Becoming a US Citizen through naturalization after divorce

Many US residents wonder whether they can still become US Citizens if they divorced the person who helped them get residency. There is no rule against getting divorced and it’s a common situation. At the same time, there are some situations which could come up and complicate the process. It’s best to speak with an immigration lawyer before applying for US Citizenship to make sure there are no issues in a particular case.

Here are some frequently asked questions by people applying for citizenship by naturalization.

Can I file for citizenship if I divorce the person who filed the family petition for me?

Some people became residents of the US through a family petition by a US Citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse. While no one is required to stay married, getting divorced can have consequences in different situations. USCIS is always concerned with marriage fraud, which usually means getting married only to get immigration status. And so, at each stage of the immigration process, USCIS checks to see if the marriage was intended for immigration purposes or other purposes.

Of course, it’s not unusual or illegal for a couple to have immigration issues in mind when they get married. After all, there are no immigration options for people who are dating or simply cohabitating. Immigrant couples often consider marriage more quickly than other couples because it impacts their ability to stay together lawfully. This is completely normal. What is not allowed is to pay for immigration paperwork, to get married only to get immigration status, or to lie about a relationship in some capacity as part of the immigration process.

Problems with a current or past marriage can come up at citizenship interviews

USCIS officers frequently meet with people who divorced from the spouse who filed for them. For many people, this comes up for the first time at the stage of applying for citizenship. All citizenship cases involve an interview and a thorough background check. Sometimes, USCIS realizes that information provided at an earlier stage was incorrect. This can lead to denial of a citizenship application and even deportation proceedings. Some common issues that come up are:

  • Claiming an incorrect marital status in any immigration application, such as filing a B2 visitor visa application as a married person rather than a single person
  • Failing to list children in a visa application or green card application, especially if doing so made it less likely that immigration would find some other problem such as another marriage or infidelity
  • Chain marriages where two people separate, get married to other people, immigrate to the US, and then later remarry
  • Undisclosed or common law marriages that were not properly terminated according to the laws of the country or state where the divorce took place
  • Having an affair or children outside of the marriage during the required good moral character period for the citizenship process

USCIS will likely look for these issues, so it’s a good idea to talk with an experienced immigration lawyer to review a case before filing.

How does getting divorced change the citizenship process?

There are a few important changes that can happen once someone has gotten divorced. For citizenship cases, USCIS wants to document the person’s marital status. For that reason, USCIS will typically require an original or certified divorce as part of the case.

USCIS reviews cases involving divorce for signs of marriage fraud

USCIS may screen cases of divorce more carefully. This is especially true where the applicant divorces from the person who petitioned for him or her. USCIS just wants to confirm that the marriage was valid. This comes up directly on the form N-400, and the officer will ask about all marriages, children, and whether any marriage was entered into for immigration purposes. This question is referring to marriage fraud, not whether the person intended to file some kind of immigration application when they got married.

People granted a two-year conditional residency must file to remove the conditions

If someone received a conditional residency (valid for two years), they must also make sure to file and complete the process. In most cases, you cannot become a citizen if you did not file the petition to remove conditions on the residency – but not all residents are subject to these conditions. Sometimes, people can file the petition to remove conditions and then file for naturalization while that process is pending. This is fine, so long as USCIS makes a decision on the petition before approving the naturalization application. They should do this automatically during the interview, but sometimes cases are not handled correctly.

Getting divorced can change the required amount of time to file for citizenship

The period of time that the applicant must wait before filing for naturalization also can change when the person has divorced. Spouses of US Citizens can often file after three years of residency rather than five. But it’s important to review the correct filing date for naturalization applications carefully.