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Defining marriage under immigration law

If bringing your spouse to the United States is a goal for you, you may already be working with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain a green card for him or her. This must mean that you also have lawful permanent residence status or that you are a U.S. citizen, through either birth or naturalization. However, since family visas are among the most commonly abused by those who commit fraud to obtain residency in the U.S., they are also among the most carefully scrutinized by immigration officials.

Because of this, you will want to ensure that you have every possible advantage when beginning the process of seeking a visa for your spouse. However, before you even begin gathering the documentation you need, the first thing you must do is to determine whether your marriage is valid under the U.S. immigration laws.

Is your marriage valid?

You may be aware that many people across the globe have varying interpretations of what a marriage is. The validity of such a union does not always relate to the elaborateness of the ceremony, and what one country may accept as a valid marriage may not correspond with the laws of the United States. Some guidelines for determining if your marital relationship is valid under U.S. law include the following:

  • Is your marriage legal? If the country where you married accepts your marriage as lawful, the U.S. will also accept it with the exception of marriages between family members.
  • Are you and your spouse legally married only to each other? The U.S. does not recognize plural marriages even if additional spouses live in another country.
  • Is your marriage real? If USCIS agents determine that you are married solely for the purpose of gaining a green card for your spouse, you may face serious legal consequences.

You and your spouse may be in a common law marriage, where you have lived as spouses for years but did not have a ceremony to formalize your union. If this is the case and your spouse's home country recognizes common law marriages as valid, you may find the U.S. considers your marriage acceptable for the purpose of obtaining a green card.

Other factors may complicate your efforts to obtain lawful permanent residency for your spouse. Immigration laws are complex, and a small mistake in your application process can delay your case indefinitely. For this reason, many couples seek the assistance of a Texas immigration attorney who can guide them through the process of obtaining a family-based visa.

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