I have not found any law or regulation that specifically says that an immigration applicant or the applicant's sponsor (spouse) must disclose a prenuptial agreement if one exists. But immigration officials have broad discretion in interviews, and might well ask about such agreements. If asked, it is very unwise to lie or evade the question.
There is no law forbidding a prenuptial agreement in such a case, or making a would-be immigrant who has signed such an agreement ineligible. However, if the immigration officers believe that the marriage is a "sham" designed largely to evade immigration laws, they might declare the marriage invalid for immigration purposes. This is likely to significantly hinder the application, if not end it.
If the agreement makes it appear that the parties contemplate that the marriage will be short-lived, and that an end to the marriage will occur in the near future, that makes it look like a sham marriage. If it appears that the prime reason for the marriage was financial, and particularly if the US party has apparently been paid or subsidized for entering into the marriage, that also makes the marriage look like a sham. If the terms of the agreement support either of these assumptions, that may cause a problem.
It will be helpful if the agreement is carefully drafted to make it clear that the marriage is one of affection or love, and is intended to be lasting, with the agreement only present to help deal with issues in the possible case of the marriage not lasting.
Affirmation of Support (I-864)
Also, it is often requires that the sponsor/spouse sign an Affirmation of Support (I-864). This is an agreement by which the sponsor promises to support the applicant at at least 125% of the US Federal poverty level. The sponsor also shows resources sufficient to provide such support. The obligation under this agreement last6s until the applicant has become a US citizen, or has been credited with 40 quarters (10 years) of Social Security earnings credit. Under federal law and case law, a prenup cannot waive or reduce the obligations under an I-864 agreement. A prenup that purports to do so would probably be a significant negative indication for an immigration official.
Parties must Understand a Prenup
Also if it appears that the non-US spouse (the applicant) does not understand the nature and effect of a prenup, that might also be a negative indication. This is one reason why it is often a good idea that each party should be represented by a separate lawyer in the drafting of a prenup. Such a lawyer should be able to draft the prenup agreement in such a way as not to raise suspicions with an immigration officer.
Disclosing a Prenup
We here at Law.SE cannot advise whether an applicant should disclose the existence of a prenup at an immigration interview. Such agreements are not normally registered with any government agency, nor are they normally searchable on any web site. But an applicant should probably assume that a question about such an agreement might be asked at an interview, and be prepared with an answer.
Sources and Quotes
The page "Can a nuptial (prenup) agreement waive rights under the Form I-864?" states:
[F]ederal courts have squarely held that a pre- or post-nuptial agreement cannot waive rights under the Form I-864. Even if a sponsored immigrant has signed a document saying that she forfeits all rights under the I-864, that agreement is meaningless in federal court.
It is very common for sponsored immigrants to sign a nuptial agreement. Often this happens before the person completes the immigration process. For example, someone might come to the U.S. on a K-1 visa, then be forced to sign a prenuptial agreement before getting married.
Usually these nuptial agreements will contain broad language that the immigrant waives all right to “alimony” or spousal maintenance. But sometimes the agreements will also specifically cross-reference the Form I-864.
Federal courts see two main problems with nuptial waivers.
First, these agreements undermine the purpose of the I-864. Or at least they try to. Congress created the Form I-864 so that immigrants would be guaranteed basic financial support of they need it. More specifically, the I-864 ensures that a sponsor rather than American taxpayers provides the immigrant with support. If nuptial agreements could waive support, it basically leads to the following situation: the sponsor promises the U.S. government that it will provide support, then turns around and creates a document with the immigrant that says, “but I’m not actually going to provide the support.” It would be a bit crazy if a federal statute could be undermined in that way.
Here is how one court in the District of Utah put it:
To permit a sponsor to unilaterally terminate the Form I-864’s financial support obligation through a separate agreement with the immigrant would ignore the interests of the U.S. Government and the benefits of taxpayers and charitable donors. It would also defeat the Form I-864’s purpose of preventing admission of an immigrant that is likely to become a public charge at any time. Therefore, nuptial agreements will not terminate a Form I-864’s financial support obligation.
The second reason that courts disregard nuptial agreements is the text of the I-864 itself. The I-864 contract lists five “terminating events” that ends a sponsor’s support obligation. These include the immigrant becoming a citizen or being credited 40 quarters of work. (You could count the sponsor’s death as a sixth terminating event). But those terminating events are the only thing that ends a sponsor’s obligation. Signing a private nuptial agreement isn’t on the list of terminating events, so that simply isn’t a thing that can end a sponsor’s obligation.
The page "Can a prenup protect me when marrying a non citizen?" from Joleena Louis Law reads:
One of the most obvious concerns for people marrying non-citizens is how having a prenup will look to immigration officials. You don’t want to give the impression that the marriage is happening for financial reasons and it does help to show co-mingling of assets.
However, legitimate marriages have prenups, and a well-drafted agreement that is fair to both parties and makes sense for the situation won’t necessarily give a bad impression.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you may need to sign an Affirmation of Support for your spouse, which in which you are acknowledging that you have the means to financially support your spouse at a minimum level of 125% of the federal poverty threshold and accept legal responsibility for their financial support. A prenup cannot absolve you of this obligation and you are not released from this obligation until your spouse becomes a United States citizen, permanently departs the country, or is credited with forty quarters of coverage via the Social Security Act.
The page "Do Prenuptial Agreements Affect Spousal Immigration? from Family Law San Diego reads:
Federal immigration law provides for a U.S. citizen to sponsor the immigration of their foreign spouse. The married couple must apply for a family-based immigrant visa allowing a spouse from a foreign country to enter the United States and obtain Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status—also known as a “green card” holder.
Among the various immigration forms that are required to obtain a visa for an immigrant spouse is an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864). By signing and submitting an Affidavit of Support, the U.S. citizen spouse enters into a contractual agreement with the United States acknowledging that they have the means to financially support their spouse at a minimum level of 125% of the federal poverty threshold and accepting legal responsibility for their financial support until their spouse becomes a U.S. citizen or earns credit for 40 [quarters] of work.
Importantly, getting a divorce does not relieve the citizen spouse of their obligation to provide the required amount of spousal support to their spouse. Furthermore, the affiant [sponsor] is responsible for reimbursing government agencies for the cost of any “means-tested public benefits” that the immigrant spouse receives.
Spouses who have been married for less than two (2) years will receive what is known as “conditional permanent resident” status. This means that the couple must prove that they did not get married for the purpose of avoiding federal immigration laws.
If USCIS concludes that a couple entered into the marriage to evade federal immigration laws, their marriage will be deemed invalid for immigration purposes. As a result, the spouse seeking to immigrant to the United States will be denied entry or removed from the United States. The citizen spouse may also be subject to civil or criminal penalties.
A prenuptial agreement is a contract into which prospective newlyweds enter, governing their rights and responsibilities as married spouses concerning matters such as spousal support and the distribution of marital assets at the end of their marriage, whether due to divorce or death. The provisions of a prenuptial agreement go into effect when the couple gets married.
Although there are few legal requirements to form a valid premarital agreement, the judicial enforcement of its provisions may be questionable depending on the circumstances of each case. Generally, a prenuptial agreement is not enforceable if it was not the product of mutual voluntary assent to its terms. As a result, circumstances that suggest that party did not understand the contract, or would not have reasonably agreed to its terms if they had a meaningful choice, call the enforceability of the agreement into question.
Spouses with conditional permanent resident status should be careful about the potential effect of a prenuptial agreement. Evidence indicating that a party did not understand the terms of a contract may endanger the enforcement prospects of its provisions, especially if English is not their first language.
Additionally, terms that reduce the immigrant spouse’s property rights may suggest that the couple had a deal to have the citizen spouse sponsor the foreign spouse’s immigration into the U.S.
Importantly, provisions purporting to govern the couple’s rights and responsibilities regarding spousal support are effectively superseded by the terms of an Affidavit of Support. This is because a prenuptial agreement is a contract between the spouses, whereas an Affidavit of Support is a contract between the citizen spouse and the U.S. government.
The Page "Why Should You Get a Prenuptial Agreement with a Foreign National?" from DiPietro Law Group reads:
If your new spouse does not intend to work in the United States, you may need to sign an Affidavit of Support. This contract requires you to maintain a standard of living for your new spouse exceeding 125 percent of the poverty level. You are not released from this obligation until your spouse becomes a United States citizen, permanently departs the country, or is credited with forty quarters of coverage via the Social Security Act. Your prenuptial contract does not automatically absolve you of this support. In a notable 2014 case, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland indicated that prenuptial contracts could not waive Affidavits of Support.
Prenuptial contracts can occasionally backfire in green card cases. Immigration officials look for signs that a marriage occurred for financial or citizenship reasons, and not for love. Officers often seek evidence of commingled assets, which may not be available among couples with prenuptial agreements.
The pager "How do Prenuptial Agreements Affect Immigration?" by Jared Leung from JCL Immigration Attorneys, reads:
A prenuptial agreement is a legal contract that outlines how assets will be divided in the event a marriage ends in divorce. These agreements also discuss the obligations of a spouse to provide financial support for the other party in the event of a divorce.
In general, both parties must fully understand all of the terms of a prenuptial agreement in order for the contract to be binding. If a court finds that one party was unaware of what he or she was signing, or if the agreement is so one-sided as to be deemed unfair, the provisions held within can be invalidated.
How do prenuptial agreements impact immigration?
When a United States citizen sponsors the immigration application of a foreign spouse, the couple needs to file for a family-based immigrant visa, often called a “green card.” Part of this process involves filing an Affidavit of Support, a document that demonstrates that the citizen has the ability to support the other party at a level at least above 125% of the poverty threshold until the applicant becomes a United States citizen. This obligation remains in place in the event of divorce.
The provisions of a prenuptial agreement should not give the appearance of a “deal” between parties for the purpose of circumnavigating immigration rules. There can also be challenges if the foreign spouse does not speak English well enough to understand the details of the agreement.
However, having a prenuptial agreement does not necessarily casts doubt to the truthfulness of the marriage. Individuals with decent net worth or prior debt may use prenuptial agreements to protect oneself and/or the spouse-to-be. The existence of a prenuptial agreement should be considered with other factors in the marriage to determine whether it would cause problems in an immigration application
Cases in which Federal courts have held that a prenup does not void an I-864 agreement:
- [Erler v. Erler 824 F.3d 1173 (9th Cir. 2016).
- Golipour v. Moghaddam No. 4:19-cv-00035-DN-PK (D. Utah Feb. 7, 2020) (granting and denying in part cross-motions for summary judgment).
- Anderson v. United States, No. C17-0891RSL (W.D. Wash. Apr. 17, 2019) (dicta).
- Toure-Davis v. Davis, No. WGC-13-916 (D. Md. March 28, 2014) (memo. op.).
- Shah v. Shah, 4:12-cv-4648, (RBK/KMW), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4596 (D.N.J. Jan. 14, 2014) (memo. op.)
- Cyrousi v. Kashyap, 386 F. Supp. 3d 1278 (C.D. Cal. 2019) (holding that waiver is not an affirmative defense available to sponsors)
- Liu v. Kell, 299 F. Supp. 3d 1128 (W.D. Wash. 2017) (same).