Cross-Border Marriages – Do your homework, Protect your spouse

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Ahhhh !!!! Love is in the air. You’ve found THE ONE and proposed (or you received a proposal) and said YES!!!!! Time to plan the wedding. Just as there was more than meets the eye with the Death Café, there is more than meets the eye when marrying someone who is a citizen of another country.

For the marriage itself, the fiancé needs to apply for a K-1 fiancé visa, then you must get married within 90 days of entering the United States. . You can go to a justice and have a quick ceremony to be legally married, and then have a grand wedding and reception at you leisure. Of course, the K-1 visa is not the only way to go, so as you are considering how to go about tying the knot, check with the State Department and consult a good immigration lawyer.

So – just as giving birth is not the whole experience of parenthood, saying “I do” is not the whole experience of marriage. “Life is what happens when you’re making plans” and as unpleasant as it might be, you both still need to think about possible unpleasant or even tragic events in your life and Be Prepared. Too many times I have witnessed the devastation left behind when a family member was not prepared.

In the past few years we have seen that elections have consequences. With the stroke of a pen, laws can be changed. With new administrations, commissioners and secretaries of departments can be appointed with very different ideas about who should be let into the country or who should be allowed to stay

Marriage to a U.S. citizen does not automatically make you a citizen. Consult an immigration lawyer to learn how to get your green card, how to become a citizen, etc. Learn your options and decide what is best for you. If the U.S. citizen spouse wishes to live in the country of the husband/wife, or retire to that country, seek legal advice which will protect the foreign spouse if he/she wishes to visit the United States in the future.

That final thought is not just pulled out of the blue. It is an actual situation, currently a problem for certain widows of U.S. citizens. Under the previous administration, the rules for survivors receiving social security benefits of their deceased spouses were changed. Now it is required that in order to receive the benefits, the survivor must reside in the United States for one calendar month every 6 months. However, also under the previous administration, a visa WILL NOT be issued for that purpose. So the SSA says, “We have your money. Come and get it.” While the consulates say, “But we will make sure you never receive a penny.” Hopefully, the new acting commissioner or whoever becomes the commissioner, will change that. Maybe the State Department will also have a change of heart under this new administration. So the moral of this situation is to plan ahead – get sound legal advice and do what you need to do to guarantee as much as possible that your spouse will retain the ability to travel freely between countries.

Another concern is about pensions. I know a lot of jobs in the past did not have pensions and if I understand correctly, fewer and fewer jobs these days offer them. However, you and your spouse should be equally educated and aware of your financial status as a married couple and have serious discussions regarding this. Will there be a pension after retirement? Will there be a monthly check or a one-time payout? Has the spouse with the pension borrowed against it, so that you will owe money after their death? Is there no savings or pension, so the spouse will be left with nothing?

While this is a subject that is unpleasant for many people to think about, especially if you are considering marriage or just beginning your married life, it is actually a labor of love to provide for your family’s wellbeing. One of our local justices said to me the Spanish equivalent of, “You think an awful lot about death.” My answer was that I am a nurse and too many times I have seen the devastation that resulted from not planning ahead.

For me, I am retired in a country different from that of my family, in a Spanish-speaking country while my family does not speak Spanish, nor do they know the legal system. So I have prepared as much as I can so they do not have to figure it all out while also dealing with the stress of my illness or demise, and I have discussed with them in detail my plans, my legal documents and provided the names of two bilingual friends that will help them when the time comes.

The examples I’ve given are taken from actual situations. I have advocated for some people as much as I can, but it would have made their lives so much easier if the spouses had planned ahead, gotten good legal advice and made sure their spouses would be secure for the remainder of their lives. As with many things in life, it is much easier to take precautions than to clean up the resulting mess.

I don’t want to leave you with such gloomy thoughts, so I will say:

Enjoy what life has to offer. Love, even if it is across borders. Live life to the fullest. Travel to other countries (once the pandemic finally ends, that is). Experience other cultures, food, lifestyles. Go forth unafraid, yet remember that not everyone dies in their sleep, at home, at the age of 100, surrounded by family. While you’re planning and experiencing all the wonderful things life has to offer, also prepare for the unexpected.

Until next time – Love to All and stay safe and healthy……