Questions Related to Marriage

This is the first of many weekly (or likely more often) updates on all things citizenship!  My goal is to send out information on interesting cases, new discoveries, practice tips, and other knowledge and wisdom we learn along the way.  This week happened to raise a few interesting questions related to marriage.


  1. Exemption for Battery/Extreme Cruelty
    1. One of the partners raised a question about whether an applicant is able to apply after 3 years based on her marriage to a USC, even if she is not currently living with her spouse due to domestic violence.  These applicants are exempt from the requirement of living in a marital union with their USC spouse for the 3 years before filing the application.  This means that if an applicant is no longer living with their USC spouse due to domestic violence, they are still eligible to apply after 3 years so long as they are still married.  Applicants must still meet all other eligibility requirements for naturalization.
      1. USCIS Policy Manual (Vol. 12, Part G, Chapter 3, Section F)
Exception to Marital Union ​and U.S. Citizenship ​Requirement​s​ for Spouses​: A person who was a spouse subjected to battering or extreme cruelty by their citizen spouse is exempt from the ​following ​naturalization requirement​s​:​​
  • L​iving in marital union with the citizen spouse for at least three years at the time of filing the naturalization application​; and​​
  • U.S. citizen​ship status of applicant’s spouse​from the time of filing until the time the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance.​​ 

The spouse must meet all other eligibility requirements for naturalization on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen.​


  1. Common Law Marriage
    1. This is extremely rare, since many countries do not recognize common law marriage but helpful if you are ever faced with this scenario.
      1. Common law marriage:  an honest good-faith intention on the part of two people,​ who are not already married, to live together as husband and wife without any formal recognition by a government entity and/or clergy
      2. For more information: USCIS Policy Manual (Vol. 12, Part G, Chapter 2, Section B)
    2. An applicant was married by common law in a country that recognized common law marriage at the time.  After the applicant came to the United States, the country changed its laws to say that any common law marriage before a certain date would be void if the couples did not register with the government.  The applicant never registered the marriage and later got married in the United States.  The question was whether the applicant should say that he had been married twice on his citizenship application.
    3. Practice Tips on the N-400
      1. Part 9, Question 3: Even though the first marriage is now void, the applicant should disclose the marriage because it was valid at the time that it occurred.  He should list that he was married twice.
      2. Part 9, Question 9H: Since the first marriage did not end by death or divorce, the applicant should mark “Other” and explain that the marriage was voided by the government.
  • Part 11, Question 30D: So long as the applicant remarried after the first marriage was considered void, he does not encounter any issues with bigamy.


  1. VAWA Applicants
    1. Applicants who received their green card through VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) are eligible to apply for naturalization after 3 years.  It does not matter if the applicant is still residing with the USC spouse, or even if they are still married to the USC spouse.


For more information: USCIS Policy Manual (Vol. 12, Part G, Chapter 3, Section F)