The Legal Consequences of Sham or Joke Marriages

man removing wedding ring

Sham Marriages

The notion of a “sham marriage” concerns marriages entered into primarily for some ulterior purpose. Typically, sham marriages involve what are known as “green card marriages.” Under federal immigration law, the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen can get a spousal visa to enter the United States and obtain lawful permanent resident status. This status often associated with a card that allows them to leave and enter the country without a U.S. passport.

Federal law provides that marriages entered into for the purpose of evading immigration laws are considered “sham marriages” and may result in the denial of an immigrant visa for the foreign spouse, their removal from the United States, and possibly criminal penalties for the U.S. citizen.

Joke Marriages

Joke marriages involve situations where the parties got married in jest, or on a dare, but had no intention of actually being bound in matrimony. For example, if the parties went to Las Vegas and had the idea of experiencing a quick and cheap chapel wedding for fun—maybe as a result of getting intoxicated—but had no intention of assuming the rights and responsibilities of a real married couple at the time, it is considered a joke marriage.

The Legal Consequences of Sham and Joke Marriages

Generally, invalid marriages are grounds for an annulment. However, state law—rather than federal law—governs the issue of whether a marriage is valid. For example, Virginia law provides that a marriage is valid without regard to the reasons why the couple got married, as long as they intended to attain a marital status.

Virginia family law only requires a couple to:

  • Get a valid marriage license
  • Have a ceremony performed by a marriage commissioner
  • File the marriage with a circuit court clerk for public records.

As a result, a sham green card marriage does not necessarily mean that the marriage is invalid under Virginia law. However, such a marriage may be “voidable,” meaning that the parties can choose to get an annulment on that ground.

As mentioned above, Virginia law requires the parties to intend to assume marital status when they entered into their marriage for their union to be legally valid. If the parties had no such intent, it might be annullable as a joke marriage. Additionally, marriages entered into for the purpose of avoiding social embarrassment are void if the parties never lived together as a married couple.

Call The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller for Quality Legal Advice

Are you concerned about your legal duties and rights regarding an issue related to Virginia family law? If so, it is in your best interest to consult a licensed attorney at The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller. Our team of dedicated lawyers has more than two decades of collective legal experience litigating and negotiating The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller cases involving Virginia domestic relations and marriage law.

To schedule an initial consultation, please call us at (757) 267-4949 or contact our firm online today.

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