Divorcing Your Spouse as an Immigrant

When an immigrant divorces an American spouse, the divorced immigrant may get deported or retain their citizenship via exception clauses in the deportation rule. Deportation rule exceptions include good faith, extreme hardship, and domestic abuse.

Divorcing Your Spouse as an Immigrant

Generally, immigrants married to Americans get a special stay visa. This temporary resident waiver expires after two years. On the second anniversary, the immigrant is entitled to petition the immigration services seeking permanent citizenship. Throughout this stage, the immigrant undergoes a series of background checks to determine if they qualify for U.S. citizenship.

Divorcing in the first two years

If the divorce occurs within two years of marriage, the divorced immigrant faces possible deportation. If that happens, the immigrant has the right to file the I-751 citizenship petition. This petition explicitly removes the temporary marriage visa status. The I-751 petition seeks to find exceptions to the deportation orders.

Divorcing after two years

Typically, separations that occur this late in a marriage have little, if any, impact on the immigrant’s citizenship status. In other words, there’s little chance they will get deported as a direct result of the divorce outcome. After two years of marriage, the immigrant is highly likely to have obtained a green card. People with green cards are considered permanent U.S. residents.

However, divorcing after two years will delay the immigrant’s journey and the process of attaining U.S. citizenship. There is a three-year residency limit for immigrants with American spouses to acquire full U.S. citizenship. Immigrants who are not married or divorced have a five-year residency limit. That effectively implies that if the divorce took place after the second anniversary, the divorcee would have to wait a few more years to attain full citizenship.

Deportation Rule Exceptions


A divorced immigrant doesn’t automatically get shipped back to their native country following a divorce with a U.S. citizen. Sometimes, with the help of a seasoned immigration law attorney familiar with immigration laws, the immigrant gets a reprieve and is allowed to remain in the country (U.S.). These sacred exceptions come with a ton of strings attached, however. Here are some exceptions to the deportation rule for divorced immigrants.

Good Faith

The immigrant could be allowed to stay in the U.S. on the grounds of good faith. Here, the immigration law attorney needs to prove to the courts that the divorced immigrant came into the marriage for love’s sake, not U.S. citizenship status. The deportation defense must demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the divorced immigrant had all intent and purpose of staying married to their American spouse. Living together as a married couple, owning properties together, and having a child or children together may help show that the immigrant came into the marriage in good faith.

Extreme Hardship

For some immigrants, going back to their native countries would spell disaster. These immigrants either risk getting jailed upon returning to their countries or, worse, losing their lives. The U.S. immigration and citizenship agency provides deportation exceptions to such divorced immigrants.

Domestic Abuse Victims

If domestic abuse is the reason for filing for divorce, the immigrant may also qualify for an exception.

Immigrant’s Divorce and Others’ Immigration Rights


The divorce may trigger some ripple effects. It may have an impact on the visa applications of people sponsored by a divorced immigrant.

Immigrant’s Divorce and Child Custody

A divorce involving a U.S. citizen and an immigrant does not impact child custody rights. The court rules in the best interests of the child, regardless of the citizenship status.

Immigrant’s Divorce and Property Rights

Getting divorced doesn’t also impact the property division agreements. The disputed property gets divided under the state laws, not on a citizenship basis. Divorced immigrants should have immigration law attorneys on their side to ensure their rights are protected. It’ll also improve their chances of remaining in the country after divorcing a U.S. citizen. 

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