US Court Finds Matchmaking Agency Has Duty to Inform Client of Battered Spouse Waiver
Monday, July 10, 2006 12:09 PM

On April 13, 2006, a United States Court of Appeals held that a matchmaking agency is required to inform its clients of the battered spouse waiver.  In Fox v. Fox, the appellate court held that Encounters International had a duty to tell Nataliya Fox, a Ukrainian national, about the battered spouse waiver.  This ruling is very important to protecting women channeled through matchmaking agencies. 


Matchmaking agencies offer women the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. by marrying a U.S. citizen.  Women who come to the U.S. through matchmaking agencies are often uninformed of their rights under U.S. law; this is often compounded by language and cultural barriers.  Women who immigrate through these agencies are at a heightened risk of being exploited due to their vulnerability.  Encounters International, and other agencies, often hold themselves as trustworthy counselors, so the women rely on these agencies to advise them in difficult situations. In Fox, the court found Encounters International clearly engaged in “intentional efforts to gain [Ms. Fox’s] trust, confidence and loyalty...”  (Fox v. Fox, page 17).   


The propensity for domestic abuse is one of the most difficult problems for women like Ms. Fox, who gain citizenship solely through their abuser.  In response, the U.S. government established the battered spouse waiver in the Immigration Act of 1990.  The battered spouse waiver allows an “alien who validly resides in the United States based solely upon the sponsorship of her United States citizen spouse to leave an abusive relationship with such spouse without fear of being immediately deported.”  (Fox v. Fox, page 9-10). 


Though having the legal right is critical, it is equally important to be informed of  rights.  The court found that Ms. Fox, as a result of Encounters International’s repeated efforts to gain her trust, relied on the agency to help her leave her physically and emotionally abusive husband without risk of being deported. Encounters International fraudulently induced Ms. Fox to believe they would always represent her interests.  Ms. Fox trusted them as a result of their assurances, and they failed to inform her of the only viable alternative to her abusive marriage.  The court found this violation was intended to cause Ms. Fox to remain with her abusive spouse in order to preserve the touted 95% matchmaking success rate of Encounters International, a core marketing tool.  This ruling is an important step in ensuring the safety of women in these situations is a primary concern of matchmaking agencies.      

Please note, this case is unpublished and is thus not binding precedent on the court.

Compiled from: Fox v. Fox, No. 05-1139 (4th Cir. decided April 13, 2006).