African immigrants are all Africans from the African continent who come to the United States to reside permanently. Many of them eventually become US citizens. Some come as a family i.e. with their wives and children. Some come as single individuals. Many of these eventually meet women in the United States and get married to them. They may deliberately marry someone from their home countries. Many of those who do so told me that the cultural and regional similarities make the relationship easier. Many of them also marry women of other races and cultures in the United States.
Compared to their countries of origin, divorce among African families in the United States is very high. The average span of an African married couple in the United States is, unfortunately, only about seven years.
Why is the divorce rate so high? One factor is the impact of the new American culture. Africans in America stumble on the American culture of rights, and, in many cases, do not know how to handle it. In Africa, women are inferior to men, and men have more rights than women. In a typical family, women play domestic roles, while the men are the bread winners. Women do household chores, raise the kids and serve the husband. In America, the women find that they have rights just like, if not, more than men. They hold important non-domestic jobs and are financially strong just like the men. They have equal say on issues in the home, and can financially contribute. They also find that household chores and raising kids should be shared with the men.
The men resent some of these rights, and deem it unacceptable. They see them as challenges to their masculinity. In most cases, their reactions lead to frictions, which in turn, cause marital problems, and many of the marital problems lead to divorce.
Domestic abuse incidents are very high in African families. In Africa, it is normal for a husband to physically or verbally abuse his wife when the wife does something wrong. Wrong things may include extra-marital activity, not treating the kids very well, breaking something in the house, refusing to have intercourse or saying something disrespectful to the husband. The beating is an exercise of the man’s masculinity and punishment of the woman for the wrongful act. The beating does not subject the man to any punishment. There are rare cases, such as if the beating results in murder, where the man is prosecuted.
In the United States, domestic abuse is, fortunately, a crime that goes with serious consequences. If a man is charged with domestic abuse or assault of his wife, and is found guilty, he is subjected to a serious punishment. If the man is an immigrant, who has not become a citizen, he is also subject to deportation. Sometimes African wives take advantage of the consequences, and frequently lie to the police that their husbands have beaten them. There are instances when a wife that is offended by a dispute between herself and her husband, calls the police to lie that her husband has beaten her to cause the police to arrest the husband. Many marriages do not survive instances of domestic abuse.
The highest number of divorces occur in African cross-culture and or racial marriages i.e. an African married to a Caucasian or Mexican or Asian or African American etc. Some of the divorces are simply rooted in the desire of a party to get an immigration “Green Card”, and deserting the marriage once the desire is achieved. Many are rooted in deep different cultural and racial problems. The spouses usually accept their racial differences. They have to look beyond it to get married. Their cultural problems are, however, tougher to overcome. They initially suppress their cultural identities and feelings during courtship. But the differences get out of control in the marriage. The differences come across in daily communication, likes and dislikes, relationships with friends, and most especially their extended family members.
The African initially absorbs everything but eventually reacts against cultural traits that he dislikes. Both at some point do not understand that their different cultural experiences are subverting their relationship, and before they know, the marriage is mired in an acute difficulty. Frictions between the spouses and the African and his or her American spouses’ extended family members are rife, the solution to which becomes divorce.
When divorce occurs, the American domestic relations law governs. Issues of custody, child support, visitation (if there are children), property division (if there is property) and liability allocation (if any) are decided. The divorce leaves behind deep relationship cleavages and sometimes fatal animosities. For a while, the African’s quest for happiness, a strong component of his American dream is lost.
The author of this article is an attorney who does general practice that includes family, immigration and criminal law. No portion should be deemed as legal advice. If you need legal advice on issues raised in the article, see a family, criminal or immigration attorney. If you need advice or legal assistance from the author, call his office at 763-549-0670, or write to him at the Law Offices of Swaray & Associates, Golden Valley Corporate Center, 1710 Douglas Drive, Suite 107, Golden Valley, MN 55422.