Domestic Violence and Law

Sheila Chrzan
Atlanta Legal Aid Society
Last Revised: August 2004

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person.  It can be physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or emotional/psychological.

Georgia law defines domestic violence as any felony, simple battery, simple assault, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, and criminal trespass.

Georgia law also requires that the abuse occur between either parents of the same child, current spouses, past spouses, parent and child, step-parent and step-child, foster parents and foster child, or persons living or formerly lived together.

What is emotional or psychological abuse?

Has your partner  threatened you with physical violence?  Does your partner verbally humiliate you or put you down?  Has your partner threatened to take away your children?  Has your abuser threatened or actually destroyed your possessions?  Does you partner keep control of the money?  Does your partner belittle you accomplishments?  Does your partner blame everything on you?  Are you afraid to disagree with your partner?   Does your partner try to keep you away from your family and friends?  Has your abuser shown you articles about women who are abused and said that could be you?  Any of these can be symptoms of emotional or psychological abuse.

What is stalking?

Stalking is a pattern of behavior that causes a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of their family.  The law defines stalking as when a person follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person without the consent of the other person causing emotional distress by placing the other person in fear for their safety or the safety of a family member.

What can I do?

The first thing you should do is have a safety plan.

What is a safety plan?

This is a plan that you develop to help you stay safe and prepare to leave.  See SAFETY PLAN for suggestions.

What are my legal choices?

You have several legal choices.  In civil court, you can get a Domestic Violence Twelve Month Protective Order, or get a divorce, if married.  In magistrate court, you can apply for a criminal warrant or  a good behavior bond.

by: Atlanta Legal Aid Society
Common Questions About Divorce
Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.
Last Revised: November 2005

Can I represent myself in a divorce?

Yes, you have the right to represent yourself.  When you represent yourself, you are acting as your own lawyer.  Most judges will expect you to behave like a lawyer and expect you to know all the court’s rules.  If your spouse has hired a lawyer, it is especially easy to get confused or frustrated by court rules.  Judges and court staff are not allowed to give you advice.  Even if your spouse does not have a lawyer, you may be unable to finalize your divorce without some legal advice.  Some people end up going to court over and over again because they are unaware of certain rules.  So, if possible, you should hire a lawyer.

Is there a waiting period for a divorce in Georgia?

No, but you must have lived in Georgia for at least six months before you can file for divorce in Georgia.  If you live on a military base, you must have lived in Georgia for at least one year.

What is no-fault divorce?

This mean that you do not have to prove that your spouse did something wrong to get the divorce.  No one has to be “at fault”.  It’s enough that you don’t want to be married anymore.   You can get a divorce even if your spouse does not want a divorce.  You may have heard the term irreconcilable differences.  In Georgia, the phrase is: “the marriage is irretrievably broken.”  To get the divorce, you need to claim that there is “no hope of reconciliation” – that there is no hope that you and your spouse will get back together.  Also, you need to be separated from your spouse.

Can I get a legal separation?

In Georgia, you become legally separated from your spouse once you intend to be separated and stop having sexual relations with your spouse.  You do not need to have a formal, court-ordered separation before you can obtain a divorce.  You may not want a divorce, but believe you need a court order to handle certain parts of the separation.  In this case, you can file a “separate maintenance action”.  A separate maintenance action can deal with things like:  custody, alimony, and child support.  Sometimes it can handle property and debts.  If you file a separate maintenance action, your spouse can respond by filing for a divorce.

How long does it take to get a divorce?

The answer depends on whether you and your spouse are cooperating or fighting about the divorce.  The divorce will take much less time if 1) you and your spouse have reached a complete agreement and 2) your spouse is fully cooperating in the court process.  In this case, the least amount of time it can take is 31 days after the certain papers are filed with the court.  If your spouse is simply refusing to participate in the divorce, it can take from 46 days to 60 days to finalize a divorce.  Also, it may take even longer because of the court’s schedule.  If you and your spouse are fighting about property or children, a divorce can take many months or even years to finalize.

What can the court decide?

The court can decide child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, division of property and division of debt.  The court can give a wife back her former name if she requests this.  The court cannot order the wife to take back her former name.  Also the court can order one spouse to keep away from the other.  The court can also decide preliminary issues – whether the case should be heard in Georgia, whether you were ever legally married to your spouse, whether the children born during the marriage are the husband’s biological children, whether certain property can be divided in the divorce.

Can I get alimony?

Alimony is money paid by one spouse to support the other after the separation.  Alimony can be short-term or long-term.  Many courts just award alimony in cases when a long-term marriage ends.

Can I continue to receive health insurance coverage for my children and myself?

You can ask the court to order your spouse to provide health insurance for the children.  If you want health insurance coverage for yourself, some laws let you continue receiving health insurance coverage (COBRA).  You must give the insurance company certain notices.  The premium payments must be made.  You can ask the court to order your spouse to pay these.  Tell your lawyer if you need health insurance coverage from your spouse.  If the insurance coverage is cut off, you may not be able to get it back.

How does the court divide property in a divorce?

The judge (or jury) decides how to divide the property.  The court makes a decision based on the fairness of the circumstances.  The court looks at what each spouse gave to the marriage and the needs of each spouse.  Gifts to just one spouse during the marriage should not be divided or given to the other spouse.  Also, property inherited by just one spouse during the marriage should not be divided or given to the other spouse.

What if my spouse is abusive?

Tell your lawyer or the court if there is family violence in your home.  You can ask the court to order the abuser to stay away from you.  If your spouse is violent and you have children, the judge can issue special orders to keep you safe during visitation.  The court should consider your safety and the child’s safety when it decides custody and visitation

Protection Orders  (Tapestri)

How Protection Orders Can Help Battered Immigrants?

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can obtain a protection or restraining order from your local court that will protect you from ongoing violence, abuse, threats, or harassment from your spouse, boyfriend, or any family member. You have the right to a protection order regardless of your immigration status. If a judge or police officer asks you about your immigration status, you are not required to give this information. Your abuser cannot be deported if you file for a protection order against him.

What is a protection order?

A protection order is a document written up by the court that can protect you and your children from future abuse by your spouse, partner, or family member.

What are the requirements to obtain a protection order?

You must prove that you are a victim of domestic violence. You must also be related to your abuser by blood, by marriage (or divorce), by having a child in common, by living together, or through a current or former dating relationship. You can get a protection order based on assault (including pushing, hitting, shoving, slapping, kicking, pulling hair, and choking, whether or not there are visible injuries), sexual assault, rape, stalking, harassment, parental kidnapping, or terroristic threatening. You may file for a protection order where you currently live, where the abuser lives, or where the violence took place. There is no specified time after an incident of domestic violence within which you must file for a protection order. Speak to a local battered women’s advocate to find out specific requirements in your state.

You have the right to get a Protection Order even if you are undocumented. You do not have to answer questions about your immigration status for the court to give you a protection order or for the police to enforce your order.

You have the right to get a protection order, even if you met your husband through an international matchmaking business or a “mail order bride” agency.

What can I ask for in a protection order?

In most states, you can request:

  • that the abuser not harass, threaten, molest, assault, or physically abuse you or your children.
  • that the abuser participate in and complete a certified domestic violence and/or substance abuse program.
  • that the abuser stay away from your home, your workplace, your car, your children, their school, and other places that you frequent.
  • that the abuser not contact you or your children personally, in writing, by telephone, or through third parties.
  • that the abuser vacate your home and that the local police be present while the abuser gathers his personal belongings and turns over all sets of keys in his possession.
  • that the police accompany you to retrieve your belongings if you wish to leave your home and go to a shelter or stay with family or friends. The abuser can be ordered to stay away from the location where you choose to stay.
  • that the abuser turn over all weapons in his possession to the police.
  • that the abuser return your personal property, any joint property, and property awarded to you by the court.
  • that you receive temporary custody, child support, and health coverage while the protection order is in effect.
  • that the abuser receive visitation rights to the children under circumstances that will not endanger you or the children.
  • that the abuser pay for medical expenses and property damage costs that result from the violence.
  • that the police help you enforce your protection order and patrol your neighborhood more closely.
  • that your abuser turn over documents and information that you may need to win your VAWA self-petition immigration case and get your green card without your abuser’s help.

How will a protection order help me if I qualify for immigration relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?

If you apply for VAWA relief, a protection order will help prove that you were abused. To assist you with your VAWA immigration case, request in your protection order that:

  • the abuser not withdraw any immigration applications filed on your behalf.
  • the abuser not contact the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) about your immigration status.
  • the abuser turn over your work permit, ID card, bank card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport, and any other documents that would be important for your immigration case. He can be ordered to pay to have these documents replaced if he has destroyed them.
  • the abuser give you copies of his documents for your VAWA case, such as his passport, ID card, income tax returns, copies of bills, birth certificate, alien registration receipt card, and work permit.
  • the abuser pay your immigration case fees.
  • the abuser fill out a “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) request to release information about his immigration case to you.

If you have questions about your immigration status, consult an immigration attorney immediately. Do not contact the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) yourself.

What if my abuser has threatened to kidnap our children?

Parental kidnapping is the basis for receiving a protection order in many states. If you fear that your children could be kidnapped and taken out of the U.S., request in your protection order that the abuser not remove your children from the county where you reside without a court order and that you, your abuser, and the judge sign a statement preventing the embassy of your abuser’s home country from issuing visas for your children without a court order. If the abuser has your children’s passports, request that he return those to you or to the court. Send a letter and a copy of your protection order to the U.S. Passport Office to inform them that you or the court have the children’s passports and that no new passports should be issued for the children.

Do I have to leave my abuser in order to file for a protection order?

No. You can have a protection order against someone while living together. This order can simply require your abuser to stop his violent behavior and attend a batterer’s counseling program.

How do I obtain a protection order?

To apply for a protection order, go to your local courthouse and fill out a petition for a protection order. In this petition, describe the violence against you. Provide as many details as possible, including the time, date, and location where the violence took place. If you do not speak English, contact the local domestic violence shelter to have an advocate accompany you and help you find a translator. After you have filed the necessary paperwork, a hearing before a judge will be scheduled and a copy of the protection order petition will be delivered to your abuser. If you need immediate protection, you will be able to see the judge the same day and receive a temporary protection order.

During the hearing for the full protection order, you will have the opportunity to show the judge that there has been a history of abuse and threats against you and/or your children. Explain how this has affected you and your children. Testify about what you have written in your petition and bring witnesses to court with you who saw the abuse or your injuries. You may also use torn clothing, photographs of injuries, destroyed property, medical reports, and police reports to prove that you have been abused.

In the U.S. legal system, your spoken testimony is as valuable as a man’s. The judge cannot be bribed by your abuser to rule against you. If you need an interpreter, ask the court to provide one for you. If no interpreters are available, ask your local domestic violence program to help you locate an interpreter. Do not use anyone as an interpreter who might be biased toward or afraid of your abuser. Do not go to court alone. Bring an advocate or lawyer who can assist you and friends or family for emotional support.

Do I need a lawyer to obtain a protection order?

No. In most states, you can obtain a protection order without hiring an attorney. However, if your abuser plans to fight for custody of your children or has filed for a protection order against you, contact an attorney immediately. If you are undocumented and your abuser obtains an attorney, you should not go to court by yourself. Ask your local domestic violence shelter or program to locate a lawyer or legal advocate to help you with your case. Many lawyers associated with domestic violence programs will represent you for free if you cannot afford to pay legal fees.

What if I decide to leave the county or state where I got my protection order?

Through the Full Faith and Credit laws in the Violence Against Women Act, police officers are required to recognize and enforce your out-of-state protection order. When you move, get a certified copy of your protection order from the courthouse and staple the full faith and credit provisions to the back. When you arrive at your new location, call the local domestic violence program to find out how to enforce your order if your abuser follows you.

Once I have a protection order, can I change parts of it or withdraw it?

Yes. At any time while you have a valid protection order, you may file a motion to modify, or change, this order. This can happen if you need to change your visitation schedule, if you decide to leave your batterer, or if you want to reunite with your batterer.

How effective are protection orders?

Studies have shown that in 63 to 85 percent of domestic violence cases, having a protection order reduces physical violence and helps victims regain a sense of well-being.

(women What can I do if I’m not eligible for a Family Violence Protective Order?

If someone other than a family or household member is hurting you, there are different laws designed to protect you. If anyone has stalked you, you may be eligible for a Stalking Protective Order.

Under GA law, stalking is when someone follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person. Someone can stalk you in person; over the computer; or by telephone, email, mail, or other ways of communication.

Stalking Protective Orders can generally last up to 12 months, but they may be extended or made permanent in certain circumstances.

The process for getting a Stalking Protective Order is very similar to the process of getting a Family Violence Protective Order. To get the forms you’ll need to file for a Stalking Protective Order, go to Download Court Forms or contact the clerk of court at your local courthouse.

If you are under 18 years old, you have to find someone who is 18 or older to file for you. Also, you can file for an order against someone who is a minor.

The Georgia Legal Services Program publishes a guide to getting a Stalking Protective Order at

Police Assistance for Battered Immigrants – Call 911

Domestic violence is against the law. Call the police if you think you or your children are in danger. If the police ask about your immigration status or where you were born, you do not have to answer. If you want to leave, the police can help you and your children safely get out of the house, and a lot of times they can also drive you to a safe place. The police may arrest your husband/intimate partner if they think that a crime has been committed. If the police officer does not speak your language, find someone to interpret for you.

Always ask the police to make a report about what happened and get an “incident report number” so that you can get a copy of the report. Ask for and write down the name and badge number of the officer making the report. If your husband/partner is taken into custody, he may be released as soon as two hours. This will give you time to find a safe place to go. The police generally will not turn women reporting domestic violence into the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).


How do I get Legal Status?

Some Battered Immigrants Because of the Abuse May Qualify to Obtain Legal Immigration Status Without Their Abuser’s Help or Knowledge

There are five ways a battered immigrant woman or child might qualify to obtain legal immigration status without their abuser’s knowledge, help or control. Whether or not you can qualify for legal immigration status because of the domestic violence and which form of immigration relief you qualify for will depend on who abused you, whether or not you are or were married to your abuser, whether it was your child who has been abused, the immigration status of your abuser, whether your spouse ever filed immigration papers for you and whether you came to the United States on a fiancé visa.

We will briefly describe each form of immigration relief below. If you think you may qualify, do not contact INS yourself, seek help from an immigration lawyer or advocate who works with battered immigrant women or a battered women’s advocate who has been trained on immigration protections for battered immigrants. You can find such person in you area by calling the telephone numbers at the end of this brochure.

The 5 immigration options for battered immigrants are:

  1. The self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act;
  2. Cancellation of Removal under the Violence Against Women Act if you have been placed in deportation proceedings
  3. The battered spouse waiver;
  4. The crime victims visa which is called a U visa;
  5. Gender-based asylum

Self-petitions Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

VAWA creates two ways for women and children to get their residency. The first is called “self-petitioning.” Instead of depending upon your husband to apply for your residency with INS, you can apply on your own for yourself and your children. VAWA lets abused women and children get lawful permanent residency without help from their abusive husbands or parents. Your husband will not be part of the application, and he does not have to know that you are applying on your own to INS for legal permanent residency. Because the law can be hard to understand, you should not go to the INS without first getting help from a shelter worker, immigration attorney, or one of the agencies listed on the back of this brochure.

If you are or were married and you or your child has been abused by your husband, you may qualify for help under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA is available to women and children whose abusive husbands or parents are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Unmarried children under the age of 21 who are being abused by a parent who is a citizen or a lawful permanent resident are also eligible for VAWA. If your citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse has abused your child, you may also qualify for VAWA even if you have not been abused yourself. If you do not know your abusive husband’s or parent’s immigration status, contact an immigration attorney who may be able to help you find out.


  •  Married to a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident, or
  • Were divorced less than two years ago from a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse; or AND
  • You are living in the United States; or
  • You are living abroad and
    • you were abused in the United States; or
    • your abusive spouse is either an employee of the U.S. government or a member of the U.S. armed forces; AND
  • You were physically or sexually abused by your husband or you suffered extreme cruelty;

You may be able to get a “green card” (permanent residence in the United States) without your abuser’s help or knowledge through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

If your husband has never filed for your “green card,” if he filed for your green card and then withdrew the application, or if he has filed but you fear he may not continue to help you get your “green card,” you may be able to apply for a VAWA SELF-PETITION.

Abusers who are not citizens of the United States may be deported if convicted of domestic violence. If your husband was deported within the last two years, you may still petition under VAWA if you can show that his deportation was related to an incident of abuse.

VAWA Cancellation of Removal – Defense for Battered Immigrants Against Deportation

Sometimes battered immigrants who qualify for VAWA immigration relief are reported to INS by their abusers or are picked up by INS at their place of employment. For these battered immigrants there is a second way that someone can get residency is called “cancellation of removal (formerly suspension of deportation).” This method is only available to you if you are in, or can be placed into, deportation/removal proceedings. To qualify:

  • You must have lived continuously in the Untied States for more than three years;
  • You must be in the United States illegally;
  • You or your child must have been battered or suffered extreme cruelty;
  • The person who battered or harmed you or your child by extreme cruelty must have been:
    • Your current or former spouse who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
    • Your citizen or lawful permanent resident parent; or
    • The citizen or lawful permanent resident other parent of your abused child;
  • You must have been abused in the United States; AND
  • You must prove that your deportation would cause extreme hardship to yourself or your child.

If you qualify, the court may waive your deportation/removal and grant you legal permanent residency. If you are granted cancellation of removal, any children under the age of 21 that you have whether living with you in the United States or living outside of the United States can receive humanitarian parole which gives them legal permission to live with you in the United States while you file applications for your children to receive legal immigration status.

Note: If you lose your VAWA cancellation case you can be deported. If you are a battered immigrant and you end up in deportation proceedings before an immigration judge, call the numbers at the back of this brochure to obtain the help of an immigration attorney who is knowledgeable about the legal relief available to battered immigrants.

Battered Spouse Waiver

Some battered immigrant women are married to abusive spouses who did file immigration papers for them. If your U.S. citizen spouse filed immigration papers for you and you were married for less than two years on the date you went with your spouse to your interview with INS. What you received from INS is called “conditional temporary residency.” This conditional residency last only for two years. At the end of that two year period you and your spouse are required to file joint petition requesting that you be granted lawful permanent residency. If you have conditional residency and are waiting during this two-year period, you may qualify to file a BATTERED SPOUSE WAIVER. You qualify for a battered spouse waiver if:

  • You have a conditional “green card” that lasts for two years;
  • You or your child have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by the citizen spouse; AND
  • You must prove that your marriage was valid.
  • You can file for a battered spouse waiver at any time. You need not wait for two years. Your batterer will not be able to find out that you filed the battered spouse waiver and you can file even if you are still living with your abuser or if your abuser divorced you.

Crime Victim U Visas

In October of 2000, Congress created a new immigration remedy that can help many battered immigrants who do not qualify for either VAWA or the Battered Spouse Waiver. This new crime victim visa (U visa) will offer access legal immigration status that should last for at least 3 years to immigrant victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, being held hostage and some other violent crimes. Many at the end of three years may be able to obtain legal permanent resident status if they can prove humanitarian need, family unity or that it is in the public interest. An example of when a battered immigrant who receives a U visa will be able to show humanitarian need includes cases in which the abuser has been deported to the same country that the victim comes from.

This new visa will be especially helpful to battered immigrants who are abused by their boyfriends, girlfriends, or by their spouses or parents who are not citizens or lawful permanent residents. It will also help crime victims whose abusers are their employers, other family members or are strangers. The immigration status of the abuser does not matter. They can be undocumented, diplomats, persons with legal work visas, citizens or permanent residents.

To qualify for a U visa the victim must prove:

  • Substantial physical or emotional abuse from criminal activity;
  • That they possess information about the criminal activity;
  • That the criminal activity occurred in the United States or otherwise violates U.S. law; and
  • That the victims has obtained a certification from a government official that that the victim:
  • Has been
  • Is likely to be; or
  • Is being helpful to an investigation or prosecution of criminal activity; and
  • The certification must be made by:
  • Police officer
  • Prosecutor
  • Judge
  • INS officer
  • Investigator at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • State child abuse investigator; or
  • Any other state or federal government employee.

The victim must be willing to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity committed against them. Usually this will require them to make a police report and to be willing to speak with prosecutors. However, the victim can apply for the U visa as soon as they can get the needed certification and gather the proof of the substantial physical or emotional abuse they have suffered. They can receive the U visa even if the criminal case has not yet been filed, if prosecutors decide not to file the criminal case, if a case is filed and they are not needed as a witness, of if the abuser is not ultimately convicted of the crime. Their children can also receive U visas if they can show extreme hardship.

Collecting Evidence For Your VAWA, Battered Spouse Waiver or U visa Case

The INS or the immigration courts can look at many forms of proof, your testimony, testimony of friends, family or shelter workers, the such as copies of your protection order, medical records, police reports, or pictures of your injuries. There is not one particular piece of paper that you must have in order to prove your case. If you testify in immigration court, you can request that the court provide an interpreter for you. If you are contemplating leaving the home you share with your abuser and you think you may qualify for VAWA or other immigration relief discussed here, see the safety planning section of this pamphlet for a complete list of items you should take with you when you leave.

Gender Based Asylum

In some cases battered immigrants may also qualify for a form of relief called gender based asylum. This will be the most difficult form of relief to obtain and victims who qualify must seek the assistance of an immigration lawyer with expertise in gender based asylum. If you think you might qualify, to locate an attorney with experience in gender based asylum contact one of the organizations listed at the end of this brochure. Persons who may qualify for gender based asylum are:

  • Domestic violence victims who were abused in their home country and fled to the United States;
  • Domestic violence victims who are abused in the United States by someone comes from the same country as they do, particularly if their abuser is a non-citizen being prosecuted for a domestic violence crime; or
  • Immigrant women who experience gender based violence or persecution in their home country.
  • Some battered immigrants who will qualify for gender based asylum may also qualify for a U visa if the domestic violence was committed against them in the United States. They should consult with an immigration attorney to determine which form of immigration relief to pursue.

Special Issues for Women Who Met Their Spouses Through International Matchmaking Agencies

If your fiance or spouse is a U.S. citizen whom you met through an international matchmaking agency, through an arranged marriage or if you entered the United States on a fiance visa there are special immigration rules that you need to know about. If you were brought to the United States on a fiance visa you must:

  • Marry the fiance who brought you to the United States; and
  • You must marry your fiance within 90 days of entering the United States on a fiance visa.

If you fail to comply with either of these requirements you will not qualify for either the battered spouse waiver or to file a VAWA self-petition. If you entered the United States on a fiance visa and our fiance did not marry you, you married another citizen who is abusing you or if your fiance married you after the 90 day period had passed, you must seek help from an immigration attorney who will help you learn what immigration benefits may be open to you as a battered immigrant.

Do not go to the INS without a lawyer or talking to a lawyer:

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CONSULT WITH AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY ABOUT IMMIGRATION OPTIONS THAT ARE AVAILABLE TO YOU. If you do not understand what your immigration status is, call an immigration attorney. Your conversation with the lawyer will be confidential and he or she cannot report you to the INS. If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer, contact the nearest domestic violence shelter or legal services office or call one of the organizations listed in the referral section of this brochure for help finding advocates and/or a lawyer who can help you for free or at low cost.

If you are a resident or legal refugee and thinking about getting a separation or divorce:

You should keep important papers and other things, like pictures, to show that your marriage was real and that you did not get married to get immigration papers. If you have conditional residency and have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty, you will still be able to keep your lawful immigration status. If your husband will not help you in removing your conditional status, you can ask for a waiver. Contact an immigration attorney or a nonprofit agency that helps people with immigration for information about the Spousal Abuse Waiver to the Marriage Fraud Act.

Divorced women may still be eligible for cancellation/suspension, and self-petitioning if the VAWA petition is filed within two years of the divorce. If you are considering a divorce, please consult an immigration attorney before proceeding. If you are served with divorce papers, you should contact an attorney immediately.


If you are undocumented and planning to get a divorce, contact an immigration attorney before filing your divorce papers. A divorce may prevent you from attaining legal immigration status.


National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) Interpreters are available in many languages. Calls cost nothing. Call anytime.

For help locating an immigration lawyer, call the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyer’s Guild – (617) 227-9727 x2.

Taken from a brochure developed by: NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund-(202) 326-0040

Public Benefits


If you are a battered immigrant abused by your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, you may qualify for public benefits. Speak to someone at your local domestic violence program to find out if you qualify. If your children are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, you may apply for benefits on their behalf and cannot be required to disclose your immigration status. If you are asked about your immigration status when you apply for benefits for your qualified children, you should answer “I am not seeking benefits for myself.”

DO NOT contact the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services without speaking with an immigration attorney first.

Online Resources for Non-citizen Survivors of Domestic Violence

(taken from website)

In addition to the online resources listed below, local shelters and legal services in your area can often help you with immigration questions. To find help in your area, choose your state from the drop-down link on the top left corner of this page, and then choose the Links & Resources link at the bottom of the left-hand column. You may also find local assistance by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224.

Catholic Charities

In most states, provides legal representation and information for victims of domestic violence with immigration issues. Find the program closest to where you live.

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild

Information and legal support on immigrant rights. Specializes in assistance for immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who are seeking legal status in the U.S.

Direct link to online info for survivors:

Phone: (617) 227-9727

National Immigration Law Center

A national support center whose mission is to protect and promote the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants. Conducts policy analysis and impact litigation and provides publications, technical advice, and trainings to a broad constituency of legal aid agencies, community groups, and pro bono attorneys.

Phone: (213)-639-3900

ASISTA online

This website provides helpful information, instructions and forms. While it is geared toward domestic violence advocates and lawyers working with battered immigrant women, much of the information on the site is publicly accessible.

Legal Momentum

Provides information about immigration and support to lawyers representing battered women in immigration cases.

tel: (202) 326-0040

email: (include your name, address and telephone number, if it is safe for you)

National Network to End Violence Against  Immigrant and Refugee Women

Provides information and referrals

Family Violence Prevention Fund

Provides information and is part of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Phone: (510) 465-1984

AYUDA Clinical Legal Latina

Exists to advocate for and defend the legal and human rights of low-income Latino and other immigrant communities in the Washington, D.C. area.

Phone: 202/387-0434

Violence Against Women Office, US Department of Justice

Information about relevant laws, including the Victim’s of Trafficking Act

Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Information on immigrant women and domestic violence

Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence

Emergency shelter and services for Asian survivors of domestic abuse. (Shelter is located in Boston)


International Institute of the East Bay: Basic Legal Questions and Answers for Battered Immigrant Women

Services for immigrants, including women experiencing abuse.

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Provides a lawyer referral service to private immigration attorneys. They will provide you with the contact information for a lawyer, and you will be charged no more than $100 for an initial half-hour consultation. During this consultation, you should ask the attorney what the rate will be for further services. All lawyers participating in the service are licensed to practice law in a state or territory of the United States and are currently a member in good standing of a State Bar Association.

Phone: 1-800-954-0254


Though Raksha primarily serves the South Asian community, we provide services to all those who face similar barriers to justice, regardless of ability, country of origin, race, religion, caste, socioeconomic status, gender identity, age, immigration status, or sexual orientation.

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