Marriage Green Card and Divorce
Learn how divorce impacts your green card status
Divorce is a painful and complex end to a relationship, but it can be especially challenging if you’re in the United States on a marriage green card. You may be concerned about your future and whether or not you’ll be able to continue living in the United States after your marriage ends. You may also be wondering how your path to U.S. citizenship will be affected.
The answer is: it depends on the type of green card that you have. This guide will provide insights into how a divorce might impact your green card status.
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Green Card Types
When you obtain a green card through marriage, it will either be a permanent renewable green card that is valid for ten years or a conditional two-year green card. The conditional green card is issued to applicants that have been married for less than two years at the time the green card is issued. You can apply to have these conditions lifted two years after arriving in the United States.
Divorce and a Permanent Green Card
If you divorce and you have a permanent green card, there is typically no impact to the renewal process. When it comes time to renew your green card, you simply file Form I-90 (officially called “Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card”). There are no questions about your marital or relationship status for a green card renewal.
If you legally changed your name after your divorce, you can also update your green card at that time by submitting a legal record with your new name.
Divorce and a Conditional Green Card
In order to lift the conditions after two years, you need to prove that you and your partner are still married. Therefore, divorce when you hold a conditional green card can cause issues.
A waiver is available when you file Form I-751 to remove the conditions on your green card, but you will have to prove that your marriage prior to the divorce was genuine and not the result of immigration fraud. Typically, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) closely examines applications with waivers and you might be asked to provide additional evidence to prove you entered the marriage in good faith.
To prove your marriage was real, you can include joint financial records, proof that you lived together, evidence that you have children together, or that you sought marriage counseling.
You will also need to include a detailed written statement explaining why your marriage ended. If you and your partner separated because of irreconcilable differences, explain what those differences were. For example, perhaps one partner wanted to have children but the other didn’t.
Sometimes, a marriage ends because of the actions of a spouse, such as domestic abuse or adultery. In these cases, you would submit copies of your divorce papers and if available, court records detailing these claims.
If the divorce was as a result of your actions, it is best that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney about your case.
Removing conditions when the divorce is not final
If your divorce has not yet been finalized, you will need to include evidence that you or your partner have initiated divorce proceedings. In this case, USCIS will typically send you a notice in the mail extending your conditional residence status for one more year. At a later date, you will also likely receive a Request For Evidence (RFE) for the final decree of divorce.
Removing conditions when you are separated but not divorced
In rare cases, you can apply to remove conditions when you and your spouse are separated but you aren’t divorced, or your spouse refuses to grant you a divorce. If you are able to prove “extreme hardship,” then you may still be eligible for a permanent green card. USCIS provides detailed examples of what constitutes “extreme hardship,”
Divorcing During the Green Card Application Process
If you divorce during the application process for a marriage green card, then the application will stop and no longer progress. This is the case whether you are applying for a marriage green card or you are married to someone being sponsored for a green card through their U.S. employer.
It’s also important to be aware that USCIS is very vigilant about immigration fraud and that pretending to be married or not disclosing a divorce when applying for a green card could be viewed as immigration fraud.
Naturalization and Divorce
Becoming a U.S. citizen is often a big part of a green card holder’s journey and you can apply for naturalization after five years of being a green card holder.
However, if you’re married to a U.S. citizen, then you only have to wait three years after becoming a green card holder and then you can apply. If you divorce before you apply, then you have to wait the full five years that a non-marriage green card holder would.
An important note here is that to apply for naturalization after three years, you must have lived with your spouse and provide proof of that when filing Form N-400 (officially called the “Application for Naturalization”). You must also remain married to your spouse until you receive U.S. citizenship, which can take months or years depending on your application location’s wait times in the United States.
If you divorce before your U.S. citizenship application is approved, you can withdraw it and reapply after you pass the five-year mark.