Dear Readers,

Happy holidays from Ask Carolyn. This week are the hot topics of immigration and the holiday challenges with step-children. Enjoy as you enjoy your families in whatever form they may take this holiday season.



Dear Carolyn,

There’s a lot in the news about immigration, but I have my own set of problems.

My son met this woman overseas. Well, the relationship matured and my son wanted to marry this girl and bring her to the United States. The bride-to-be is from China. My husband and I along with our son signed a Form I-864
Affidavit of Support for the bride-to-be.

Now trouble is in the water and it looks like there will be a divorce. She became a permanent United States resident as a result of our actions and the wedding.

My son and the bride bought a small business with some money that her family provided. If my son divorces his Chinese bride, what are we in for?


Carolyn Answers …

A Form I-864 Affidavit of Support is a far-reaching document. In signing it, you signed a legally enforceable contract with the sponsored immigrant, and moreover – the contract under Form I-864 does not terminate on divorce. That agreement also requires you to submit yourself to the jurisdiction of any federal or state court in which a civil proceeding to enforce the support affidavit is pending. You have a personal duty to support your daughter-in-law as an immigrant at 125 percent of the federal poverty level under the annual federal guidelines. The sum of $11,770 is 100 percent of the 2016 poverty level for a one-person household, so 125 percent is $14,712.50 – the amount you could personally owe (plus future year inflation) your daughter-in-law for the rest of her life in the United States.

You literally have a substantial duty to support the immigrant until one of the following occurs: (1) Until she dies; (2) Until she becomes a United States citizen; (3) Until she has worked 40 quarters of covered work under the Social Security Act; (4) Until she is no longer a permanent United States resident and has departed the United States; or (5) Until someone else gives her a qualified Affidavit of Support that replaces your Affidavit of Support.

The recent North Carolina case of Zhu v. Deng out of Raleigh illustrates some of the problems with immigrant marriages and support. The Wake County trial court opinion was written by Judge Anna Worley, a former member of the Woodruff & Associates. These immigrant marriages can become complicated very quickly.

In Zhu, Ms. Deng was a Chinese citizen. She married Mr. Zhu in China. Ms. Deng’s relatives transferred $150,000 into a joint account in the United Sates in the name of husband and wife (Zhu and Deng). Mr. Zhu and his parents all three signed a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. Ms. Deng, as the wife of Mr. Zhu, came to the United States on a K-1 visa. Ms. Deng became a permanent United States resident as a result of all the immigration actions of her husband and his parents.

So what was the $150,000 used for? The sum of $110,000 was used for the mortgage on the home of Mr. Zhu’s parents. Another $25,000 was used to purchase a small business, namely a tailor shop. Then there was trouble in paradise – less than a year and a half into the marriage. Mr. Zhu’s mother asked Ms. Deng to leave the home where they were all residing and Ms. Deng asked for the $150,000 back. Mr. Zhu’s parents paid Ms. Deng $2,200 of support over two months and then stopped her support. The bottom line is that half the $150,000 was returned to Ms. Deng and all three United States citizens who signed the Form I-864 had a federal duty of support of Ms. Deng.

Understanding the duty of signing Form I-864 is critical, and don’t sign it without competent legal advice. The requirements of Form I-864 can be with you a lifetime.



Dear Carolyn,

I have two girls with my husband. He also has a daughter from a previous marriage. Here it is at the holidays again, and I must say I dread this. My husband’s 7-year-old is spoiled and demanding. This little girl always misses her mother when she is with us. My husband and I have heated arguments. I really would like just one holiday without this 7-year-old. Am I unreasonable?


Carolyn Answers …

While you are in what sounds like a difficult situation, I think compromise is in order. Very possibly, you are unreasonable. Of course, your husband wants time with all three of his children during the holidays. You made this choice when you married your husband, as he already had this little girl.

I ask that you, as an adult, step back and look at all of the family dynamics. Are you saying that you do not want one of your husband’s children to be part of his life? Think about the concept from his point of view. What would you need to change to look at his daughter as part of your family? I don’t mean that you are seeking to replace the biological mother, which you should not attempt. But how can you forge a relationship with your step-daughter that is beneficial to all concerned? Ask for this holiday miracle.


Send questions on family law and divorce to, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro 27427 or at Ask Carolyn’s comment section at


Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.