A version of this article first appeared in the Side Bar journal for the Litigation…
It is that I have unfortunately observed before. Yet another I-864 beneficiary has lost out on a claim under the I-864 because they tried to do so in state family law court versus federal court.
Mullonkal v. Kodiyamplakkil was a case arising in Placer County, California. C085825 (Cal. 3d App. June 29, 2020). While the case was being litigated at the trial court level, the California Appeals Court (First District) decided the Marriage of Kumar case.. In Marriage of Kumar, the Court held that spousal maintenance (alimony) could be used as a vehicle to enforce the Form I-864. We were happy to have assisted the pro bono legal team that handled the Marriage of Kumar appeal.
The Kumar decision was issued after Mullonkal v. Kodiyamplakkil had already gone to trial. When the immigrant part learned of Kumar, he moved for a new trial on grounds that he should have a chance to argue I-864 enforcement based on the Kumar decision. But the trial court disagreed. It said that the party had not been stopped from presenting evidence about the I-864, and had not asserted a breach of contract claim.
The appeals court upheld the trial court. It noted that the immigrant beneficiary had raised the I-864 only in passing. It also noted prior cases outside of California, which the party could have been aware of, where beneficiaries had enforced the I-864 in a family law court.
The outcome in Mullonkal v. Kodiyamplakkil would presumably have been different if the beneficiary had tried to assert his I-864 claim and been denied. But he lost out since the court said, more or less, that he didn’t even try.
At the end of the day, this is just another example of I-864 beneficiaries losing out on potentially meritorious claims because they brought them in a state versus federal court. In almost all circumstances, we continue to say that it is by far better to assert these claims in federal versus state court.