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Sponsoring a Cousin Spouse For Permanent Residence Is Possible Under Certain Circumstances

Posted on Thursday, December 2, 2010

Are you married or engaged to your first cousin and interested in sponsoring him/her for permanent residence? If so, then determining whether this is possible requires an analysis of (1) the validity of cousin marriages under the laws of the jurisdiction where your marriage took or will take place, and (2) the marriage laws of your state of intended residence.

Regarding the first prong. A cousin marriage performed abroad will be recognized in the United States for immigration purposes where a civil ceremony has been conducted, a marriage certificate recorded, and an original or certified marriage certificate issued. A private religious cousin marriage ceremony performed abroad will be recognized in the United States if it is legally sufficient in the jurisdiction where the ceremony took place. As for a domestic cousin marriage, at present, cousin marriages are legal in nineteen states (and the District of Columbia), banned in twenty-five states, and allowed under certain circumstances in six states. Thus, if the cousin marriage ceremony took place in one of the states (or the District of Columbia) that allows cousin marriages and otherwise complied with that state’s marriage laws, the cousin marriage will be recognized for immigration purposes.

Regarding the second prong. In the State of Illinois, for example, a marriage between cousins of the first degree is prohibited (unless both parties are 50 years of age or older or either party is sterile). However, a marriage contracted outside Illinois that was valid at the time of the contract is valid in Illinois unless it violates a specific public policy of the State of Illinois, such as the public policy against same sex marriage.  Moreover, a marriage contracted in another state or country solely for the purpose of evading the Illinois marriage prohibition is void in Illinois.  The foregoing rules thus enable an Illinois resident to sponsor his first cousin spouse for permanent residence under certain circumstances (e.g. the Illinois resident got married to his first cousin previously while living and working in California where cousin marriages are allowed), but not under other circumstances (e.g. the Illinois resident travels to California solely for the purpose of getting married to his first cousin and returns to Illinois to continue to reside there). Given the disparities in marriage laws throughout the United States and the world, the result of the analysis will vary depending on the specific facts of your case.

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