The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) does not define “spouse.” However, the marriage must be valid where the couple got married, and also where the couple resides. Thus if the couple marries in New York but resides in Alabama. The marriage must be recognized as valid in both states.
The government does not favor a “sham marriage.” A sham marriage is one that is valid, but the married couple does not intend to live together. Thus a “sham marriage” is one where the couple marries simply for immigration purposes.
Same-sex marriage is acceptable, if it is a valid marriage. The marriage must have been valid when the couple married. The validity of the marriage is determined “where the marriage is celebrated.” Look at the state law or the country where the couple married.
When it comes to having more than one wife, only the first marriage counts for immigration purposes. Polygamy is not accepted as a valid marriage in the United States.
Incestuous marriages may be valid if the marriage was valid where the couple married.
“Common law marriage” is where the couple lives together with the intent to be married. Very few states in the United States still recognizes common-law marriages. However, these may be acceptable as long as you can prove the required elements for a common law marriage.
Couples married less than 2 years when applying for adjusted status are granted only “conditional residential status.” Physical-presence in the United States is required. The contracting parties must be present in order to have a valid marriage. After the two-year period is up the couple must petition to have the condition removed.
INA § 237(a)(1)(g) if residence is sought less than two years after the marriage, or the marriage was terminated, withing 2 years of beneficiary obtaining residence. After the 2 years conditional residence is over the couple has to file a joint petition to have the condition removed. If the couple is no longer married there is a waiver for the joint filing requirement. When filing joint petition or a waiver you have to show the marriage was entered into with good faith. The petitioner and the beneficiary have to prove the good faith.
All prior marriages must be terminated. The divorce must be valid where obtained. It also has to be accepted where the subsequent marriage took place.
Where marriage is terminated by death there is provision in INA 204(l) that may continue the validity of the marriage. There is also humanitarian relief for widows and widowers.
Battered spouses are not defined in the INA but the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows a spouse of U.S. citizens and a lawful permanent resident (LPR) to apply for immigration benefits. Thus if the beneficiary was abused physically or emotionally s/he can apply without the abuser’s consent or knowledge.