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How divorce affects those who got a green card through marriage

On Behalf of | Sep 13, 2023 | Immigration

Many people obtain their permanent resident status and green card when they marry a U.S. citizen. Because this is such a highly coveted status, immigration officials go to considerable lengths to ensure that these marriages are “real,” and not just a way to be able to live in the U.S.

No matter how much these couples may be in love when they marry, however, there’s no guarantee that they’ll live “happily ever after.” As difficult as divorce is for couples, the thought of it can be especially stressful if you’re here on a green card because of your spouse.

What happens if you divorce? Can you still remain in the U.S.? Will you need your soon-to-be ex’s permission to do so? These are just a few questions that green card holders ask. Let’s look briefly at what divorce will mean for your immigration status.

The process depends in part on how you’ve been married

Generally, a green card remains “conditional” for two years. Up until then, the person isn’t yet a “permanent” resident. The spouses need to file a form I-751 shortly before their two-year wedding anniversary to make the status permanent. 

If you haven’t yet obtained this permanent status, your spouse (or ex-spouse, if you’re already divorced) can refuse to sign the form. The United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) will grant waivers, but it typically requires a divorce decree to do so. That’s why timing of the divorce and the end of the two-year conditional status is important to consider. Waivers can also be granted in instances of domestic violence.

What if you already have permanent resident status?

If you’ve already passed that conditional phase and you’re considered a permanent resident, you shouldn’t have to worry that your divorce will have any effect on that status as long as there are no grounds for deportation. It’s unlikely that even a vindictive spouse would falsely claim that the marriage was a fraud for the purpose of getting you a green card. They would be admitting to a federal crime that comes with incarceration and stiff financial penalties.

Wherever you are in your immigration journey, if you’re considering divorce or your spouse has announced that they want a divorce, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to help protect your rights and your future.