One tactic abusive spouses use against their non-citizen mates is to threaten to have them deported if they file for divorce. Since many people who come to America after marrying their husbands or wives aren't fully aware of their rights, this causes them to remain in abusive situations longer than necessary. Despite what your spouse may claim, you can continue the citizenship process even after your marriage dissolves. Here's what you need to know to protect yourself.
Moving Beyond Conditional Residency
When a person from another country marries an American citizen, the person is awarded conditional permanent residency status by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This status is only valid for two years, during which you must apply to become a permanent resident or naturalized citizen before the time limit expires.
In general, you are required to do this with your spouse. To prevent people from committing marriage fraud to become US citizens, the USCIS will subject you and your spouse to interviews and other investigatory tactics to ensure your marriage is/was real. Abusive spouses may threaten to refuse to participate in the process, avoid signing the necessary paperwork, or falsely state the marriage was a sham to prevent their non-citizen mates from filing for divorce or to get them deported in retaliation.
However, the USCIS recognizes that marriages fall apart for a variety of reasons. The agency will waive the joint application requirement if you can show one of the following:
- You married in good faith, but the marriage ended in divorce or annulment
- You and/or your children were abused or subjected to extreme cruelty by your spouse
- You would suffer extreme hardship if you were deported
In all of these cases, you cannot be at fault for not filing the joint petition on time. To take advantage of this option and obtain a permanent resident status, you must file the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (form I-751) and pay the $680 filing fee.
Proving a Valid Marriage
The biggest challenge in this process is proving you entered the marriage in good faith/had a valid marriage, which can be tough if your soon-to-be ex is impeding the process. However, there are several ways you can do it.
Having children born into the marriage is the easiest way, and you generally only have to provide copies of the kids' birth certificates to USCIS as proof you married with good intentions. Another option is to show joint ownership of assets and debts, such as a home, vehicle, or credit cards. Documentation of your engagement and wedding (e.g. photo album of pictures, list of wedding expenses) can also prove you entered the marriage in good faith.
Divorcing while still under a conditional permanent residency pass from the USCIS can be challenging. It's best to consult with a divorce attorney, such as those found at Kleveland Law, for assistance with separating from your spouse while protecting your immigration status.