By: Theo Liebman and Lauris Wren. Published by: Family Court Review. Published in October 2012
This article presents what we know about immigration and family court, what we need to know, and implications for family lawyers and judges.
- “As the number of authorized and unauthorized immigrants in the United States continues to rise, immigration issues increasingly permeate family court proceedings. When immigrant families become subject to a family court’s jurisdiction, the court’s services, its traditional “best interests” legal standard, and its rulings frequently must be considered and effectuated from a different perspective. Undocumented and permanent residents, for example, face potential severe consequences to family court findings with which citizens need not contend, such as detention in an immigration facility, deportation to another country, and permanent geographical separation from their families. These ramifications compound the challenges already faced by many families served by family courts. At the same time, family court involvement can sometimes create opportunities for immigration relief for the survivors of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and domestic violence whom the court serves.
- In order to better understand the impact immigration issues are having in family courts, we conducted two informal surveys, one of family court judges around the United States and one of attorneys practicing in family courts. Overwhelmingly, the survey of the family court judges, which was completed by 109 judges throughout the United States, showed that immigration status and laws play a significant role in family court proceedings. Ninety-three percent of the judges had handled a case in which the immigration status of a party was raised as an issue. Immigration status became an issue most frequently in the context of custody and visitation, although also in division of property/allocation of support, guardianship, adoption, termination of parental rights, abuse/neglect, juvenile delinquency, child support, orders of protection, domestic violence, and criminal contexts. A stunning seventy-two percent of family court judges surveyed believed that their level of knowledge regarding immigration law was insufficient to resolve issues arising out of a party’s immigration status.
- The survey of family court attorneys showed similar results. Ninety-five percent of the attorneys had handled cases in which their client or the other party’s immigration status was an issue, factor, or consideration in the family court action. Only fourteen percent of the attorneys believed that family court judges were knowledgeable in areas in which immigration law affects family court decisions. Fifty-three percent said the judges were not knowledgeable in these areas, and nearly thirty-five percent were unsure. Only seven percent of the attorneys believed that family court practitioners were knowledgeable in areas in which immigration law affects family court decisions.” (p. 570-571)