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Divorce After Green Card
If you established permanent residence in the United States through marriage, divorce may pose a unique set of problems for you, ranging from suspicion of fraudulent marriage to jeopardized legal status. You may be worried about losing your green card after divorce proceedings and being accused of a felony. However, you don’t have to go in blind.
At The Alagiri Immigration Law Firm, we provide trustworthy counsel and reliable instruction for people who need help navigating high-stakes immigration matters, such as the dissolution of green card marriages. We understand the ins and outs of U.S. immigration laws, particularly as they pertain to green card marriages and divorce. If your legal status in the U.S. was established through a marriage that you now wish to dissolve, you’re going to need a knowledgeable advocate on your side, starting now.
Will Divorce Affect Your Green Card?
Marrying a US Citizen is typically an unquestionable path to gaining lawful permanent residency and, eventually, naturalization – however, love doesn’t always last as long as lengthy USCIS processing times. In the mess of a divorce, what happens to your green card application?
The manner in which you dissolve your marriage could give the impression that your union was fraudulent and give federal immigration officials reason to believe that you only married in order to receive U.S. immigration benefits. This is especially likely if you were married, obtained a green card as a result, and have decided to divorce within two years, in which case you will likely need to prove that your marriage was authentic in order to avoid legal penalties.
However, fully legitimate marriages can still fall apart in the very early years. If your legal residence is or was contingent upon your marriage, you may be subject to varying levels of suspicion and evaluation depending on whether your I-130 visa petition, your request for permanent residence, or your request for conditional residence was approved at the point you decide to seek divorce or annulment.
Even if you are in the process of applying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, U.S. Customs & Immigration Services (USCIS) may still wish to evaluate your marriage for any signs of fraud. If immigration officials have reason to believe your immigration journey began with a fraudulent marriage, you could be barred from pursuing citizenship and removed from the country altogether.
What happens to your green card when you get divorced depends on what step of the process you were in when the separation happens. Here are some of the situations you might encounter:
Separation Before Marriage
The K-1 visa specifically forbids entrants from applying for lawful permanent residence based on marriage to someone other than their U.S. citizen, K-1 petitioner, which means if you were left at the altar, you will not be able to obtain a green card by marriage unless you leave the US and re-enter the United States on a different immigrant or non-immigrant visa at another point in time.
Divorce before Ten-Year Green Card
If you obtained your green card through a marriage that was 2 years old or less, the green card you receive is a two-year conditional green card. At the end of the two year period, the married couple must file a joint petition – Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence – in order to remove the conditions on the foreign spouse’s green card. At this juncture, the couple will also be asked to provide evidence to prove that the marriage is a real one. If approved, the spouse will receive a permanent, ten-year green card.
If the couple gets divorced within the two years after receiving the conditional green card (i.e., prior to filing the joint petition), the applicant can file for a waiver to the joint petition and file without the US Citizen spouse. While it is not impossible to win the petition – the USCIS does acknowledge that love doesn’t always last – they will most definitely scrutinize the case closely, and you’ll be asked to provide the reason behind the separation.
We always recommend that you speak to an immigration attorney before filing I-751 with a waiver to make sure you get the right advice for your specific situation.
Divorce After Ten-Year Green Card
If you already have your ten-year permanent green card, there are not many issues with getting a divorce as it likely won’t impact your immigration status. When you need to renew or replace your green card, you simply file Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card – there are no questions directly related to your marriage status.
If you have gotten a divorce and would like to change your name on your green card, you can do so when you apply to renew or replace it. You’ll need to indicate the name change on Form I-90 and submit a copy of the legal name change document, which should be sufficient.
Divorced and Married Someone Else Within Five Years
Let’s say you were married to a US Citizen, gained permanent residency, got divorced and you’re now looking to sponsor your new spouse for permanent US residency.
This is not an impossible task.
As a green card holder, you are allowed to sponsor your spouse for his or her green card. However, if you gained your permanent residency based on marriage to a US citizen, you will likely be asked to provide significant proof that both marriages are real – your first marriage, the one in which you got your green card, and the current one. If you have had your permanent green card for more than five years, this may not be asked of you.
Divorce Before Naturalization
Being married to a US Citizen allows you a quicker path to naturalization – you can apply after three years, rather than the standard five years, as a permanent resident. If you get divorced before filing for naturalization, it would impact your eligibility to file after the three year period. Even if you were married for over three years and applying for naturalization after the three year period, you must continue to be married at the time of naturalization for your application to be approved.
However, if you do get a divorce prior to gaining citizenship, you may still be eligible to file for naturalization after five years as a permanent resident. In this situation, your eligibility is not dependent on a current marriage so divorce would likely not impact your eligibility to file.
At The Alagiri Immigration Law Firm, we know there is much at risk when seeking to dissolve your marriage after establishing residency in the U.S. We have the knowledge and skill to help you make a strong case for the legitimacy of your marriage, even if you decide to pursue divorce or annulment soon after being married.