Family-based immigration is one of the more popular pathways to legal residence in the United States. It is important to understand how family law actions may affect immigration status. Marriage to a US citizen potentially creates an opportunity for a noncitizen to achieve residence. The marriage must first be valid under state law as with any other marriage, but also must pass the criteria of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Marriage fraud, marriage for the sole purpose of obtaining residence, is a serious concern. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) will make inquiries into whether there is a bona fide marriage. Additionally, permanent residence is not an option unless the parties have been married for at least two years.

Just as marriage creates an opportunity for residence, divorce can end eligibility for immigration benefits. This is particularly true if the divorce or legal separation occurs prior to the spousal visa being finalized. Divorce may also draw the attention of the CIS to ensure the marriage was bona fide in the first place. Federal law governs how the immigration process works whereas family law is governed by state law. Additionally, family law actions do not require any type of legal US citizenship by the parties. Instead, sufficient residency within the jurisdiction of the local court is generally all that is required for anyone to bring a family law action.

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