Proving a “Bona Fide” Marriage

Because some individuals attempt to commit fraud by pretending to be in a relationship with a US citizen or lawful permanent resident in order to obtain a green card, proving that the relationship is “bona fide” (real) is one of the main requirements during the marriage-based green card process. Most couples need to provide more than just a marriage certificate as supporting evidence of the validity of their relationship. There are various types of proof that can be included with the application, and this article will cover most of them as well as the warning signs that USCIS officers look for during the processing of green card petitions. Nevertheless, the entire marriage-based green card process can be quite difficult and complex and hiring an experienced immigration attorney is the best option for most applicants. Pandev Law has years of experience with family-based immigration and marriage-based immigration that can help you and your significant other during your immigration journey.

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What is a “Bona Fide” Marriage?

A marriage is considered bona fide when the relationship between the spouses is real. Unlike a fraudulent marriage used as a way to get a green card, a bona fide marriage is an expression of the love between two people who want to build a life together.

How to Prove a Marriage is “Bona Fide”?

Proving that a marriage is bona fide can happen in several ways, including providing documentation, answering the questions correctly during the interview, etc. 

Proving the nature of the relationship using documentation

In most cases, the married couple lives together and will be able to provide enough evidence of cohabitation, although there are a few exceptions. Proving cohabitation is usually considered strong evidence of a bona fide marriage. Most of the documents that the couple might need to provide to prove they are living together will need to show the names of both spouses. Some of these documents are:

  • Lease agreements;
  • Mortgage/loan documentation;
  • Deed for property proving ownership;
  • Bank statements that have the same address for both spouses;
  • Utility bills, for example electricity, cable, internet, etc.;
  • Insurance documentations that have the same address for both spouses.

Another type of evidence of a bona fide marriage is proof of the “commingling” of finances. In most situations married couples combine their finances. For those that share their financial resources, proving the commingling of their finances can be quite valuable for their application. Some documents that can be used as proof include copies of:

Bank statements that show their joint checking, savings, and credit accounts;

Statements for joint loans;

  • Joint health, life, property, and auto insurance agreements, statements, and cards;
  • Utility bills;
  • Tax returns filed as married individuals;
  • Statements and other documentation proving joint ownership of real property, cars, etc.;
  • Other documentation listing one of the spouses as a beneficiary.

Most couples filing for a green card through marriage are relatively new to married life and are more than likely spending most of their time together. There are multiple ways to prove that they share their life experiences. Evidence of this sort of intimacy can include:

  • Photos of the couple from their wedding, holidays, vacations, family gatherings, etc.;
  • Hotel bookings, airplane tickets, etc. proving the couple’s joint trips;
  • Tickets to events that were attended by the couple;
  • Social media records, including Facebook and Instagram posts that prove that the couple are living their life together as a family.

In some situations, the couple might already have a child together and any proof of this is naturally considered strong evidence of their bona fide relationship. Adopted and jointly raised stepchildren can also help with the case. Some documents used as proof include copies of:

  • Birth certificates listing the spouses as parents;
  • Adoption certificates listing the couple as the adoptive parents;
  • Medical records that show evidence of ongoing pregnancy (ultrasounds, routine prenatal tests, exam records, etc.).

All of these documents are just a small amount of the possible documentation the couple might use as proof of their bona fide marriage. Each case is unique and can be proved in different ways.

Proving the nature of the relationship during the interview

Another way to prove the non-fraudulent nature of the couple’s relationship is to answer the questions during the immigration interview correctly. Depending on the location of the immigrant spouse during the application process, the interview could include either both spouses, or just the immigrant spouse. If the immigrant spouse lives abroad, the interview will be conducted by a consular officer at a US embassy or consulate in their country of residence, and they need to attend it alone. If the immigrant spouse lives in the United States, the interview will be conducted by a USCIS officer at a local USCIS field office, and both spouses are required to attend. Some of the questions that might be asked during the interview include:

  • How did you first meet?
  • When and where did you meet?
  • Who introduced you to each other?
  • What did you have in common?
  • Who was your spouse living with when you met?

Our article on the green card interview includes most of the frequently asked questions as well as other instructions.

Special circumstances

Some of the documents mentioned above require a US Social Security Number (SSN) to obtain but quite a few immigrant spouses do not have one. This can be the case when, for example, they originally entered the United States on a temporary, non-employment-based visa then married a U.S. citizen or green card holder. In such cases the couple can still provide photos of their joint activities as well as personal affidavits from family members and friends that attest to the validity of the couple’s relationship and marriage.

Warning Signs

According to official manuals used by the USCIS officers during the processing of the immigrant application, there are warning signs that can allude to a fraudulent marriage. Some of the signs are:

  • Large disparity of age (“age gap”);
  • Language barrier between the two spouses;
  • Marriage arranged by a third person;
  • Lack of cohabitation (except in cases where there are valid reasons behind this), etc.

Even though these signs are not typically a deciding factor, they can still be the cause of increased scrutiny by USCIS.

Our Marriage Green Card Services

Are you interested in a customized strategy for your immigration case? Are you a US citizen or lawful permanent resident looking for a way to sponsor your spouse? Would you like to learn more about our marriage green card services?  We can offer you all of that and more. Pandev Law, LLC has years of experience in immigration law as well as the knowledge and expertise to guide you through your marriage-based immigration case and help you begin your new life as a family in the United States.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with our immigration attorney, follow the link and click on “Schedule a Consultation.” You can also reach us via email at [email protected], or call us at (212) 220-6652.

During your consultation, our immigration lawyer will provide an honest assessment of your case, as well as a recommendation regarding your next steps.

I offer confidential 30 minute & 1 hour consultations.

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Adrian Pandev immigration lawyer USA

Disclaimer: This blog article is provided by Pandev Law, LLC for general educational and informational purposes only. Although this article discusses general legal issues, it does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented in this article, or elsewhere on this website, without seeking the advice of appropriate legal counsel, or other professional counsel, licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. Pandev Law, LLC expressly disclaims any and all liability with respect to any actions taken, or not taken, based on any content of this article or website. This blog article may constitute attorney advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Adrian Pandev

As the principal attorney at Pandev Law, I have helped hundreds of foreign individuals and companies successfully navigate their journey to the United States. Previously, I served as Trial Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. Now, I represent foreign investors, founders, and high-net-worth-individuals in business, immigration, and wealth planning matters. I am an early proponent of blockchain technology and serve as strategic advisor to blockchain startups and cryptocurrency investors. Selected to the Super Lawyers New York Rising Stars list 2019-2021. Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

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