If you married a U.S. citizen or permanent residence, who helped you get lawful permanent residence (a green card) in the United States, you are on track to apply for U.S. citizenship yourself—perhaps in only three years rather than the usual five, if you married a U.S. citizen.
But what happens if you get divorced after getting your green card? Many immigrants worry that this undercuts their basic green card eligibility, making them not only unable to pursue citizenship, but in danger of deportation. In most cases, such applicants have little or nothing to worry about.
If you were hoping to get early citizenship after three years as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, understand that divorce will end that possibility. You have to remain married up until you actually get your citizenship, and you have to be living with your spouse three years before filing your citizenship application to qualify for early citizenship.
As long as your marriage was the real thing—meaning that you honestly intended to establish a life together, as opposed to entering into a fake, or a sham marriage, meant to get you a green card—you should be okay when applying for citizenship. U.S. immigration authorities are always on the lookout for fraudulent marriages, and perceive them to be a common problem, but don't automatically assume that a divorce indicates a sham marriage.
If married to a U.S. citizen, you probably spent two years as a “conditional resident,” then had to submit proof of your real, ongoing marriage (along with Form I-751) in order to become a permanent resident. So U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has already reverified that your marriage was real. But when you apply for citizenship, your divorce might cause USCIS to again examine how real your marriage was.
When you attend your naturalization interview, the USCIS officer may ask additional questions to double-check. The officer may not make a decision on your citizenship that day, but may ask you to first submit additional paperwork proving that your marriage was real.
If that is indeed what happens, USCIS will be looking in particular for documentation covering the time period beyond your submission of the I-751. You might want to submit the same sorts of documents that you did before, but covering the more recent time period, such as leases or mortgages in both your names, copies of joint bank or credit card statements, and so on.
If you and your husband or wife attended couples counseling before the divorce, a statement from the therapist would be good evidence that you were really trying to make the marriage work. And if you happen to have had any children that USCIS doesn’t yet know about, their birth certificates will serve as excellent evidence that your marriage was real.
Learn more about the process of and procedures for applying for U.S. citizenship.