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Immigration and Marriage Between Cousins

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For immigration purposes, a valid marriage is necessary for many things including obtaining a family-based visa or work authorization, attempting to legalize unlawful presence or status, and the possibility of seeking various waivers and/or defending against deportation. Below we discuss whether marriages between cousins are considered valid in the United States for immigration purposes.

As explained in more detail below, the short answer is that marriages between cousins are "valid" marriages if they are valid where the marriage was performed AND in the state where the couple is currently living (or plans to live). Otherwise, the marriage will be deemed void by the immigration services.

What Type of Cousin-Cousin Marriage?

It must be stated that the legal issue in the U.S. is mostly about first-cousin marriages. That is, where cousin-cousin marriages are prohibited, what is being prohibited is marriage between first cousins. However, in some States -- like Kentucky -- even marriages between second cousins are banned. However, only five States ban second-cousin marriages. Thus, for the remainder of this article, we will focus on the validity of first-cousin marriages.

First Cousin Marriages in the U.S.

As noted above, the first question that will be asked by the U.S. immigration services is whether a cousin-cousin marriage was/is valid in the location where the marriage took place. Assume, for example, that the marriage took place in a foreign country where first-cousin marriages are allowed. In that example, the marriage would meet the first test for being valid. This is also true if the marriage occurred in a State in the U.S. -- such as California.

However, as noted, the first-cousin marriage must ALSO be valid in the place where the couple lives or proposes to live in the U.S. The validity of cousin-cousin marriages depends on State law, not federal law. That is, there is no overarching federal law that defines whether first cousins can marry lawfully. It depends on State law. For example, in the States of Texas and Oklahoma, not only are first-cousin marriages banned but such marriages are deemed criminal. By contrast, States like Alabama, Vermont, and California have no prohibitions against first-cousin marriages. There are other States which allow first-cousin marriages, but have restrictions. For example, the States of Utah and Illinois allow first-cousin marriages, but only if the wife is infertile or both are over the age of 65. See here for a Wikipedia chart that shows a state-by-state comparison.

Can You Marry Your Second Cousin in the US?

In the United States, marriage laws regarding cousin relationships vary by state. While some states permit marriage between second cousins, others prohibit it. It's essential to check the specific regulations in the state where you reside or plan to marry to ensure compliance with the law. 

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) And First Cousin Marriage

In Matter of Zappia, 12 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1967) the BIA held that a marriage complying with all the requirements of the state of celebration might nevertheless be deemed invalid if it is invalid under the laws of the state where the parties are domiciled at the time of the marriage and where both intend to make their home afterward or if it violates a strong public policy of the state of domicile. Essentially, even if the marriage is valid where it occured, immigration looks to where you intend to live. 

What Does This Mean?

What this means is this: if your marriage involves first cousins, then, for the immigration services to deem your marriage valid, you must have been married in a place where first-cousin marriages are valid and must LIVE in a state where first-cousin marriages are valid. As an example, your marriage will be deemed valid by the immigration services if you were married in California and plan to live there. Your marriage will NOT be deemed valid by the immigration services if you were married in California but live or plan to live in Texas.

Contact Yekrangi & Associates Today

For more information, contact the Orange County Immigration Attorneys at Yekrangi & Associates today. You are not alone and we will fight for you. Yekrangi & Associates works to meet a higher standard. Our first goal is your satisfaction.

Contact us at (949) 478-4963 to schedule a consultation or complete our convenient “Get Your Consultation” form here. We are located in Irvine, California.

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