't have that, then you're going to have to provide other evidence. So the marriage with family members does not work. Then you have to get more compelling evidence from other areas, because it's not just one thing. You're not required to have everything I'm telling you. I'm just giving you examples. So if one doesn't work for you, look for the other example to work on. Make it a good one. Put meat on that evidence.


Hi, Jumoke Adebowale. How are you?


So I'm going to jump off now, because I have a conference call at one o'clock, but it's been nice talking to you guys. And again, my name is Ifeoma Odunlami, I'm an immigration attorney. I am your advocate. I'm an immigrant myself. So it's important to me to help other immigrants get the American dream. If you need our assistance, please call my number 973-993-1900. Make sure you share this video to anybody who you know that could benefit from it. Because like I said, it's important for intending immigrants to be informed about immigration. So don't forget to follow us on all our social media platforms, which is TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and all of that. So I'm going to sign off now and I will talk to you guys next time. Take care.


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