Marital status can impact your immigration status if you were not born in the United States. If you separate or get divorced from your partner, this could mean changes to your legal status in this country. If you have a green card, you will face a number of different options depending on the specifics of your situation. Read on to see some examples.
Divorce and Separation
A divorce legally ends a marriage, while separation allows a couple to remain legally married but live apart. Every state has different divorce laws, which also can change someone’s immigration status. For example, in Maryland, there is an Absolute Divorce and a Limited Divorce, which legally gives couples different options. In many states, a separation will become a divorce after a certain period of time if couples do not get back together. It will affect immigration status as well. Even if spouses do not intend on remaining separate, if they separate or get a limited divorce, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) or Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), will act upon the appropriate state law.
Green Card Citizens
The majority of green card holders who did not receive a green card based on marriage are unaffected by a divorce. If you’ve had your green card for ten or more years and have not broken any laws, then renewing a green card after you get a divorce is easy. In most states, once you have a green card for ten years, your marriage status will not affect your immigration status. There have been cases in which people have not obeyed the law and were not given the same opportunity to stay in the U.S. as lawful residents.
Divorce After Conditional Green Card
A divorce or annulment may pose a problem if you obtained your green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. In these situations, USCIS gives people a two-year “conditional” green card. The two-year time period gives USCIS time to evaluate the marriage and ensure both parties are being honest with the government. Immigration law requires USCIS to take these additional steps in green card marriages to ensure that the marriage was entered in good faith. At the end of the time period, the couple must file a joint petition (Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence) along with evidence to prove the marriage is in good faith. The resident who is marrying a U.S. citizen will need to provide significant evidence to prove that the marriage is real.
Divorce and Becoming a U.S. Citizen
If you have immigrated to the U.S. and are married to a U.S. Citizen, you only have to wait three years after getting your green card to become a naturalized citizen. However, if you get a divorce in the midst of your relationship, you will have to wait five years to become a U.S citizen.
Fraudulent Marriage Concerns
USCIS believes that a significant number of immigrant marriages are fraudulent and entered into for the purpose of becoming a U.S. citizen. This is why they ask for so much information when a U.S. citizen marries someone from another country. Both U.S. law and USCIS policy have requirements to ensure that only immigrants who have entered into real, valid marriages are awarded immigration benefits in the United States. Of course, there have been instances in which couples who enter into fraudulent marriages cannot maintain the artificial lifestyle for as long as it takes to get a green card, so the marriage ends in divorce. How USCIS treats your divorce depends on how far along you are in the immigration process and how good a job you can do at convincing USCIS that the marriage was sincere in the first place.
Contact Law Offices of Grant Bettencourt Today
Remember, not all separation and divorce cases are the same. Depending on where you live and the status of your relationship, you may face different situations. For many people, becoming a U.S. citizen is important and losing citizenship will require many life changes. Many people are able to avoid losing citizenship during a separation or divorce if they have the right attorney. It’s important to work with someone who understands this type of law and who can protect your best interest.
If you are getting a separation or divorce and think your immigration status might be at risk, contact the Law Offices of Grant Bettencourt. Our office has experience with cases like these and will help you understand your options. Click here or give the office a call at 925-7887178. We look forward to working with you.