Proving a Bona Fide Marriage is Critical
Immigration law created the idea of conditional residence to prevent fraudulent or sham marriages. A sham marriage is when at least one of the parties of a marriage entered into the marriage for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws to falsely acquire immigration benefits. Fake marriages for the purposes of obtaining a green card can result in harsh penalties, including jail time and steep fines. A finding of fraud will also most likely eliminate the possibility of getting approved on future petitions and have un-waivable immigration consequences far into the future. This law obligates U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to scrutinize your application for permanent residence with a period of conditional residence to make sure your relationship is everything you said it was.
The burden of proof is on the couple to establish their bona fide marriage. Smart couples start preparing for the I-751 petition as soon as they get married. If you or your spouse recently became a conditional resident through marriage, you can begin building your case.
A well-prepared I-751 package will help with proving a bona fide marriage and avoid the I-751 interview.
Warning Signs There Isn’t a Bona Fide Marriage
According to the Adjudicators Field Manual (AFM), Section 21.3, a guide used by USCIS officers to make determinations on immigration cases, there are several factors that could be warning signs of possible marriage fraud. Some of these factors include:
- Large disparity of age;
- Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language;
- Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background;
- Family and/or friends unaware of the marriage;
- Marriage arranged by a third party;
- Marriage contracted immediately following the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States;
- Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge;
- No cohabitation since marriage (although there can be valid reasons);
- Beneficiary is a friend of the family;
- Petitioner filed previous petitions in behalf of aliens, especially alien spouses.
These factors alone do not mean that you don’t have a bona fide marriage. But if one of the above criteria applies to you, you should expect additional scrutiny and more questions from USCIS. For example, a large disparity in age is not a reason to deny your petition. But it is reason for USCIS to look for solid proof that you have a bona fide marriage.
Another example would be living separately from your spouse. Certain employment, particular military service, is a reasonable explanation for not living together in the same home. This can make it more difficult to prove a bona fide marriage.
Documents Used to Prove a Bona Fide Marriage
A marriage certificate proves the legality of a marriage, but it doesn’t prove that the marriage is genuine for the purposes of removing the conditions on residence. USCIS wants to confirm that both parties entered the marriage in “good faith” and not for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws. When filing Form I-751, you must also submit copies of as many documents as you can to establish this fact and to demonstrate the circumstances of the relationship from the date of marriage to the present date. The documents can include but are not be limited to the following examples:
Evidence of Cohabitation
Generally, a married couple will live together. Although cohabitation is not always the case, it’s an indicator and good evidence to establish the couple has a bona fide marriage. The following are examples of acceptable documents to be used as evidence of cohabitation:
- Deed to property showing both names
- Mortgage or loan documents showing both names
- Lease agreement showing both names
- Driver’s licenses or IDs showing the same address
- Bank statements showing the same address
- Voided or cancelled checks showing the same address
- Utility bills showing the same address (electricity, water, gas, trash, cable, internet, cell phone, etc.)
- Property insurance agreements, statements, or cards showing the same address
- Health and life insurance statements showing the same address
- Correspondence from friends, family, or businesses showing the same address
- Affidavits from friends, family, neighbors, and landlords attesting to cohabitation
Evidence of Raising Children Together
Proof of a child born into the marriage is compelling evidence of a genuine marital relationship. But it’s not necessary that you had children born into the marriage or have any children at all. Adopted or step-children raised in the household may also help establish the bona fide marriage. The following are examples of acceptable documents to be used as evidence of raising children together:
- Birth certificates showing both spouses as parents
- Adoption certificates showing both spouses as parents
- Evidence of a relationship with children or step-children (photos, vacation itineraries, school records, affidavits from friends, family, and teachers)
- Medical records evidencing an ongoing pregnancy
- Evidence showing the non-related parent as an emergency contact for a step-child on school records, doctor’s records, etc.
Evidence of Commingling of Finances
Married couples will generally combine financial resources. This commingling of finances of finances is strong evidence of your good faith marriage. Even if you prefer to keep your finances separate, you may have some evidence of commingling that you may not realize. The following are examples of acceptable documents to be used as evidence of commingling of finances:
- Bank statements for joint checking, savings, and credit card accounts
- Voided and cancelled checks for joint accounts
- Statements for joint loans or loans where one spouse is a co-signor for the other spouse
- Copies of bank statements from separate accounts and cancelled checks showing that you share jointly in your financial responsibilities and big purchases (for example, if each spouse pays half of rent from a separate account or if each spouse paid one half toward the purchase of a car)
- Joint health, life, property, and auto insurance agreements, statements, and cards
- Utility bills showing both names (electricity, water, gas, trash, cable, internet, cell phone, etc.)
- Tax returns filed as married showing both names
- Documents showing joint ownership of real property, cars, or investments
- Life insurance policies, wills, and trusts, designating your spouse as a beneficiary
Evidence of Intimacy
In most cases, couples filing Form I-751 are new to marriage. They’re in the “honeymoon phase” and are probably enjoying life experiences together. There are probably plenty records to demonstrate this. The following are examples of acceptable documents to be used as evidence of intimacy:
- Photos from the couple’s wedding, honeymoon, vacations, family dinners, holidays, etc. (Recommendation: List the names of any other individuals in the photos as well as the approximate date and location.)
- Travel itineraries and hotel bookings from joint vacations or trips
- Photos from joint vacations or trips, particularly trips abroad to visit family members
- Tickets to events you both attended or plan to attend
- Receipts for any gifts you have purchased for each other
- Cards from friends and family congratulating you on your wedding, anniversary, or other joint life events
- Evidence that each spouse has met or communicated with the other spouse’s parents and relatives such as photos, letters, cards, or emails
- Phone and text message records showing that you and your spouse communicate on a regular basis
- Social media records such as screen shots of Facebook pages, posts and Twitter messages that show you spending life events together
Consider asking your friends, family, neighbors, and employers to attest to the genuineness of your marriage. Affidavits help to support other types of evidence listed above. You may supply affidavits sworn to or affirmed by people who have known both of you since your conditional residence was granted and have personal knowledge of your marriage and relationship. (Such persons may be required to testify before an immigration officer as to the information contained in the affidavit.) You must submit the original affidavit, and it must contain the following information regarding the person making the affidavit: his or her full name and address; date and place of birth; relationship to you or your spouse; and details explaining how the person acquired his or her knowledge. For more information, read
How to Write an I-751 Affidavit Letter of Support.
Although we’ve listed numerous examples of evidence to prove that you and your spouse have a bona fide marriage, don’t limit yourself to the above documents. Include any other documents that you consider relevant to establish that your marriage was not entered for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws. When collecting your own documents, think about the activities and obligations that a typical married couple will experience. If you can provide evidence of these life events experienced together, you help to build your case of a good faith marriage and a successful I-751 petition. Likewise, this list is not a guarantee that your case will be approved.