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The Violence Against Women Act Could Have a Big Impact on Your Domestic Violence Case

The Violence Against Women Act, commonly referred to as VAWA, was originally signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 and written by the then-senator Joseph Biden with the goal of expanding the judicial system’s ability to protect abuse victims from their abusers. Despite the name, the Act doesn’t exclusively apply to women – it expands these protections for any victim of domestic violence. While VAWA has been successful in protecting victims and raising awareness of domestic violence issues, it opens up one potential avenue for abuse that you should be aware of.

How Does VAWA Allow for Potential Abuse?

The Violence Against Women Act creates several different avenues by which survivors of domestic abuse can receive protection from their abusers, including legal protections, temporary housing arrangements, and programs aimed at preventing violence before it happens. Every five years the VAWA is open to renewal, allowing lawmakers to expand on its current scope. The most pertinent aspect of the VAWA for the purposes of this article has existed since its creation in 1994, however. Noncitizens who are residing in the United States under the sponsorship of their spouse are eligible for permanent residency status via a VAWA self-petition if they’re a victim of abuse from their spouse. The abuse can consist of violent acts, but also includes intimidation, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, coercion, and threats. While this is an important and overall beneficial aspect of the VAWA as it does benefit legitimate abuse victims, there has been an uptick in potential misuse of this program since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch Out for This in Your Case

In order to receive permanent residency via VAWA, immigrants must prove that they entered into the relationship in good faith, and not merely to gain residency. Unfortunately, we have seen cases where the relationship was less than legitimate – leading to the spouses separating and seeking a divorce. By law, these spouses are still married as they’ve not yet received a divorce decree. Some spouses will then return before the divorce is made official, and attempt to antagonize the citizen spouse in an effort to provoke them into making a mistake, which they can then use to file for VAWA rights and a self-petition to gain permanent residency.

While these incidents are unfortunate, it’s important to remember that VAWA provides many great benefits to immigrant abuse victims. As such, we’re dedicated to helping both victims of domestic abuse, and those who may have been used to gain residency. In either case, you can contact our team today for experienced legal counsel.


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