How US Immigration Laws Define Legally Valid Marriage


If your spouse is a US citizen or a permanent resident and you plan to apply for a marriage-based green card or visa, make sure that your marriage fulfils the following criteria:

  • You are legally married to your spouse
  • Both of you are in a bona fide marriage
  • Your spouse is a lawful permanent resident or citizen in the USA
  • None of you is married to someone else.

What are the requirements for a legal marriage?

The primary condition to be eligible for a marriage-based green card or visa is you and your spouse are legally married. A legal marriage refers to the one officially recognized by the US government or the state where your marriage took place. It usually implies that you have an official record of your marriage or you can obtain your marriage certificate from some public office.

If you are a gay or lesbian, you should know that same-sex marriage is no longer a taboo and even makes the basis for immigration purposes from 2013. The US Supreme Court has already authorized same-sex marriages. However, a same-sex marriage must happen in a country that recognizes such marriages legally.

Domestic Partnerships refer to a situation when the live-in couples are yet to formalize their relationship. However, if you and your partner have lived together in a country or a state where common law marriages are recognized, you might prove that you fulfilled the stringent requirements for legally recognized marriage in the country. Consulting a lawyer at Goldstein Immigration Lawyers will be of great help in such a situation.

Keep in mind that the US immigration laws don’t require you to get married in the country for your marriage to be legally recognized by the same. Your marriage might take place in your home country or anywhere and the only acceptable requirement is the marriage needs to be legally recognized wherever you get married. The US immigration laws recognize a wide variety of marriage procedures from traditional church weddings to tribal practices.

Remember that both of you must have officially attended your marriage ceremony. The US government does not recognize “Proxy’ marriages that have another person acting as a bride or groom unless the couples consummate their marriage later.

If you are yet to marry, check if you qualify for it. The Federal or State Government where you want to marry might may impose legal restrictions on who you can marry. Each state in the USA has its own marriage rules. Some states require you to attain the age of 18 to marry whereas others permit you to marry even if you are younger, provided you have your parents’ consent.

If you have blood relationship with your spouse, it’s important to do some research. All the states in the USA strictly prohibit anyone from marrying one’s sibling, half-sibling, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece. Some states impose additional restrictions that make marrying your first cousin strictly prohibited.

The long and short of the write-up is you should obtain a document to prove that your marriage is legally recognized in the country where you got married. The US immigration authorities will accept only a formal marriage certificate from a legitimate government agency.