Written by attorney Mani Khavajian

How to divorce your abusive U.S. citizen husband or wife without fear of deportation.

What are my rights if I am an immigrant married to an abusive United States (U.S.) citizen?

The answer to this question depends on whether you are a U.S. citizen or national, or Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder), a Conditional Permanent Resident, or have some other immigration status such as a foreign student or visitor.

What can I do if I am in the U.S. without permission or have some other immigration status?

If you are in the U.S. without permission, or have some other immigration status, like a foreign student or visitor, and have been abused by U.S. citizen or LPR spouse, you may be able to obtain LPR status without the cooperation of your abuser under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In addition, you children also get to join you application for this visa. Generally, to qualify for a VAWA visa you must prove the following:

  • That you and the abuser had a bona-fide (real) marriage or that you divorced the abuser within the past two years because of the physical abuse or extreme mental cruelty.

  • That you were the victim of domestic violence.

What can I do if I am a Conditional Permanent Resident?

If you are a Conditional Permanent Resident (CPR) you do not have to remain married to your spouse. You can still become an LPR even if you are divorced or separated from your spouse. If you still live with your abusive spouse you do not need their cooperation to obtain LPR status.

To obtain LPR status you must file a petition, form I-751, with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ninety days prior to the expiration of your two-year card. If you have already divorced your spouse, you may file Form I-751 as soon as you are divorced. If you are filing Form I-751 without the cooperation your abusive spouse , you must file under one of the following categories:

  • The marriage was entered into in good faith, but was terminated for good cause.

  • The marriage was entered into in good faith, but you have been the victim of domestic violence or extreme mental cruelty.

  • It would be an extreme hardship for you to return to your native country.

What can I do if I am a Legal Permanent Resident?

If you are a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), you can divorce or leave your spouse without fear of immigration consequences. You should keep documents show the marriage was bona-fide (real) and evidence of the abuse such as police reports and pictures, if you intend to stay in the U.S. and become a U.S. citizen.

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