“Green Card then Divorce?” What now? Getting a divorce after receiving a green card causes unexpected challenges. On top of the emotional trauma that a divorce causes, you also have to worry about whether you will lose the green card and be deported to your home country. If you were in a bona fide (“real”) marriage, a divorce will have little effect on your immigration status. US immigration law anticipates that not all marriages will last for a lifetime and has created rules for this situation.
Divorce After Conditional Green Card
Marriage ending in a divorce, after a conditional green card is issued, is a very common occurrence. You obtained a 2-year conditional green card because your marriage was less than two years old at the time that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the overseas US consulate approved your green card application, With this type of green card, you are required to file an I-751 application to remove the conditions, to obtain permanent residence. This must be done within 90 days of expiration of the 2-year conditional green card.
If your marriage starts to breakdown before it is time to file the I-751 application one of two possibilities may occur. Either your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse may refuse to sign the application or he or she may sign it. If your spouse signs the application, you will have a jointly filed application. You must submit the application with proof that you were in a real marriage. Evidence includes joint bank statements, utility bills, income tax returns, joint proof of residence, photographs of you and your spouse and affidavits from relatives and friends who can testify that your marriage was real, from the outset.
If your spouse refuses to sign the application, you cannot force him or her. You must still file the application and request a waiver of the joint filing requirement. Include the evidence mentioned above along with a copy of the divorce judgment. If the divorce has already been filed, but not finalized, include a copy of the divorce petition. The divorce will need to be finalized by the time USCIS makes a decision on the application.
A third scenario may occur after you have filed an I-751 application, jointly. Your spouse may decide that he or she wants to withdraw the application and may even send a letter to USCIS stating that decision. If that occurs, make a request to USCIS that you would like to convert your application from “jointly filed” to “divorce waiver.” Include a copy of the divorce petition. If the divorce has been finalized, then submit a copy of the divorce judgment. Even if your spouse later changes his or her mind, once the divorce has been finalized, your application will still need a waiver. In some cases, the divorce is amicable and your ex-spouse wants to support you throughout the immigration process. He or she may submit an affidavit to USCIS stating that the marriage was real, even though it ended and may even attend the interview with you, as a sign of support. Although the I-751 green card application can be approved without an interview, there is a very high chance that it will not. USCIS is concerned about fraudulent marriages and when a divorce occurs, this usually raises a red flag.
If you move from the marital home while the I-751 application is pending, update your address with USCIS within 10 days of moving. Failure to do so could result in you missing important updates about your case. It is also a misdemeanor that can be punished by a fine of up to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. You could also be deported, unless you can prove that that the failure to report a change of address was “reasonably excusable,” or that the failure was not “willful.” While this is the law, in reality, it is rarely enforced as the government does not have enough resources to prosecute these minor offenses.
If you submitted a strong I-751 application, you should have little trouble proving that the marriage was real. Weak applications can cause serious problems. An experienced immigration attorney is valuable in either scenario and can make the difference between whether your application is approved or denied. You should be well prepared for your interview to give yourself the best chance of obtaining a 10-year permanent residence green card.
Divorce After 10 Year Green Card
Getting a divorce, after a 10 year green card has been approved, is a little less problematic. You do not need to notify USCIS that your marriage has ended in a divorce, even when renewing the green card but you must do so if you are applying for U.S. citizenship. You must however notify USCIS of any change of address, as stated above. Although it is possible that USCIS can reevaluate whether your marriage was real when you apply for a green card renewal, this is highly unlikely.
The more important question is: “How does a divorce affect your application for U.S. citizenship?” A permanent resident is eligible for U.S. citizenship either 3 years or 5 years after first obtaining a green card. If the marriage is intact and both spouses are living together, the green card holder is eligible for naturalization in 3 years. If there is a divorce, then eligibility is in 5 years. You must submit all your divorce decrees with your U.S. citizenship application.
U.S. Immigration Attorney Fees
This article provides a broad overview of “divorce with a green card” and its effect on your immigration status. U.S. immigration law is complex and is not limited to the forms on USCIS’ website. An experienced immigration attorney can tailor your case to the specifics of the law, focusing on the Immigration and Nationality Act, other statutes and relevant case law. The attorney’s fees for this service are invaluable. An attorney can prevent costly mistakes, save you unnecessary headaches and relieve uncertainty concerning the immigration process.
Attorney, Cheryl Fletcher, is a U.S. immigration attorney that has been through the immigration process, herself. She practices regularly at USCIS and has helped hundreds of applicants who have experienced a divorce after obtaining a green card.