Help Us Help You: A Spectrum of Legal Issues Facing International Families

In the modern legal system, nothing is simple. Decisions made in one area of the law can have far-reaching consequences in other areas.  For international families, this can be especially true.  As a law firm, the Gunderson Law Group seeks to provide comprehensive help with a variety of legal issues that many international families may face.  This article identifies a few ways we hope our clients can help us help them.

While in law school, most lawyers learn a skill commonly referred to as “issue spotting.”  Law school exams often require students to review a hypothetical situation which has been designed by the professor to include a large array of complex legal issues.  Students are expected to identify and resolve as many of those legal issues as they are able.

In the hypothetical situation proposed in the classroom, the facts of a case are all presented to the student; usually in a well-organized, written document that can be easily digested in a few minutes. In the real world, attorneys don’t receive a set of documents that explain all the facts they need to know.  Attorneys often rely on their clients to provide the foundational details for a case.  Many firms (including the Gunderson Law Group) typically provide prospective clients with an initial questionnaire intended to help clients identify key facts that may be important in their case.  In these cases, it is important for clients to be honest and forthcoming with a complete explanation of the client’s situation, but it is also important for clients to ask questions and raise concerns when they arise.

Below are a few areas where U.S. immigration law interacts with other aspects of the U.S. legal system. If you have any questions on how these issues may be implicated by your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to ask us!

Immigration lawyer with a family

Immigration Law & Family Law

The term “family law” generally refers to issues that are resolved in family court.  This may include issues such as divorce, child custody arrangements, and adoption.  There are a number of ways these cases can impact or be impacted by your immigration situation.

For example, many people assume that a U.S. citizen can only petition for their own biological children or those children they have legally adopted.  This can lead to biological parents fighting over custody and the possibility of adoption by U.S.-citizen step-parent.  Immigration laws allow U.S. citizens to petition for their step-children without requiring them to legally adopt.

At the same time, some couples assume that because the U.S. may not have access to marriage records from other countries, that they do not need to finalize a legal divorce in their home country before marrying again in the United States.  The reality is that immigration officials will not recognize a marriage solemnized in the United States unless both parties can demonstrate that any previous marriage has been legally terminated.

International families who have questions about how their unique circumstances may be impacted by U.S. immigration laws should raise their concerns at the beginning of any case.  Family issues that go unresolved can create significant problems if they are discovered late in the immigration process.

Immigration & Labor Law

Many federal and state labor laws exist to protect workers in the United States from unsafe or unfair labor conditions.  In some circumstances, these labor laws are attempts at protecting U.S. workers from foreign competition—these laws are often seen as adversarial to many foreign workers.  Some labor laws, however, are meant to ensure that workers are protected from mistreatment by their employers.  In many cases, these laws offer protections for foreign workers who might be underpaid or otherwise treated unfairly.  Even workers who may have violated their immigration status can be entitled to protection under these labor laws.  Workers who feel they are mistreated by their employers should contact a qualified attorney to determine what legal options may be available to them.  In some limited circumstances, these legal options may include the right to transfer to another employer or to obtain a new visa.

Immigration & Receiving Public Benefits

The U.S. federal government as well as many state and local governments offer public benefits to people who may need financial, medical, or other types of assistance. Some of these benefits are made available to anyone physically present in the United States, but many of these benefits are limited to individuals who have attained permanent residence or citizenship.

There are serious immigration consequences for making a false claim to U.S. citizenship, so international families should be careful when completing any application that asks about citizenship. By the same token, many public benefits are available regardless of citizenship status, so clients should not assume that they are ineligible just because they are not yet U.S. citizens.

Immigration & Tax Law

U.S. tax laws are unique and many international families do not realize the tax implications of their immigration decisions.  For example, residents of the United States are taxed on their worldwide income!  To add to the complexity of these tax rules, the U.S. government defines “residency” differently for immigration purposes than it does for tax purposes.  A person becomes a permanent “resident” for immigration purposes when they obtain a green card.  For tax purposes, however, there are two tests for residency.  A person is taxed as a resident if they meet a “substantial presence” (this test is a calculation based on the amount of time a person is physically present in the United States in a given year and in the 2 years leading up to that year).  A person is also taxed as a resident if they have obtained permanent residency in the United States (these individuals may be taxed as residents of the United States even if they spend very little time physically present in the United States)

Families who are considering establishing ties to the United States should consider the tax ramifications of that decision.  In many cases, the benefits of relocating or spending a significant amount of time in the United States outweigh the possible taxation costs, but we recommend that our clients consult with qualified tax advisors to help them understand how their tax situation may be affected by their immigration planning decisions.

Immigration & Estate Planning

International families face unique circumstances when planning for and protecting their estates.  Wills and trusts are common estate planning tools in the United States that allow families to ensure their property is adequately protected for future generations. Families who have assets in multiple countries may need to coordinate their estate plan with advisors in each jurisdiction.  Planning options that work well for domestic estates might not work very well in other countries.  For example, Canada and the United States both recognize the use of trusts in estate planning, but the tax codes of each country treat those trusts very differently.

Estate planning is an area of focus at the Gunderson Law Group.  We are uniquely qualified to assist many of our international clients in developing and updating estate plans that address the complexity of legal issues.  We do our best to stay up to date on the latest legal developments—especially in the areas of Immigration, Trusts & Estate Planning, Probate, and Business Organizations. In areas of the law where we are unable to answer questions ourselves, we maintain close ties with a number of professionals who can step in and give additional advice.  If you have questions about how the international aspects of your case may affect other areas of your life, we encourage you to ask by contacting our office.  Help us help you!


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Gunderson Law Group, P.C.

Arizona Location
1400 E. Southern Ave. Suite 850
Tempe, AZ 85282

Office: (480) 750-7337

Nevada Location
3960 Howard Hughes Parkway #500-A
Las Vegas, NV 89169

Office: (702) 990-3515