A version of this article first appeared in the Side Bar journal for the Litigation…
In Golipour v. Moghaddam, yet another federal court has directly held that an I-864 beneficiary cannot waive her rights in a nuptial agreement. No. 4:19-cv-00035-DN-PK (D. Utah Feb. 7, 2020) (granting and denying in part cross-motions for summary judgment). This case arose recently in the District of Utah.
In Golipour, the Court categorically rejected the argument that a Form I-864 beneficiary can waive rights under that contract in a nuptial agreement. (“Categorically,” meaning this holding did not depend on facts specific to this case). First, the court rejected the idea that the agency then known as Immigration and Naturalization Services (now USCIS) had definitively weighed in on the matter. Under “deference” doctrines, federal courts usually defer to how agencies interpret their own areas of the law. In this case, however, the only agency interpretation was some ambiguous statements made when the agency announced their rules governing the I-864. Basically, INS/USCIS just has never made an official statement of the law when it comes to nuptial agreements and the I-864.
Next, the court wrote off the only federal decision that has ever suggested that I-864 rights might be subject to waiver in a nuptial agreement. Blain v. Herrell was a case in the District of Hawaii, but the court, in that case, did not provide much analysis of nuptial agreements and the I-864. No. 10-00073 ACK-KSC, 2010 WL 2900432, *7-8 (D. Haw. July 21, 2010). Moreover, the statement about nuptial agreements was “dicta,” meaning the court didn’t actually have to decide the issue. For those reasons, the Golipour Court did not see a reason to defer to the statement in Blain.
Instead, the Golipour Court looked to the Ninth Circuit’s seminal Erler v. Erler case that held, among other things, that nuptial agreements cannot waive rights under the I-864. 824 F.3d 1173 (9th Cir. 2016). The Golipour Court determined that the language of the I-864 itself was clear on this matter.
The express language of the Form I-864 demonstrates that divorce and nuptial agreements will not terminate a sponsor’s financial support obligation. The Form I-864 identifies six circumstances that terminate a sponsor’s obligation. Waiver by divorce or nuptial agreement are not enumerated. Indeed, the Form I-864 emphasizes that “[d]ivorce does not terminate [a sponsor’s] obligations under Form I-864.” This clear and plain language must be given effect. The right of support conferred by the Form I-864 is separate from the rights a party has under divorce law.
This follows the same reasoning that our law firm has pressed in a number of I-864 cases. The Form I-864 lists five (or six if you count the death of the sponsor) terminating events. These are the only things that end a sponsor’s liability. Because nuptial agreements aren’t on that list, they cannot be used to cut off liability. For the same reasoning, normal contract law defenses do not apply in these cases.
The Court also followed a statutory intent argument that was first articulated in the Seventh Circuit’s Liu v. Mund case.
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.
Basically, Congress obviously created the I-864 to ensure that immigrants turn to their sponsors – not to tax payers – for financial support. This is undermined if U.S. sponsors can get immigrants to sign nuptial agreements that shred the sponsorship contract that was just signed with the U.S. government (i.e., the I-864).
Golipour provides one of the most detailed discussions to date about nuptial agreements and the I-864. It adds to the growing consensus in federal courts that no nuptial agreement can ever waive a sponsored immigrant’s right to support.
Hats off to attorney Matthew Allen Grow of Utah Legal Servies who represents the plaintiff in this ongoing matter.