In this week’s FAQ Friday, Rebecca Wade, partner at Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Leischner, explains the legal implications surrounding non-citizen divorce in Virginia.

Wade says issues most often arise when a non-citizen is married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder and the non-citizen has obtained legal status through that marriage.

When a non-citizen marries a U.S. citizen, the U.S. citizen can petition for the non-citizen to obtain a 2-year provisional green card. At the end of those two years, in order to receive a permanent 10-year green card, the couple must prove to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the marriage still stands. If the couple is no longer together after those two years, they may not be issued the 10-year green card.

This can become a problem if the couple decides to get a divorce. Wade explains that Virginia requires a period of separation in order to file for divorce and that people sometimes claim they were separated earlier than they really were to expedite the divorce process. In this case, when the government reviews the divorce decree and sees that the couple was separated when they were issued their 10-year green card, often the non-citizen either:

  • Can’t receive a 10-year green card
  • Can’t renew their 10-year green card
  • Or has their application for citizenship denied

Additionally, either or both spouses could be charged with immigration fraud if they first told the government that they were married when they were issued the 10-year green card and then later claim to a divorce court that they were separated at that time.

Wade says that before filing for divorce, it’s imperative to consult an experienced attorney who understands the implications of the situation.