Representing Clients All Over the U.S.
Former Divorce Can Screw Up Green Card Case
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Posted On: December 17, 2011

Obtaining a green card based on marriage can seem straightforward unless either the U.S. citizen petitioner or the foreign national spouse has ever been married before.  If they both were living in the same state and were married and divorced in that state, the former divorces may hold up in court.  Even either spouse has been divorced in another state, their former spouse was not present in the state when they got divorced, or either has received a divorce decree from another country, you should think twice before going ahead with a new green card case based on a marriage before you have those divorce decrees analyzed by competent family lawyer in your state.  
  • CIS does not have to recognize the legitimacy of the foreign divorce Decree or another state’s divorce decree if CIS finds that the state where the parties are living in does not recognize the Decree due to its own jurisdiction issues, family code requirements or public policy. 

This can be an extremely confusing area of the law. Because of differing State family laws, a couple could have completely different outcome on whether a divorce or marriage is recognized depending on the particular state they live in.  And if this is discovered after they married and when the marriage falls apart and a potential green card is on the line, this could derail the divorce case for a spouse hoping for alimony and a share of the assets if the marriage the dissolution is based on is invalid under State law. This also derails the federal immigration case if the spouse obtained their permanent residency based on the presumed validity of the marriage when they find out that the marriage wasn’t valid to begin with because their prior divorce decree or their spouse’s prior divorce decree wasn’t valid.  Just because you have a divorce decree signed by a judge either in another state, in your own state, or in a foreign country, does not mean that CIS will recognize the Decree as being valid. Further, there are federal monetary fines & possible imprisonment, as well as deportation consequences if marriage fraud or bigamy is implicated.  

So how do you know for sure if your prior paperwork will hold up if you want to sponsor a subsequent spouse for a green card?  Always start with consulting a competent family lawyer in your jurisdiction. That lawyer will need to know the location of both spouses who were party to the divorce at the time the divorce was filed and how long they’ve been living in that jurisdiction for starters.  Often, a state will not recognize a quickie divorce such as one obtained from the Dominican Republic or other countries that don’t require residency prior to filing for divorce, if the state where the couple were residing at the time of the divorce had jurisdiction of the couple and the couple had to legally file in that state; they can avoid their own state’s laws by just crossing the border.  You don’t want your whole case resting on a house of cards that could collapse if one divorce decree does not hold up later down the line.  It’s worth the consultation fee to speak to a competent family lawyer.
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Attorney Heather L. Poole practices exclusively in the area of U.S. family-based immigration law and citizenship law. Heather is a nationally-published immigration author, frequent lecturer on immigration issues, and member & officer of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Southern California Chapter. For more information about Heather and the services offered, visit


cail December 20, 2011 at 3:41 am

Green card is one of the most helpful benifits there in us . So if they loss that card they will also loose a big thing .

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