How to Hire a Lawyer When Divorcing an Immigrant

Unfortunately, divorcing an immigrant can make the process a little more complicated.

First, an important question: do you even need a lawyer? If you and your spouse are able to productively discuss how to proceed and reach agreements without too much strife, then your need for legal representation is minimal. You can be comfortable negotiating the settlement yourself and just hiring a lawyer to review it and draft the contract. Some people even manage to go without a lawyer entirely, though this can require a lot of legwork on your part and can cause complications down the line that end up costing you more than if you had worked with a lawyer from the beginning.

However, since you’re on a site called, I assume you’re feeling a lot of anger and probably not disposed to work with your spouse. Getting legal help would be wise. In the following scenarios, I would say you definitely need a lawyer ASAP:

1. Your spouse has already hired a lawyer.
2. Your spouse is physically, verbally, emotionally, or financially abusive towards you.

In general, if you suspect that your spouse has married you just for immigration benefits and you think you might want to get out of the relationship, I would recommend that you connect with a lawyer NOW. The sooner a lawyer gets involved, the more they can do to help you. This is all the more important if your spouse’s Green Card has not yet been issued, as being able to end the marriage before they are an official permanent resident will make a big difference for you. Not consulting with a lawyer sooner was one of my biggest regrets about my divorce.

So who to choose? I would strongly recommend finding a lawyer who specializes in both immigration and divorce. Even though you as the US Citizen do not have immigration status concerns, the fact that you’re divorcing an immigrant introduces complications that a regular divorce attorney won’t be used to. You (or the person who sponsored your spouse) signed form I-864 as part of the immigration process, and some immigrants have used this commitment as leverage to get more benefits in their divorce settlement than they otherwise would. Your obligations to your immigrant spouse do not end just because you’re divorced.

Hiring someon specialized in both areas means that they’ll be accustomed to the issues involved and be able to help you solve issues much faster since they won’t need to consult with another specialist. If you cannot find someone who specializes in both immigration and divorce, hire a regular divorce attorney but let them know that your case has complications. They will probably consult with an immigration lawyer as they work on your case. Note that this will be an additional cost for you.

My next most important tip would be to look for a lawyer who won’t take advantage of your emotions. If you are angry and vengeful, your divorce can easily cost a lot more than if you were calm and practical about the process. Unfortunately, someone unethical can egg you on, resulting in larger payday for them. A good lawyer will be sympathetic to your feelings, but work to calm you down rather than get you riled up. Though my lawyer charged a relatively high rate due to his expertise, he often urged me to cooperate with and talk to my spouse directly when he felt it was appropriate, and wisely steered me away from pursuring a more aggressive course of action than I needed to, which likely would have resulted in my husband fighting me much more than he did. My lawyer could have made much more money from me if he hadn’t been so ethical!

Do consider whether your lawyer’s personality is right for the situation. If you and your spouse can work together somewhat but just have a few sticking points, then hiring the biggest shark you can find probably isn’t a good idea. However, in a tougher divorce you may need someone more aggressive who will fight for you.

For many people, hiring a divorce lawyer may be their first major legal expense. It’s easy to be intimidated and wonder if you really need to spend so much money. However, how your divorce is structured can determine the rest of your life. Having a guide to help you through the process and assit you in getting the best outcome is invaluable.