Divorce After Getting a Green Card: What You Need to Know

What Happens if You Divorce After Getting a Green Card?

If you’re like many people, you’re eligible for a green card – that is, lawful permanent residence in the United States – based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen or another lawful permanent resident. But what happens if you divorce after getting a green card?

It depends on where you are in the process. Here’s what you need to know.

You don’t get a green card overnight. It’s actually a process, and that process is particularly important if you’re going through a divorce at the same time you’re applying. 

Divorce After Getting a Green Card What You Need to Know

What happens next depends on which part of the process you’re in when you split up from your spouse. 

There are different outcomes possible if you:

Your green card hinges on whether you are married to the person who makes you eligible for lawful permanent residency, so here’s a closer look at each situation.

Divorce After You Apply for a Green Card

You can apply for your green card when you marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. With a green card through marriage, you’re eligible to apply for naturalization – that’s the process of gaining U.S. citizenship – after three years.

But what happens if you divorce your spouse after you apply, but before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a chance to review your petition?

Unfortunately, you become ineligible for a green card when you divorce your spouse at this stage. That’s because your green card was based on your marriage to that person – and now that you’re no longer married, you no longer qualify.

There’s another part, too. If USCIS has approved your petition but has not issued you a green card yet, you lose your eligibility.

The U.S. only gives out green cards in limited circumstances, and familial relationships is one of those circumstances. If the relationship that qualified you for the green card no longer exists, your application cannot be approved; if it has been approved but USCIS has not issued you a green card yet, your approval will be revoked and you cannot get a green card.

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Divorce After You Receive Your Conditional Green Card

When you first marry your spouse, you apply for a conditional green card. The conditional green card hinges on your continued marriage to your spouse. If you divorce during that time, you may lose your eligibility for lawful permanent residency. In fact, if you divorce after getting your green card (with conditions), you must file Form I-751 with a waiver for the joint filing requirement.

Form I-751 typically requires your spouse to file with you, so that’s where the waiver comes in. Your attorney can give you case-specific advice if you divorce your spouse at this point. He or she will be able to file the form with a waiver for the joint filing requirement, but you must show USCIS that you entered your marriage in good faith. Only some people can file for a waiver (including those who have divorced), and there’s no guarantee that USCIS will approve it.

It can be pretty tough to prove that you entered your marriage in good faith if you divorce before the conditions are removed from your green card, but it is possible. For most people, the best course of action is to work with a green card law firm that can give you advice throughout the process. In order to show that you were involved in a genuine marriage – and not one that you concocted just to get immigration benefits – you may need to provide documentation that proves that:

Divorce After You Remove the Conditions From Your Green Card

If you have removed the conditions from your green card by the time you divorce, your split typically won’t affect your lawful permanent resident status.

Usually, USCIS doesn’t need to reevaluate a person’s petition after a divorce at this stage of the process. You can even change your name on your green card after your divorce; you’ll simply have to show proof of your divorce (such as your divorce decree).

If USCIS does end up reviewing your petition for some reason, you may wish to speak with an attorney who can give you advice.

Will Divorce After Getting a Green Card Affect Your Citizenship if You Decide to Naturalize?

Will Divorce After Getting a Green Card Affect Your Citizenship if You Decide to NaturalizeDivorce may affect your naturalization process if you decide to become a U.S. citizen. If you file for naturalization using Form N-400 based on your marriage to another citizen or lawful permanent resident, you must continue to be married at the time of your naturalization (and you must have lived with your spouse for the three years prior to the date you file your petition). 

However, you may be able to file for naturalization based on your lawful permanent resident status if you have had your own green card for five or more years. Divorce does not affect your ability to file for naturalization if you file on the basis of your permanent resident status.

If you apply for naturalization, you need to know that USCIS will review your entire immigration file. The official in charge of your case will most likely look for any indication that you defrauded the U.S. government in order to obtain your green card. 

If the official finds any, you’ll be required to provide evidence that you did not defraud the government and that you were married in good faith. During your naturalization interview, the USCIS official you speak with may ask you very personal questions about your marriage and your divorce. 

Officials do this to ensure that people don’t marry just to obtain citizenship in the U.S., so although it can be scary, rest assured that they know most people intend to remain married and make the U.S. their permanent home.

Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Divorce After Getting a Green Card?

If you need to speak with an attorney about divorce after getting a green card, we’re here to help. Call us to schedule your free consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable and compassionate immigration attorney now.

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