What is a Bona Fide Marriage in U.S. Immigration? - Family Immigration Services

What is a Bona Fide Marriage in U.S. Immigration?

You may be entitled to a U.S. green card through marriage – but in order to get one, you’ll have to show U.S. immigration officials that you’re in a bona fide marriage. That means you must prove that you’re in a genuine relationship with your spouse.

Proving it can be tougher than you think. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Bona Fide Marriage?

A bona fide marriage is a genuine marriage. You must be in a real relationship in order to gain any immigration benefits from the U.S. government, and you can rest assured that the government will check to ensure that your relationship is genuine. You cannot marry someone just to gain an immigration benefit; doing so is against the law, and it is grounds for deportation. If you’re caught in a fraudulent marriage, the U.S. government can have you removed from the country – and you may not be allowed to return, even if you have children or other family members here.

Related: The ultimate guide to green card marriage

Genuine Relationships Versus Marriages for Green Card Benefits

You must prove to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that you are in a genuine relationship in order to get a green card through marriage. U.S. immigration law says that the burden of proof is on the applicant – USCIS doesn’t automatically assume that your relationship is valid.

Why Do Some People Get Married for Immigration Purposes?

Some people make the mistake of getting married simply to gain immigration benefits, which is against the law. You are not allowed to marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident just so you can gain an immigration benefit – like a green card – because the law is very clear: You can, and will, be removed from the country. USCIS can even bar you from coming back in the future, even if you have a valid reason.

Unfortunately, when people marry simply to gain an immigration benefit, it becomes harder for people in genuine marriages to prove themselves to USCIS.

How To Prove a Bona Fide Marriage

It’s your responsibility to show USCIS that you’re engaged in a real relationship. There are several ways you can do so, and your green card lawyer can help you prepare. You’ll have to provide the U.S. government with specific documentation that shows your marriage is real, and in many cases, you’ll want to provide supplemental documentation as well.

If the USCIS official in charge of your case doesn’t believe that you’re in a bona fide marriage, all hope isn’t lost. You may be able to provide additional documentation that clarifies things. You may also be able to clear things up during your immigration interview with a USCIS official. Your attorney can give you case-specific advice in a situation like that.

Required Documentation for Your Application for a Green Card Through Marriage

Bona fide marriage - Family Immigration - Davis & AssociatesYou must include all the required proof with your I-130 package, which is your petition for a green card after your marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. If you fail to include strong evidence that proves you’re in a bona fide marriage, USCIS could deny your petition.

Generally, you should include:

  • Proof that you and your spouse live together
  • Proof that you and your spouse share your money
  • Proof that you and your spouse have children together
  • Other types of proof that show you’re in a real relationship rather than one you’re in just to gain immigration benefits

Here’s a closer look at each.

Proof That You Live Together

The USCIS official reviewing your petition will need to see proof that you and your spouse live together – that’s what the U.S. government expects from married couples.

Generally, you can show proof such as:

  • Your joint mortgage or lease document
  • Utility bills (or other bills) that show both of your names
  • A deed to property you own together
  • Driver’s licenses that show the same address
  • A homeowners’ insurance statement with both of your names on it

Bona fide marriage - Family Immigration in TexasSome types of evidence are stronger than others. For example, a joint mortgage document with both of your names on it will make a stronger case than an invitation to a party that’s addressed to both of you.

Supporting evidence that is not as strong, but can still be helpful include:

  • Letters from family members, friends or employers that are addressed to both of you

If you don’t live together, you will need to provide additional documentation, such as a letter that explains your living situation that you both sign. Sometimes this is necessary when one of you is attending school or working in another area. If that’s your situation, your attorney can advise you on what to write; you may need to include the date you plan to live together and proof that you visit each other whenever possible.

Proof That You and Your Spouse Share Money

The U.S. government expects you to combine your assets and liabilities – that is, the things you own (including money) and the things you owe money on. You can include the following documentation with your petition:

  • Joint bank statements with both of your names on them that are active and regularly used by both spouses
  • Titles and deeds for property you both own
  • Joint credit card statements, car insurance, health insurance or home insurance policies
  • Proof of filing taxes jointly as a married couple
  • Life insurance policies that list each other as primary beneficiaries
  • Joint investment accounts

Proof That You Share Children

Proving that you share children is generally easy. Your attorney will probably advise you to submit the following documentation with your petition if available:

  • Kids’ birth certificates
  • Adoption certificates
  • School records listing you both as emergency contacts for the children
  • Letters from medical providers that attest to a current pregnancy or fertility treatments if you don’t already have children
  • Family photos of you all together
  • DHS records showing the entire family in one household
  • Tax documents showing dependents on your joint return

Other Supplemental Proof of a Bona Fide Marriage

You may also wish to include other proof that you and your spouse are in a bona fide marriage. That’s because marriage is about more than money and living situations. Supplemental proof that can help show you are sharing a life together may include:

  • Joint travel itineraries and ticket receipts
  • Phone records that show you talk to each other frequently
  • Wedding photos and receipts from the ceremony’s vendors
  • Photos from parties and events you have attended together throughout the course of your relationship
  • Photos of both of you at each other’s extended family events such as a cousin’s wedding, an uncle’s golf outing, or a niece’s graduation
  • Receipts for gifts you’ve gotten each other
  • Documentation of advance planning arrangements for funerals including the purchase of side-by-side gravesites or memorial stones
  • Car insurance policies that list both spouses
  • Shared family plans such as a shared Xbox library, an Amazon Household listing both of you, a shared phone plan, or a Spotify Premium family plan.
  • Text messages and social media conversations

What Is Strong Evidence in Favor of a Bona Fide Marriage?

Some types of evidence are stronger than others. For example, a birth certificate is much stronger evidence than a photo you took together last week. Likewise, items like joint bank statements, your wills, and joint utility bills are more convincing evidence than birthday cards and letters from family members who say you’re engaged in a bona fide relationship.

You should submit the strongest evidence you have right from the beginning. That may help head off questions that USCIS may have about your relationship. Typically, the more evidence you can provide, the better off you will be.

What Types of Relationships Won’t USCIS Recognize As Bona Fide Marriages?

Regardless of whether a relationship is sincerely valid and not entered for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws, USCIS will not recognize certain relationships as marriages. For example, USCIS will not recognize polygamous marriages as valid. It is important to note though that a spouse that has been in a bigamous marriage in which they were the victim of domestic violence could potentially be eligible for naturalization.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships that are not recognized as marriages in the jurisdiction in which they took place are not recognized as bona fide marriages for immigration purposes. Unconsummated proxy marriages also do not qualify as bona fide marriages.

Some naturalization rules require couples to be “living in marital union.” Any “living in marital union” requirements will generally not be met if the couple is not actually living together for the entire duration of the required time period. Exceptions may be made if the reason they are not living together is due to involuntary separation like service in the U.S. armed forces or as a requirement of a spouse’s employment.

It should be noted that incarceration of one of the spouses is not considered an involuntary separation though, so a period of incarceration will be considered a period of not “living in marital union.”

Will the USCIS Recognize Same-Sex Marriages and Common Law Marriages As Bona Fide Marriages?

Due to a 2013 Supreme Court decision, USCIS will accept same-sex marriages as valid by using the same qualifications to determine a bona fide marriage as it would an opposite-sex marriage. What this means is that the reviewing officer will look at the laws of the jurisdiction where the marriage took place to determine if the marriage was a legal marriage where the ceremony took place. Similarly, USCIS accepts the validity of marriages involving transgender persons provided that the marriage was legal in the jurisdiction in which the ceremony took place.

For the purposes of naturalization, the USCIS may recognize common law marriages under certain circumstances. Importantly, the couple should live in the jurisdiction where the common law marriage was established. They must meet all the qualifications for common law marriages there. It is possible to qualify an established common law marriage as valid even if the naturalization application is filed in a jurisdiction where common law marriages are not recognized. In that situation, it is essential to seek legal counsel with an experienced immigration attorney to avoid being perceived as trying to evade immigration law.

What Happens If It Was Bona Fide Marriage, But the Spouse Died Before a Green Card Is Granted?

This can be a devastating situation for the surviving spouse. In order to obtain a green card, the marriage must be bona fide, meaning it was entered into for love and not just for the purposes of obtaining a green card. If the USCIS determines that the marriage was in fact bona fide, but the spouse has passed away before the green card is granted, the surviving spouse may still be eligible for a green card through the widow/widower visa. It is important to seek guidance from an immigration attorney in these difficult circumstances to navigate the process and ensure all necessary steps are taken to obtain lawful permanent residency.

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Proving a Bona Fide Marriage for Immigration Purposes?

If you need to speak with an attorney about a green card through marriage or about proving that you’re in a bona fide marriage, we may be able to help you. Call our office to schedule your free consultation with an experienced Dallas or Houston immigration attorney now.


About Davis & Associates:

Davis & Associates is the immigration law firm of choice in Houston & North Texas including Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, Frisco, McKinney and surrounding areas. Their attorneys provide expert legal counsel for all aspects of immigration law, including deportation defense, writs of habeas corpus and mandamus, family-sponsored immigration, employment-sponsored immigration, investment immigration, employer compliance, temporary visas for work and college, permanent residence, naturalization, consular visa processing, waivers, and appeals. Attorney Garry L. Davis is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Dallas Contact Info:                                                                                                                                                                                             
Address: 17750 Preston Road Dallas, TX 75252                          
Phone: (469)957-0508                                                                       

Houston Contact Info:                                                                                                                                                        Address: 6220 Westpark Dr, Suite 110, Houston, TX 77057

Phone: (832) 742-0066