U.S. Law Center

Determining the validity of a marriage for immigration purposes

When a foreign born resident of California wants to become a United States citizen through a marriage-based visa, the success of the petition is contingent on the validity of the marriage. Marriages differ around the world, and even across the country, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services accepts some, but not all of these unions on applications for naturalization. USCIS guidelines list the types of marriages that may be considered valid or unacceptable, and the circumstances that define them to help couples determine if the immigrant spouse may become a citizen.

For example, USCIS does not recognize polygamous and incestuous marriages, since these are not legal. Also illegal are proxy marriages, which are ceremonies performed with only one spouse present. USCIS will sometimes make an exception if the spouses have consummated the marriage. Additionally, the laws of the location, where the marriage took place, are primary factors in determining its validity. Unions that violate California public policy will not be recognized, even if they are considered a valid marriage in the jurisdiction where they took place. Marriages that do meet the state's definition of a legal marriage include the following:

  •          Same-sex marriage
  •          Common law marriage
  •          Civil unions
  •          Marriages with transgender persons

If the marriage between a U.S. citizen and an applicant ends in death or divorce after the Oath of Allegiance is taken, the applicant may not marry another person to qualify for naturalization. A marriage is considered fraudulent if it takes place with the intent to evade immigration laws.

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