I often get the question: how long do you have to wait after you first get your green card before you leave your US citizen spouse if you know it’s not working out? First of all, there’s no magic number but if you leave in the first six months, it does look really suspicious that you married your spouse for immigration purposes, not love or other reasons (some people marry for financial and companionship reasons, hey, it’s allowed as long as achieving an immigration benefit is not the main reason for the marriage).
It’s a matter of discretion and credibility based on the documents you provide which may even include a statement from you explaining the early break-up. The officer reviewing the petition will be looking for joint documents that give evidence of accounts in both of your names that are active and remain active before and after your green card interview. The longer those are open the better. Don’t just have a joint bank account for the hell of it, though. CIS is looking for commingling of assets; that means, you deposit your salary or paycheck intot the joint account, not just $100 a month so you can say you have a joint account. CIS is looking for typical documents they believe a married couple should have (caveat, CIS is still stuck in the mentality of the 1950s that married couples do share all costs and tangle assets; the harder cases are those of the independent modern couple that has their separate accounts; but it can be done.).
But, let’s say you stick it out and file the petition to release the condition on residency with your spouse and then split up right away or file for divorce the minute it’s approved. If you ever apply for citizenship, that could come back to haunt you. The citizenship officer will know when you got divorced because it’s stated on your naturalization application. Again, life happens, and true relationships can deteriorate quickly but you’re going to have to document and explain the dates so be careful. If your marriage is really falling apart (whether abusive or just because of “irreconcilable differences”), you may be better off filing a waiver based on abuse or showing you were in a bona fide marriage that you entered into in good faith and make your case. Trying to pull a fast one on CIS by staying together on paper could hurt you if you file together and your spouse refuses to show up for the interview if another interview is scheduled!
So, to make a long answer, well … long, there’s no perfect time to split up; it all depends on your case and what your story is and how believable you are if push comes to shove and you have to appear for an interview. As always, talk to an attorney who can look over the documents you do have and who can assess your options (waiver or joint filing). Good luck.
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 www.humanrightsattorney.com
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