What happens if I divorce after the approval of the joint petition to remove the condition (I-751) on my green card?
A client whom we represented for the green card and the joint petition on removal of the condition on the green card, contacted us to tell us that he wished to divorce his U.S. citizen wife and asked us what affect the divorce would have on his green card.
The good news for this client is that once he has the “permanent” permanent residence or ten year green card that a divorce by itself should have no impact on his green card.
However, if he goes forward and applies for U.S. citizenship, the divorce may raise some questions that require careful planning and preparation. First, the citizenship application cannot be filed until five years after the grant of the initial conditional green card, instead of three years when the marriage is continuing and the couple continues to reside together.
Second, some USCIS examiners are very suspicious in naturalization cases where the green card was based upon marriage that ended in divorce, even if the marriage was still in effect at the time of removing the joint petition. They may start to dig into the “bona fides” of the marriage, even though these have already been proven. We have seen cases where the examiner wanted to contact the US citizen spouse to verify the bona fides, for example proof of joint residence and of jointly filed tax returns.
Our advice to divorced naturalization applicants is to reach out, wherever possible, to the ex-spouse and obtain a statement re: the relationship. If that is not possible, we advise clients to go into the interview fully prepared to prove the bona fides of the marriage that gave rise to the green card. This would include objective evidence of having lived openly together as a married couple. In some cases, affidavits from close family members or friends who can attest to those bona fides and the applicant’s good moral character may be appropriate.
Regarding the moral character issue, divorce seems to trigger doubts for some examiners, even though moral character and divorce have been uncoupled as concepts for the past fifty years or more. Thus, the safe approach would be to bring additional evidence of good moral character to reassure the examiner, such as a letter verifying employment, volunteer work, church attendance, etc.
With the right preparation and plenty of evidence, the naturalization examiner should be reassured re: both the marriage and good moral character. The applicant, will, of course have to prove all of the other requirements for U.S. citizenship.