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Green Cards and Divorce

Clients often ask “What happens if I divorce”? It depends on when the divorce, and often times the actual separation, took place.

Did you become divorced before filing the I-130 “Petition for Immediate Relative?”

If so, unfortunately you are no longer eligible to apply for a green card. However, if you are not divorced and just separated, it’s best if you and your spouse take the time to work on your marriage before filing any applications. Proof that you tried to do everything to save your marriage could be important later, so separated couples are wise to attend counseling sessions, etc.

The other reason to keep working on your marriage is that your applications require your current address, and it will be an issue if you live apart…unless there is a reasonable explanation, such as one spouse going to school out of state and the other has a good job elsewhere.

Did you become divorced after filing the I-130 and I-485, Application for adjustment of Status, but before the interview with USCIS?

Generally, you will be denied adjustment because you are no longer living in “marital union” with the petitioner. The purpose of the adjustment interview is to prove that the marriage is a bona fide relationship, if you are separated then the adjustment will be denied. But, if the divorce or separation was due to violence then you can “self-petition” meaning you don’t need a sponsor, under the Violence Against Women’s Act (this act applies to both men and women), see Domestic Violence and Immigration.

Can I get divorced after getting the green card?

This depends on whether you have a conditional permanent resident card that expires in two years or a lawful permanent resident card that expires in ten years.

If you have a two year conditional green card, you are required to file Form I-751, Application to Remove the Conditions of Residence within 90 days of the card’s two year expiration date. Another interview will be scheduled for you and your US Citizen spouse to again prove that you have a bona fide marriage. If you are divorced or separated you will most likely lose your ability to remain in the US as a permanent resident unless you can prove that when you did marry it was a true relationship but unfortunately it did not work out. If this is your situation you need to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

If you have a ten year permanent green card, divorce does not adversely effect your green card status. However, you may experience delays in the naturalization/citizenship process.