Can I get married in the U.S. if I’m married here in the Philippines, but I’ve been separated for 12 years?
You may be able to get married in the U.S. if you’re still legally married in the Philippines (or any other country), but the USCIS and U.S. Department of State are not going to accept that as a legal marriage. In order to legally marry and receive an immigration benefit with USCIS and Department of State, you have to be legally married. And in order to do that, you have to prove that all prior marriages were legally terminated (by death, divorce or annulment).
Unfortunately, the Philippines is the only country on earth, other than the Holy See/Vatican, that has outlawed divorce. You will have to provide either an annulment or a death certificate, even if you’ve been separated for 12 years. To get an annulment in the Philippines, is an expensive, time-consuming process that isn’t guaranteed to work. Please contact a family attorney in the Philippines if this is your situation.
Already In the USA
If you found yourself already in the US, on a non-marriage-based visa, and get married within the US with the hopes of adjusting your status to become a permanent resident through marriage, this is technically something that is possible. However, we highly recommend avoiding anything that is legally or ethically questionable. The best way is always the legal way.
Trying to Enter the USA
If you’re trying to come to the US on a spouse visa, you’ll never get to the US, because they’re going to require you to get a certificate of “no marriage”, commonly called a CENOMAR. You’ll need to bring that to the embassy with you for your interview, and obviously, if you can’t produce that, you’re not going to get a visa to even get here. In this case, you’ll need to go through the annulment process in the Philippines.
Avoid Fraud or “Workarounds”
If you attempt to hide an existing marriage in order to circumvent this requirement, you are really playing with fire. Once you commit that kind of fraud, even if eventually down the road years from now, you become a citizen, all of that can be taken away and you can be deported if it’s ever discovered that you lied for any immigration benefit. And this does happen. It happens many times a year. In fact, the Trump Administration has assembled a special team to look into past frauds and there is more attention on this than ever before. They may start investigating your past, find that you lied for an immigration benefit, even as long as 20 years ago, and completely undo everything you’ve done, including revoking your citizenship and kicking you out of the country with a permanent ban to ever re-enter. Annulments are expensive and can take up to a couple of years in the Philippines, so it’s very tempting for people to try to end-run around this rule, go get married in a third country, try a proxy marriage, convert to Islam to legally divorce, etc. You probably won’t get away with it, and even if you do, you’re going to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life. Our advice is just don’t do it.