Can I Apply for Citizenship If I’ve Divorced the Person Who Got Me My Green Card?

When USCIS may bring up questions about a divorce during the naturalization process.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

If you are a foreign national who has married a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and that person 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 U,S, citizenship, but in danger of deportation. In most cases, such applicants have little or nothing to worry about. But for those who committed marriage fraud, it's a different story. We discuss the range of possibilities below.

Divorce Makes Applicants Ineligible to Apply for Citizenship in Three Rather Than Five Years

One result of the divorce is certain: If you were hoping to get early citizenship after three years as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, a divorce will end that possibility. You will have to remain married up until the date when you actually get your U.S. citizenship (attend the swearing-in or oath ceremony), and you have to be living with your U.S. citizen spouse for a full three years before filing your citizenship application in order to qualify for early citizenship.

But you can still apply for U.S. citizenship after the usual five years, assuming you meet the other naturalization eligibility criteria.

Will Divorce Affect Your Showing of Good Moral Character as Required for U.S. Citizenship?

Although rare, it is possible that USCIS could look at the circumstances surrounding your divorce and find that your moral character does not meet a high enough standard to qualify you for U.S. citizenship. If, for example, you caused the marital breakup by having an affair, this could be a concern. For more on this, see Can an Extramarital Affair Really Disqualify You From Naturalization?.

Possible Need to Prove Bona Fide Marriage Again When Applying for Naturalized Citizenship

As long as your marriage was the bona fide, 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 eventually applying for citizenship. U.S. immigration authorities are always on the lookout for fraudulent marriages, and perceive them to be a common problem; but they don't automatically assume that a divorce indicates a sham marriage.

If you are 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. Nevertheless, when you apply for U.S. citizenship, your divorce might cause USCIS to again examine how real your marriage was.

On the day you attend your naturalization interview, the USCIS officer might ask additional questions about your marriage and divorce to double-check. The officer might not make a decision on your citizenship that day, but instead ask you to first submit additional paperwork proving that your marriage was real.

What Documents Will Help Convince USCIS (Again) That the Marriage Was Bond Fide?

If you are indeed asked to provide more evidence of a bona fide marriage, USCIS will be looking in particular for documentation covering the time period beyond your submission of the Form 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.

Also think about what new and different sorts of documents you could provide. If, for example, you and your husband or wife attended couples counseling before the divorce, a statement from the therapist or spiritual adviser 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.

What If USCIS Decides the Marriage Was a Fraud?

If, despite all the documentation you provided, USCIS believes that your divorce was simply the culmination of a strategy to obtain a U.S. green card for you, and that you never truly intended to form a shared life with your U.S. petitioner, you can expect them to either issue a notice to appear (NTA) scheduling you for a master calendar hearing in immigration court or to refer the case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for follow-up.

For More Information and Legal Help

Learn more about the process of and procedures for applying for U.S. citizenship.

For personalized assistance with applying for U.S. citizenship after a divorce from the U.S. citizen or green card holder, consult an experienced attorney. The attorney can help you anticipate USCIS concerns and gather paperwork that will allay them. And if you are referred for proceedings in immigration court, you'll definitely want an attorney to represent you. After all, the government will have an attorney there to question you and argue to the judge that you should be deported, which could leave you at a severe disadvantage in trying to convince the judge otherwise.

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