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IMMIGRATION AND YOU: Getting a Divorce Decree from a country with no divorce law

This piece is written for a column in “One Philippines Pacific Northwest Edition” newspaper. Here is a link. (See page 22).

Dear Tahmina,

I am from the Philippines. I was married when quite young and have three children. However, my first husband abandoned me many years ago. He just disappeared one day and left no word. I tried many times to find him, to no avail. Two years ago, I met an incredible man. He was tall, handsome and very kind. We met very randomly but fell in love almost instantly. I can safely say he is the man of my dreams. This man was from the United States. We dated for a while but soon thereafter decided to get married. However, at that time I couldn’t marry, because I was still married to my first husband who abandoned me more than ten years ago!

After much time and money spent on lawyers, we were able to obtain a Presumption of Death certificate. This allowed us to get married legally in the Philippines. My husband filed for a green card for me. I believe we are almost ready to be called for an interview. However, the USCIS keeps asking us to provide a Divorce Decree. It is almost impossible to get such a document without the husband present. I don’t know what to do. Can you help? 

Miserable in Manila

Dear Miserable in Manila:

First, let me express my deepest sympathies for what you and your husband are going through at this stage in your processing. I know that in the Philippines it is very difficult to get a divorce decree, even when both parties are alive and around! I can only imagine how difficult it would be to attempt such a wild goose chase. But fear not, we can get around this problem.

Since your husband abandoned you and you obtained a Presumption of Death certificate, for all intents and purposes you are now a widow. In this situation, you do not need to obtain a divorce decree. Moreover, there is no divorce law in the Philippines, only annulment of marriage. In your case, annulment is not required, nor is it possible. Also, the Civil Code of the Philippines, which lists the grounds of annulment, does not include separation or abandonment. So, my suggestion would be that you show evidence that it is not possible to produce a divorce decree in your situation.

I am confident you will succeed. Good luck!

Tahmina Watson