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What does the USCIS consider a legal marriage?

Permanent residents and citizens of the United States may bring their spouses into the country on a marriage-based green card. However, you must meet specific requirements before US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows your spouse to permanently live in the United States.

According to the USCIS’s official website, a spouse may apply for a visa if present in the United States and “inspected and admitted” by an immigration officer. Terms of marriage are different in certain countries, though, so you might have questions about what the US considers a legal or bona fide marriage.

What is a legal marriage?

The basic definition of a legal marriage is that a country or state recognizes and documents the union. Immigration officials must have access to some official records that they can use to verify the legality of your marriage. Since 2013, same-sex marriages count as bona fide if the marriage occurred in a country that legally recognizes the union.

Do domestic partnerships count?

Many people have domestic partnerships for years without legally joining in marriage. The USCIS does not recognize these as legal marriages unless the country you live in recognizes common-law marriages. However, this requires some proof, and it may be in your best interest to formalize your union before applying for a marriage-based green card.

The US recognizes various marriage types, including church-based marriages, tribal practices and courthouse weddings. The key to proving the legality of your marriage is a legal record of its formalization. You cannot claim a domestic partnership without some proof of your living arrangement.