Divorce After Getting a Green Card: What You Need to Know
Many people receive United States green cards based on a marriage to a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident. However, divorcing a sponsor who applied for your green card benefit can affect your immigration status. This guide explains divorce after getting a green card throughout various stages of the process, outlines what you can do about your situation, and gives you guidance on your future immigration status.
What Happens if You Get Divorced After Getting a Green Card?
A U.S. green card gives you permission to live and work anywhere in the United States. However, there are a few things that may affect your lawful permanent resident status, and divorce is one of them.
When you have a marriage-based green card and you divorce your sponsoring spouse, your immigration status may change – particularly if your divorce occurs before you are approved for a green card, or after you receive a green card before you remove the conditions on it. The following sections explain what happens in these situations.
Before Green Card Approval (but After Application)
If you and your spouse get a divorce after your spouse applies for a green card on your behalf, but before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves your petition, you cannot get a green card.
The entire immigration process stops, and you must return to your home country. Because you only qualified for a green card based on your marriage to your spouse, and because the relationship has dissolved, you no longer qualify. You cannot continue the process.
Unfortunately, even if USCIS has approved your petition but has not yet issued you a green card, you cannot remain in the United States. USCIS must have issued you a green card for your immigration status to be valid.
However, there are special circumstances that USCIS recognizes. For example, if you are a victim of battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, you may be able to continue the process without their knowledge or permission. This is known as self-petitioning, and if you qualify for it, you may want to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.
Your attorney can walk you through the process and explain your options as a victim of battery or extreme cruelty. It's also important that you know you don't need to provide police reports or medical records to demonstrate battery or extreme cruelty; you should explain your situation to an immigration attorney before proceeding any further.
You may also qualify for a green card in another category, which can be particularly useful to you if you have already established a life in the United States. For example, you may qualify based on:
- Another family relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- Asylee or refugee status
- Your membership in a special immigrant category
If you think you may fall into one of these categories, it's in your best interest to speak to an immigration attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney may be able to find an avenue for you to obtain a green card.
Divorce After Receiving a Green Card (but Before Removing Conditions)
Generally, when USCIS issues a green card to someone who has been married for fewer than two years, that green card comes with conditions attached. Essentially, the condition is that you remain married to the same spouse who sponsored you for your green card in the first place. However, if you divorce before the two years have elapsed, your immigration status may be impacted.
If you wish to remain in the United States with a conditional green card after a divorce, you should talk to an attorney. Your attorney will file Form I-751 with USCIS and accompany it with a waiver for the joint filing requirement. This is necessary because normally, your spouse must petition on your behalf. A waiver enables you to file a petition without your spouse’s cooperation.
You will be required to show USCIS that you entered your marriage in good faith and intended to remain married to the same person who sponsored you for your green card. It can be difficult to show this if you divorce within two years of getting married, so you should discuss your situation with your attorney to figure out what kind of evidence you can provide to USCIS that helps your case.
You may want to provide as much evidence as possible that you entered the marriage in good faith. Evidence that USCIS will consider includes:
- Proof that you and your spouse combined your finances. You can use joint bank statements, life insurance policies that list each of you as beneficiaries (it's okay if you have since changed your policy), and titles or deeds for property that you and your spouse owned together.
- Proof that you and your spouse have children together. Usually, birth certificates and adoption certificates suffice, and so do medical records and school records that contain both of your names.
- Proof that you lived as a married couple. You may include your wedding photos and guestbook, pictures of you and your former spouse together in public, vacation itineraries that list both your names, and even letters and emails that you sent to each other. You may also include receipts for gifts that you purchased for each other during your marriage.
- Proof that you and your spouse lived together after your marriage. You can use mortgage documents, leases, and even copies of driver’s licenses and utility bills, provided that these documents have both your and your spouse’s name on them.
If it is time for you to remove your conditions on your green card – you must petition the government to remove the condition within 90 days of your conditional green card’s expiration date – your attorney will walk you through the process. If USCIS approves this petition with or without your spouse’s cooperation, you will receive a permanent green card.
Related: Can undocumented immigrants get a green card?
Divorce After Receiving a 10-Year Green Card
Typically, USCIS doesn't care too much if you divorce after you receive a 10-year green card. This is your permanent green card, and it's what you're required to have if you choose to apply for United States citizenship. However, you do need to know that until you are a naturalized United States citizen, USCIS can review your case file to determine whether you married simply to obtain an immigration benefit.
Related: The complete guide to renewing a 10-year green card
Can You Get a Green Card or Remove Conditions Without Your Spouse’s Consent?
It is possible to get a green card, or even to remove conditions on a green card, without your spouse’s consent. You may be eligible to do this if you are the victim of battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse. If this has happened to you, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Divorce After Getting a Green Card?
If you have gotten a green card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, but you have since divorced your sponsoring spouse, we may be able to help you. Call our office or contact us online today to discuss your situation with an experienced immigration attorney who can make sure you’re pointed in the right direction.
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