What counts as a valid marriage for citizenship applications?

If you are married to a U.S. citizen, it may fast-track your citizenship process. People who are married to American citizens may receive their citizenship as early as three years instead of five. Americans often develop relationships overseas or while at home that do not meet the requirements of a valid marriage. It is important to know what kind of marriage USCIS supports before applying.

According to USCIS, you must establish the validity of your marriage. In most instances, the agency considers marriage validity based on the jurisdiction it occurred in. This means that even though some forms of marriage are not valid in America, they may be valid if performed in another country or culture where that type of marriage is legal and established. In most cases, you may need to present a marriage certificate.

That said, there are some types of marriages that USCIS does not recognize. This is irrespective of any validity where these marriages were performed or established. Here are the main ones to keep in mind:

  • Domestic partnerships, civil unions and other types of marriages not considered valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage occurred
  • Marriages that violate the existing public policies of where the couple lives
  • Relationships entered into in an attempt to evade U.S. immigration laws
  • Proxy marriages that have not been consummated
  • Polygamous marriages

Some people may wonder about the validity of common-law marriages, where a man and woman live together as man and wife without the ceremony. Some states do recognize common law marriages while others do not. To meet the requirements for validity, spouses need to live in the jurisdiction where common-law marriages are considered valid.

Immigrants may also wonder what happens to their application if they get separated or divorced. Will USCIS still count the marriage as valid for citizenship purposes if they at least met the three-year requirement? This is decided on a case-by-case basis and may depend on the opinion of the case officer.

This article shares information on the validity of marriages for citizenship purposes. It should not be used as or in place of legal advice.