The marriage between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner in the United States is not a very complicated procedure. However, it may appear daunting and complex, especially when adjustment of status application for one's green card is to follow, and all you want is to avoid delays or mistakes. Because the green card application is more costly and lengthy, getting married quickly and securing appropriate documentation confirming your marriage is of paramount importance.
Marriage Between a U.S. Citizen and a Foreigner Defined
Marriage is understood to be a legally recognized union of two persons as partners in a relationship. This is a union regardless of one’s nationality or passport, thus it is the same union between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner. Most marriages are being entered and recognized in accordance to the law of that state, in which marriage is taking place. Again, most states conduct and recognize marriages regardless of one’s nationality, thus a marriage between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner can be conducted and recognized by that particular state. And most marriages performed in one state are also recognized by all other states (exception is the same-sex marriage, see below), thus a marriage between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner performed in one state will most likely be recognized by other states. The U.S. Federal Government, including its immigration arm the USCIS, also recognizes the marriage performed by a state, allowing foreigner to pursue a green card through marriage. In short, a U.S. citizen can enter into a marriage with a foreigner in the United States as if that U.S. citizen would be marrying another U.S. citizen, and such marriage will be recognized by the state in which such marriage takes place, other states and the Federal Government of the United States, subject to such marriage meeting the legal requirements, as we describe below.
Legal Requirements for a Marriage Between a U.S. Citizen and a Foreigner in the United States
This provides a quick review of what is required in the U.S. for two persons to marry, including U.S. citizens and foreigners.
Very simple. Both parties to the marriage must enter such union at their own free will, meaning no force or coercion can be used to compel the marriage. And both parties must know and understand the nature and ramifications of such union, including financial responsibilities.
Most states define legally required age for the marriage to be 18. This age, accidentally, is the same age when people can legally agree to enter a marriage or demonstrate consent. There are states where such age is lower. For example, Mississippi defines the “consent age” to be 15 for men and 17 for women; Nebraska defines the consent age to be 17. Majority of states allow for parents to provide consent so that a couple can marry even if one or both members of the expected marriage are under 18. The states will recognize marriage of two 16 year-olds if they enter the marriage with parental consent.
Capacity is the legal concept in the U.S. addressing one’s mental ability to make sound decisions, including enter a marriage. Similar to understanding the nature of the union, each party to the marriage must be in healthy and stable mental state to fully comprehend what responsibilities they will have towards their partner.
Other Requirements or Limitations
Generally, U.S. states do not allow for marriage between immediate blood relatives. There are some exceptions, but most states require relatives to be at least third-cousin removed to be able to marry. For a U.S. citizen and a foreigner this scenario may be not very common. Separately, most states in the U.S. do not recognize multiple marriages (marriages to more than one partner), so if any of the couple members had been previously married, that marriage must had been legally dissolved or the previous partner passed away.
Same Sex Marriage Between a U.S. Citizen and a Foreigner in the United States
Many U.S. states don’t recognize marriages between the same sex couples and only acknowledge traditional marriages between a man and a woman. However, as of the August 2016, the following states recognize same sex marriages: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. And as of June 26, 2015, Federal Government also recognizes the same-sex marriages, thus granting same sex couples the same immigration privileges as man-woman couples enjoyed previously.
How Can a U.S. Citizen and a Foreigner Get Married in the United States?
The process varies between different states but the following steps are generally involved. And this is exactly the same process for a U.S. citizen to follow when marrying another U.S. citizen.
Only one state sill requires all women under 50 to submit blood test results confirming that she is rubella (measles) free. Such state is Montana.
Marriage License Application
Before a couple can get married, it has to apply for a permission or license to be married in that particular state. Most often this involves filling out an application form, filing it with the county clerk and paying a fee. The application requires each fiancé sign a statement, or affidavit, testifying to the fact that there are no legal hurdles to this marriage.
When the clerk files the application, he or she checks both members of the couple’s identifications to verify their age and personally assess their soundness of the mind. Because of that, most states require both couple members to be present when filing the application for the marriage license. And most states accept identifications documents issued by foreign governments, which means that states have the authority to marry U.S. citizens to foreigners and even perform a marriage between two foreigners.
The information supplied in the application is used to produce the couple’s marriage certificate and create a record with an appropriate state or county agency that keeps the marriage records. More importantly, the information from the application is used to verify that the couple meets all legal requirements of that state to be married.
Marriage License Fee
The fees vary by state and by county within the state. The most expensive marriage licenses may cost as much as $130 (in some counties in Wisconsin), while the cheapest ones may cost as little as $20-$25 (in some counties in Rhode Island). The cost of the marriage license to a U.S. citizen is exactly the same as to a foreigner.
Waiting Period Before the Marriage License is Issued
Some states don’t issue the marriage license immediately upon submission of the application. The rationale here is to make sure that the couple takes time to really think through the marriage commitment. Select states can make you wait as long as six days before the marriage license can be issued. Check with the state where you plan to get married. The wait period is the same for both if the marriage is between two U.S. citizens or between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner.
Waiting Period After the Marriage License is Issued
While most states don’t require it, select few mandate a waiting period after the marriage license is issued for a couple to get married. Again, the rationale here is to make sure the couple takes time to really think through the marriage commitment. States like Delaware, Illinois, New York (1 day), Maryland (2 days), Iowa, Louisiana, and Texas (3 days) have such waiting periods. Check with the state where you plan to get married. The wait period is the same for both if the marriage is between two U.S. citizens or between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner.
Marriage License Validity Period
With the exception of licenses issued in DC, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina, marriage licenses have expiration dates. Some have very short “fuse” of as little as 10 days (in Oklahoma) while others don’t expire for 6 months (Iowa, Kansas) or even a year (Arizona, Nevada). Check with the state where you plan to get married. The expiration date is the same for both if the marriage is between two U.S. citizens or between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner.
Wedding or Marriage Ceremony
Once the couple has a marriage license, it will have a choice whether to perform a civil or religious marriage ceremony. A civil ceremony can be performed by the state official (e.g., a city clerk or a judge) or by a marriage officiant registered to perform such weddings in the state where the marriage takes place. Although the civil ceremony may differ between states, it typically involves the couple, the officiant and one or more witnesses. Once the ceremony is complete, the couple, the officiant and witness(es) sign the marriage license.
If the state official performs the ceremony, the marriage certificate is typically issued on the spot. If a registered officiant (who is not a government employee) performs the ceremony, he or she must return the fully signed marriage license to the agency issuing the license. This agency will mail to the officiant and/or the couple the fully registered marriage certificate within a short period of time after it receives and processes the marriage license. Additional copies of the registered marriage certificate can be received from the marriage agency for a nominal fee.
The registered marriage certificate is key for the green card application process when a U.S. citizen and a foreigner are getting married in the United States. The adjustment of status application can only be filed after the couple receives such marriage certificate and be able to supply a certified copy of such a certificate to the USCIS with his or her adjustment of status application.
The best thing you can do to simplify your green card through marriage application - and to optimize your green card processing times - is to submit a complete and accurate application. Visit www.doityourselfgreencard.com to download Green Card Through Marriage guide and subscribe to our newsletter, or www.doityourselfgreencard.com/blog for further discussion of immigration and green card issues.
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