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How separation may affect your green card status

Some immigrants to the United States seek residency by marrying someone who already has residency status in the country. This can work well for happy couples, but sometimes a marriage starts to fall apart. While couples with marital problems may head to divorce court, there are times when the couple chooses to legally separate instead.

Problems may arise if an immigrant divorces before receiving a green card. Some immigrants apply for green cards on condition of being the dependent of an existing immigrant or a citizen, or on being a conditional resident. This may make some immigrants nervous if they legally separate from a spouse before acquiring their own green card.

The difference between separation and divorce

As FindLaw explains, a separation is not the same as divorce. A divorce dissolves a married relationship, meaning that all the rights and benefits the couple enjoyed are no longer in effect. However, a separated couple still retains marital benefits. They simply are no longer living together. A separation allows a couple to work through financial or personal matters that harm the marriage. Some separated couples do reconcile, end the separation, and avoid divorce.

How the U.S. government views separation

It is important to know that separation laws do vary across the states. What California law has to say about separation is not the same as in some other states. This can have an impact on the green card status of someone who chooses to separate. According to STILT, the issue is whether separation ends a marriage or not.

For example, there are some states where a separation may lead into a legal divorce after a specific period of time. If separation does legally end a marriage, it can also end the application for a green card. Immigrants who face separation should understand the laws of their state concerning separation, as it may say a lot about how the U.S. government will interpret their marital status.