BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
Case law, statutes, and regulations have formed a crazy quilt of protections for people in a serious relationship who can't get married. One important pending law is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). This proposal has definitions of "permanent partner" and "permanent partnership" which have sparked conversations all over the world.
Purpose of UAFA
The UAFA was introduced by Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the US House of Representatives in February 2009. The full text of the UAFA is Title II of the "Reuniting Families Act." Many earlier versions of the UAFA have gone through Congress since 2000.
The purpose of the UAFA is to end discrimination against same sex partners. The UAFA tries to achieve this by letting permanent partners of US citizens and lawful permanent residents obtain lawful resident status like traditional spouses.
The UAFA contains safeguards to prevent abuses which could lead to illegal immigration. Affidavits from friends or family and proof of a financial relationship between the partners are required before couples are deemed to be "permanent partners" within the meaning of the UAFA. Harsh penalties for fraud are written into the UAFA, including up to five years imprisonment, and up to $250,000 in fines.
Who Is a "Permanent Partner"?
Central to the proposed law are the definitions found in the UAFA for "permanent partner" and "permanent partnership." A "permanent partner" is a person:
- Who is at least age 18,
- Who is in a committed relationship with only one person who is at least age 18,
- Who isn't related to them by first to third degree blood relation,
- Who is financially inter-dependent, and
- Who isn't able to marry that person in a marriage recognized under the US Immigration and Nationality Act.
"Permanent partnership" is the relationship that exists between two "permanent partners."
Future of the UAFA
The UAFA presents a number of ethical, moral and legal issues. One of the unknown aspects is whether the legalization of same sex marriage in some states will ,make the Act not applicable to certain couples.
It's also likely to be a problem if the relationship dissolves through breakup or some change in the ability of the couple to marry or changed financial status.
Nonetheless, 19 countries now recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes. Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) argue strongly for the passage of the UAFA. They also point to a number of countries around the globe who have led the way in recognizing the status of same-sex couples. It's hard to predict whether the UAFA will become law in the U.S.
What You Can Do
Couples who aren't in a traditional marriage should ask for advice on the protections they need to have for themselves and their partner. States generally don't provide for a non-spouse to automatically inherit if their partner dies without a will. An attorney can provide advice on the importance of having a will to make provisions for the partner.
Additionally, an attorney can give you advice about drafting other types of documents for financial protection. Non-married couples can draft contracts spelling out their agreement as to finances in the event of breakup, death or unforeseen circumstances, just like entering prenuptial agreements before marriage.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How do current immigration laws and regulations deal with situations in which someone's immigration status is dependent upon a relationship with another person, such as a spouse, and the relationship ends, either through divorce or death? Would the UAFA have to address that situation? Isn't it more likely to be a problem if a relationship isn't recognized by the law?
- How would the UAFA work with other immigration laws? Would someone have to choose between one path or another when seeking a certain status, such as permanent residency?
- How would the law affect those who are now illegally in the US, but might otherwise fall within the scope of the UAFA?