Green Card.jpgQueen County Supreme Court Justice Pam Jackman-Brown did not say that Claudette Medley’s marriage to Maurice Medley was a fraudulent attempt to take advantage of immigration rules. However, in her November, 2011 decision in Medley v. Medley, Justice Jackman-Brown made it clear that this was not a marriage made in heaven.

Ms. Medley migrated to the United States in 1988 under a temporary Visa with a work permit. In 1995, Claudette met her future husband. They began dating after a second meeting a year later. After three months of dating, in early 1997, Claudette showed Maurice a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service informing Claudette that her Visa status had expired. Claudette and Maurice discussed how to change Claudette’s status, after which the parties immediately planned their wedding. The day before the marriage, the couple discussed a pre-nuptial agreement. Claudette hand-wrote the agreement under which “neither party would take any legal action to seek the other’s assets.” The agreement, though not notarized (a requirement for it to be an enforceable prenuptial agreement under New York’s Domestic Relations Law §236B(3), was signed by both parties. One day later, the parties were married.

Ten years later, Claudette started her action for divorce. Justice Jackman-Brown found that the parties had indeed lived their lives in a manner consistent with their written agreement. Each engaged in separate investment ventures, buying and selling investment properties. The couple kept all their incomes separate from each other.  There was “no credible evidence that the parties spent any significant time together but rather maintained a separate business lifestyle. At most the parties had a sparse emotional life but it was impacted by a clear separate financial life.” The parties lived together only for the 28 months prior to the divorce filing.

Tax records were filed improperly. Claudette misrepresented her status to enable her son, not of the marriage, to get a scholarship to attend private school.

Although this Court will not define or marshal what is a “married life,” the cliché “you know it when you see it” can be inferred in this case. These parties engaged in a pattern of behavior that was inconsistent of any semblance of a marriage life in its ordinary and reasonable meaning.

Maurice was willing to abide by the agreement, although not technically enforceable. He did not claim to be entitled to any of Claudette’s income, investment, enhanced earnings, or real estate license (during the marriage, Claudette had obtained a college degree). On the other hand, Claudette wanted more. She did not get it.

The Court recognized that the assets acquired during the marriage, including retirement benefits, were “marital property” under New York law (D.R.L. §236B[1][c]).  However, after considering statutory factors, Justice Jackman-Brown denied equitable distribution of the assets. The overwhelming factor was that parties conducted themselves in a manner inconsistent with an “economic partnership.” Throughout their marriage, these parties lived consistently with that handwritten agreement signed the day before their marriage: neither party would claim the other’s assets. The Court ruled that each party would keep his or her own property.

Justice Jackman-Brown’s restraint was remarkable; true judicial temperament. My decision probably would have read, simply, “Are you kidding me?” and that’s only if I were able to show some restraint.

Green-card marriage fraud is a serious problem. Marriage to a U.S. citizen entitles one to apply immediately for Permanent Residency (USCIS). A 2006 USA Today editorial commented that marriage-based immigration fraud has largely gone unnoticed, despite the fact that marriage-based immigration accounted for more than a third of all legal immigration. In 2004, for example, Homeland Security reported that it completed investigations of only 1% of marriage-based green cards.

Nevertheless. marriage fraud is being prosecuted. For example, last Wednesday, a Connecticut resident from Morocco was sentenced to three months in federal prison and will be deported for his role in a marriage fraud scheme. A group of Alabama convictions were also recently reported.

Justice Jackman-Brown showed us that it is not beyond the power and discretion of New York courts to equitably dissolve marriages of opportunity or convenience. Perhaps it was also appropriate for the Court to forward its decision to the office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Homeland Security, the IRS, etc.