- Validity of Marriages in the United States or Abroad
Validity of Marriage for Immigration Purposes
The applicant must establish validity of his or her marriage. In general, the legal validity of a marriage is determined by the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated (“place-of-celebration rule”). Under this rule, a marriage is valid for immigration purposes in cases where the marriage is valid under the law of the jurisdiction in which it is performed. 
In all cases, the burden is on the applicant to establish that he or she has a valid marriage with his or her U.S. citizen spouse for the required period of time.  In most cases, a marriage certificate is prima facie evidence that the marriage was properly and legally performed.
USCIS does not recognize the following relationships as marriages, even if valid in the place of celebration:
- Polygamous marriages; 
- Certain marriages that violate the strong public policy of the state of residence of the couple; 
- Civil unions, domestic partnerships, or other such relationships not recognized as marriages in the place of celebration; 
- Relationships where one party is not present during the marriage ceremony (proxy marriages) unless the marriage has been consummated;  or
- Relationships entered into for purposes of evading immigration laws of the United States. 
Validity of Marriage Between Two Persons of the Same Sex
In June 2013, the Supreme Court held that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had limited the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to opposite-sex marriages for purposes of all federal laws, was unconstitutional.  In accordance with the Supreme Court decision, USCIS determines the validity of a same-sex marriage by the place-of-celebration rule, just as USCIS applies this rule to determine the validity of an opposite-sex marriage. 
Therefore, in cases of marriage between persons of the same sex, officers will review the laws of the jurisdiction in which the marriage took place to determine if the jurisdiction recognizes same-sex marriages and the marriage otherwise is legally valid.
Since the place-of-celebration rule governs same-sex marriages in exactly the same way that it governs opposite-sex marriages, unless the marriage is polygamous or otherwise falls within an exception to the place-of-celebration rule as discussed above, the legal validity of a same-sex marriage is determined exclusively by the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated.
If the same-sex couple now resides in a jurisdiction different from the one in which they celebrated their marriage, and that jurisdiction does not recognize same-sex marriages, the officer will look to the law of the state where the marriage was celebrated in order to determine the validity of the marriage. The domicile state’s laws and policies on same-sex marriages will not affect whether USCIS will recognize a marriage as valid.
Validity of Marriage in Cases Involving Transgender Persons
USCIS accepts the validity of a marriage in cases involving transgender persons if the state or local jurisdiction in which the marriage took place recognizes the marriage as a valid marriage, subject to the exceptions described above (such as polygamy). 
- Validity of Foreign Divorces and Subsequent Remarriages
The validity of a divorce abroad depends on the interpretation of the divorce laws of the foreign country that granted the divorce and the reciprocity laws in the state of the United States where the applicant remarried.  If the divorce is not final under the foreign law, remarriage to a U.S. citizen is not valid for immigration purposes. 
An officer should ensure that the court issuing the divorce had jurisdiction to do so.  Foreign divorce laws may allow for a final decree even when the applicants are not residing in the country. Some states, however, do not recognize these foreign divorces and do not provide reciprocity. The applicant and his or her former spouse’s place of domicile at the time of the divorce is important in determining whether the court had jurisdiction.
The burden is on the applicant to establish that he or she is in a valid marriage with his or her U.S. citizen spouse for the required period of time.  A spouse of a U.S. citizen must submit with the naturalization application an official civil record to establish that the marriage is legal and valid. If an official civil record cannot be produced, secondary evidence may be accepted on a case-by-case basis. An officer has the right to request an original record if there is doubt as to the authenticity of the record. 
- Common Law Marriage
The concept of common law marriage presupposes an honest good-faith intention on the part of two persons, free to marry, to live together as husband and wife from the inception of the relationship. Some states recognize common law marriages and consider the parties to be married.  In order for a common law marriage to be valid for immigration purposes:
- The parties must live in that jurisdiction; and
- The parties must meet the qualifications for common law marriage for that jurisdiction.
Other states may recognize a common law marriage contracted in another state even if the recognizing state does not accept common law marriage as a means for its own residents to contract marriage.
USCIS recognizes common law marriages for purposes of naturalization if the marriage was valid and recognized by the state in which the marriage was established.  This applies even if the naturalization application is filed in a jurisdiction that does not recognize or has never recognized the principle of common law marriage.
The officer should review the laws of the relevant jurisdiction on common law marriages to determine whether the applicant and spouse should be considered to be married for purposes of naturalization and when the marriage commenced.
- U.S. Citizenship from Time of Filing until Oath
In order to take advantage of the special naturalization provisions for spouses of U.S. citizens, the applicant’s spouse must be and remain a U.S. citizen from the time of filing until the time the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance. An applicant is ineligible for naturalization under these provisions if his or her spouse is not a U.S. citizen or loses U.S. citizenship status by denaturalization or expatriation prior to the applicant taking the Oath of Allegiance. 
- Marital Union and Living in Marital Union
- Married and Living in Marital Union
In general, all naturalization applicants filing on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen must be the spouse of a U.S. citizen from the time of filing the Application for Naturalization until the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance. In addition, some spousal naturalization provisions require that the applicant “live in marital union” with his or her citizen spouse prior to filing the Application for Naturalization.  USCIS considers an applicant to “live in marital union” with his or her citizen spouse if the applicant and the citizen actually reside together.
An applicant under the special provisions for spouses is ineligible for naturalization if:
- The applicant is not residing with his or her United States citizen spouse at the time of filing or during the time in which the applicant is required to be living in marital union with the citizen spouse; or
- If at any time prior to taking the Oath of Allegiance, the spousal relationship is terminated or altered to such an extent that neither the applicant nor the United States citizen spouse can be considered to be residing together as husband and wife.
There are limited circumstances where an applicant may be able to establish that he or she is living in marital union with his or her citizen spouse even though the applicant does not actually reside with the citizen spouse. 
In all cases where it is applicable, the burden is on the applicant to establish that he or she has lived in marital union with his or her U.S. citizen spouse for the required period of time. 
- Loss of Marital Union due to Death, Divorce, or Expatriation
Death of U.S. Citizen Spouse
An applicant is ineligible to naturalize as the spouse of a U.S. citizen if the U.S. citizen dies any time prior to the applicant taking the Oath of Allegiance.  However, if the applicant is the surviving spouse of a U.S. citizen who died during a period of honorable service in an active-duty status in the U.S. armed forces, the applicant may be eligible for naturalization based on his or her marriage under a special provision. 
Divorce or Annulment
A person’s marital status may be terminated by a judicial divorce or by an annulment. A divorce or annulment breaks the marital relationship. The applicant is no longer the spouse of a U.S. citizen if the marriage is terminated by a divorce or annulment. Accordingly, such an applicant is ineligible to naturalize as the spouse of a U.S. citizen if the divorce or annulment occurs before or after the naturalization application is filed. 
The result of annulment is to declare a marriage null and void from its inception. An annulment is usually retroactive, meaning that the marriage is considered to be invalid from the beginning. A court’s jurisdiction to grant an annulment is set forth in the various divorce statutes and generally requires residence or domicile of the parties in that jurisdiction. When a marriage has been annulled, it is documented by a court order or decree.
In contrast, the effect of a judicial divorce is to terminate the status as of the date on which the court entered the final decree of divorce. When a marriage is terminated by divorce, the termination is entered by the court with jurisdiction and is documented by a copy of the final divorce decree. USCIS determines the validity of a divorce by examining whether the state or country which granted the divorce properly assumed jurisdiction over the divorce proceeding.  USCIS also determines whether the parties followed the proper legal formalities required by the state or country in which the divorce was obtained to determine if the divorce is legally binding.  In all cases, the divorce must be final.
An applicant’s ineligibility for naturalization as the spouse of a U.S. citizen due to the death of the citizen spouse or to divorce is not cured by the subsequent marriage to another U.S. citizen.
Expatriation of U.S. Citizen Spouse
An applicant is ineligible to naturalize as the spouse of a U.S. citizen if the U.S. citizen has expatriated any time prior to the applicant taking the Oath of Allegiance for naturalization. 
- Failure to be Living in Marital Union due to Separation
A legal separation is a formal process by which the rights of a married couple are altered by a judicial decree but without eliminating the marital relationship.  In most cases, after a legal separation, the applicant will no longer be actually residing with his or her U.S. citizen spouse, and therefore will not be living in marital union with the U.S. citizen spouse.
However, if the applicant and the U.S. citizen spouse continue to reside in the same household, the marital relationship has been altered to such an extent by the legal separation that they will not be considered to be living together in marital union.
Accordingly, an applicant is not living in marital union with a U.S. citizen spouse during any period of time in which the spouses are legally separated.  An applicant who is legally separated from his or her spouse during the time period in which he or she must be living in marital union is ineligible to naturalize as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
In many instances, spouses will separate without obtaining a judicial order altering the marital relationship or formalizing the separation. An applicant who is no longer actually residing with his or her U.S. citizen spouse following an informal separation is not living in marital union with the U.S. citizen spouse.
However, if the U.S. citizen spouse and the applicant continue to reside in the same household, an officer must determine on a case-by-case basis whether an informal separation before the filing of the naturalization application renders an applicant ineligible for naturalization as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.  Under these circumstances, an applicant is not living in marital union with a U.S. citizen spouse during any period of time in which the spouses are informally separated if such separation suggests the possibility of marital disunity.
Factors to consider in making this determination may include:
- The length of separation;
- Whether the applicant and his or her spouse continue to support each other and their children (if any) during the separation;
- Whether the spouses intend to separate permanently; and
- Whether either spouse becomes involved in a relationship with others during the separation. 
Under very limited circumstances and where there is no indication of marital disunity, an applicant may be able to establish that he or she is living in marital union with his or her U.S. citizen spouse even though the applicant does not actually reside with citizen spouse. An applicant is not made ineligible for naturalization for not living in marital union if the separation is due to circumstances beyond his or her control, such as: 
- Service in the U.S. armed forces; or
- Required travel or relocation for employment.
USCIS does not consider incarceration during the time of required living in marital union to be an involuntary separation.