Early in the marriage-based green card process, every couple must provide evidence of a valid marriage to the U.S. government. That evidence includes a photocopy of your marriage certificate — also known as a marriage contract or marriage license. You’re one step ahead if you already have it.
If you can’t find your marriage certificate, though, don’t panic! In this guide, we’ll show you how to track it down from an official source and what you can submit as an alternative if you can’t obtain a copy.
Who must provide a copy of their marriage certificate?
Every couple must submit a photocopy of their marriage certificate with their family sponsorship form (Form I-130, or “Petition for Alien Relative,” as it’s officially called). You must also bring the original copy or official replacement to your green card interview.
What should the marriage certificate show?
The marriage certificate must show the following information:
- Names of both spouses
- Place of marriage
- Date of marriage
What if I’ve been divorced in the past?
If either of you has been married before, you will need to submit a copy of your divorce papers for each previous marriage.
If your name changed as a result of your most recent marriage, then your marriage certificate should be all you need as evidence of that name change.
If your name has changed for reasons other than your most recent marriage — as the result of adoption or divorce, for instance — you must submit evidence of a legal name change, such as an adoption decree or a court order. The court order (or “name restoration order,” as it’s otherwise known) should show that you changed your last name back to your maiden name or other previous name. Generally, the judge handling your divorce would also issue the court order for your name change, but rules vary by location.
What if our marriage certificate is not written in English?
A marriage certificate written in a language other than English must be accompanied by a certified English translation.
What if I had a religious or traditional wedding and don’t have a marriage certificate?
This is a common situation for many couples. See “Religious and Traditional Weddings” below for a detailed explanation.
You will need to obtain an official copy of your marriage certificate from a government agency if you do not have the original or if the original does not show the required information.
If you were married in the United States, you can request an official copy from the office of vital records in the state where your marriage took place. On their website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifies the name and address of each vital records office, as well as the current fee. Alternatively, you can request the document from a county clerk, city or town hall, or a civil registrar in the place where you were married.
If you were married abroad, you will need to check the U.S. Department of State’s website for the name of the issuing authority of the country where your marriage took place, as well as the current fee and procedures for obtaining an official copy. (On the upper left-hand side of the webpage, you will need to select the first letter of your country’s name, select your country, and click on the “Marriage, Divorce Certificates” tab to view the information you need.)
Boundless guides you through the document gathering process before you send everything off to the government. Get started today!
If you can’t find your marriage certificate or get an official copy, you must submit both of the following documents instead:
- A notarized personal affidavit (written explanation) in which you describe the facts of your marriage and the reason you’re unable to obtain an official copy of your marriage certificate
- A certified statement from the appropriate government agency explaining why your marriage certificate is not available
If you cannot obtain a certified statement from a government agency, you must instead provide at least two additional notarized personal affidavits from other people, such as one of your parents who is living or a close relative who is older than you. In the affidavit, they must attest to having personal knowledge of your marriage and describe the following:
- Your and your spouse’s full names
- When and where your marriage took place
- Their full name, address, and place of birth
- Their relationship to you
- How well they know you
- How they know about the information they are swearing to
What if I don’t have a marriage certificate because I had a religious or traditional wedding ceremony?
If it’s customary in your culture or religion to have a wedding ceremony but not report the event to a government agency, then chances are you don’t have an official marriage certificate. In this case, you first need to consult the specific instructions from the country where your marriage took place (see above).
In some countries, such as Somalia, the instructions for submitting marital proof will specify other types of documents that should be provided in place of a marriage certificate. This is common in many countries where marriage certificates are not commonly issued because of religious or traditional practices, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the marriage isn’t legally recognized — in many cases, it is recognized. The spouse seeking a green card would just need to provide alternative documents (see above). Keep in mind that the requirements for alternative documents can vary significantly from country to country.
Some countries, however, do not legally recognize religious or traditional weddings at all, and these countries’ marriage certificate requirements on the State Department’s website may or may not indicate so. If they don’t legally recognize your marriage, they may still just ask for alternative documents. But if there’s no such guidance from the State Department, it’s generally best to consult with an immigration attorney who can look into the marriage laws of the country where the marriage took place.
With Boundless, you get an independent immigration lawyer who will answer your questions and review your entire application package for accuracy and completeness. Only after this independent lawyer has confirmed the readiness of your application package will Boundless mail it to you for filing with the federal government. Learn more, or get started today.