Winning big prizes from Publishers Clearing House generally involves a drawn-out series of mailed tasks — filling out forms, sending in “Almost a Winner” cards — in a process lasting weeks. Sure, you may already be a winner of the Grand Prize, but do not count your cash before the Prize Patrol appears. The same goes for getting a green card.

Achieving Citizenship Through Marriage

While most immigrants to the United States seek legitimate opportunities and certainly many find true romance, some unscrupulous immigrants hope to marry American men, snag their Green Cards, and then divorce them. They plan to remain in the United States as permanent residents, but unattached to the men who made it all possible.

If your wife has submitted an application for a Green Card (meaning, she seeks permission from the federal government to become a permanent resident and can live and work in the United States), she may be tempted to rush to divorce you.

Too bad for her if her timing is even slightly off. She can apply for her Green Card (Form I-485), but until she is approved for permanent residency, divorce from you — a U.S. citizen — will stop her immigration process. She can even be deported.

Part of the problem is the Green Card itself, which comes in two varieties:

  1. A Two-year Conditional Green Card
  2. A 10-year Green Card

Some immigrants make the mistake of allowing the calendar to run out on the two-year Green Card without making an application to remove conditions on residence (Form I-751). If that happens, your wife (married to you or not) could be deported.

But Oh, How Time Flies

Since the process for applying for and receiving a marriage-based Green Card can be anywhere from nine months to three years, your immigrant spouse may be secretly marking the calendar.

The United States government assumes your wife married you out of love and hopes for a bright future, not as a scheme to sneak into our country. She must have married you in good faith, which you and she can prove to immigration authorities with evidence such as these documents:

  • Both your names appearing on a joint lease
  • Statements of your joint bank account
  • Flashing your jointly owned credit cards
  • Automobile, homeowners, and health insurance policies indicating coverage for both of you

In short, you need to show the same romantic and practical entanglements from which you need to extricate yourselves in divorce.

If your wife has her Green Card already, she can divorce you without a change to her immigration status, but her application for naturalization will be delayed. Instead of waiting only three years, she will need to wait five years. That is a very minor penalty for her to bear, since no other legal consequences result from her decision to divorce you.

Can I Prevent My Immigrant Wife from Divorcing Me?

Strictly from an immigration and naturalization perspective, you cannot do very much to prevent your Green Card-clutching wife from divorcing you. From a financial perspective, however, you can lay out a few harsh realities to her:

  • Her case to divorce you based on fault grounds will be very hard to prove, especially if you were the active partner to take measures to ensure her safe immigration into the United States
  • If she proceeds with a no-fault divorce and you contest it, she needs some other income stream to pay for the divorce; contested divorces cost considerably more than uncontested divorces
  • She could face an uphill battle from you and your family law attorney in trying to gain anything close to 50 percent of the marital assets, since the marriage is so young; judges look distrustfully at quickie marriages and quickie divorces
  • She could be saddled with up to half of the marital debts; add to that her costs to find housing and independent transportation and she could be in very dire financial straits

Disagreeable as it sounds, you may have a financial hold over her that means she must remain married to you. If you are wise and not vindictive, you can use that time to rekindle the romance. Invite her to marriage counseling. Help her widen her circle of friends. Invite her family members to visit. Show her you want to work to save your marriage.

Separation from Your Immigrant Wife

If all else fails, you can suggest a separation. In Virginia, separation carries no legal significance other than to set the clock winding down to divorce. It does, however, give her some mental and emotional space to sort things out.

You remain married. Her Green Card remains in effect. You use the time of separation to soul-search and work toward either rebuilding the marriage or facing the reality that divorce is inevitable.

Throughout it all, your strongest ally is your family law attorney. You can seek wise counsel regarding immigration status, separation and divorce options, and alternatives to contested divorce.

Your wife needs to decide: is winning the Grand Prize getting the Green Card, or getting a happy, healthy marriage?

The Firm For Men is here to help Virginia’s men deal with all aspects of family law, from complicated divorces to military pension-sharing and more. Contact us today to see how we can help you navigate successfully through the murky waters of marriage and immigration issues.