If my marriage contract was not recorded, am I still single?

IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel -

Dear Atty. Gurfinkel:

I was petitioned as single by my immigrant parent. I know I should remain single, but my girlfriend is pregnant and her parents are pressuring me to secretly marry her so our child will be legitimate. 

Her father is a barangay captain and said we should go ahead with our marriage, but he will see to it that our marriage contract will not be recorded at the local civil registrar. He assures me that if a marriage contract is not registered, the marriage would not be valid, and I would still be considered “single” for my parent’s petition.

If I go ahead and marry my girlfriend, and the marriage contract is not recorded, is it true that I would still be considered “single”?

Very truly yours,


Dear F.R.:

Under US immigration law, the validity of a marriage is governed by the laws of where that marriage took place. Therefore, if a person gets married in the Philippines, then Philippine law would apply. The validity of the marriage, for U.S. Immigration purposes, would be based on whether the marriage would be considered valid under Philippine law. 

While a marriage license is considered a “formal requisite” for a valid marriage, a marriage contract is not. Therefore, if a couple had a marriage ceremony in front of a solemnizing officer (mayor, judge, priest, etc.), and had a valid marriage license issued, then in all likelihood the marriage would be considered valid, even if the marriage contract was not recorded. In fact, there were cases where a solemnizing officer neglected to send a copy of the marriage certificate to the civil registry, and there was no record of the alleged marriage in the municipality where the marriage allegedly took place. Nevertheless, the couple was considered to have been validly married, since the failure of the solemnizing officer to send a copy of that marriage certificate is not a fatal defect. This is because the marriage certificate is not an “essential requisite” for the marriage. (This is different from a situation where a marriage was performed without a marriage license, which may result in a marriage being considered “void”).

Therefore, if you were to go forward with a marriage ceremony satisfying all formal requisites and say “I do”, you would likely be considered “married”, which would affect your parent’s petition of you as “single”. 

I know of people who try to play games in their heads, or fool themselves, by thinking that if they are somehow able to prevent the marriage contract from being recorded, then it makes the marriage invalid. That is not the case. In addition, I have come across so many other cases where people were assured that the marriage contract would not be recorded, and, to their shock and dismay, the Embassy was able to track down and find that marriage contract.

Therefore, if you want to immigrate through your parent’s petition as single, you must truly remain single up until the time you receive your green card in the US. No secret marriages! No game playing of thinking that you’ll still be considered single if the marriage contract is not recorded. That is a myth. If you go ahead and get married, you could possibly mess up your chances to go to America through your parent’s petition.

That is why it is so important that people seek the advice of a reputable attorney, rather than relying on the “advice” of friends, relatives, barangay captains, or other people who really don’t have any legal training or knowledge. Remember, if you follow this incorrect advice, you will be the one to suffer the consequences, not the person who gave you that bad advice.

WEBSITE: www.gurfinkel.com

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Four offices to serve you:  PHILIPPINES: 8940258 or 8940239; LOS ANGELES; SAN FRANCISCO; NEW YORK : TOLL FREE NUMBER: 1-866-GURFINKEL (1-866-487-3465)










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