“Good Moral Character” for Naturalization: Part 2/2

Part 1 of this informative article discussed the requirement of “good moral character” as it applies to applications for naturalization for U.S. citizenship. In Part 2, we move here from conduct that mandates a denial of the naturalization application to discretionary issues involving good moral character.

Extenuating Circumstances to Establish Good Moral Character

The result of some acts or conduct is not automatic denial of the N-400 based on a lack of good moral character. Such conduct does have the potential, however, of resulting in a denial for failure to establish good moral character as required. Thus, applicants should be prepared to address these matters, and, when applicable, establish “extenuating circumstances” for their conduct.

As with the mandatory denial categories, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) normally is permitted only to examine the three- or five-year period immediately preceding naturalization.

Failure to Support Dependents – Common Reason for N-400 Denial

The nonsupport of dependents often arises when one has a spouse and/or child/ren outside of the United States. It can also arise when one has children who do not reside in one’s United States household. A parent who has not contributed to the support of his/her dependents is likely to face significant problems in a naturalization case.

In many instances involving spouses and/or children who are outside of the United States, there is no court order for support. However, this does not remove the responsibility to one’s children or to a financially-dependent spouse. Even without payment requirements that are court ordered, a naturalization applicant should come prepared to show that s/he provides adequate support for any dependents. Ideally, this will be in the form of cancelled checks, receipts for payment of expenses, proof of transfer of funds, and similar evidence. If this is not available, one can attempt to utilize a notarized letter from the spouse or other parent, stating that adequate support has been provided. This should be detailed, and accompanied by any additional available proof. To avoid this problem, individuals who have dependent children and/or spouses to whom they send financial support should do so in a manner that can be verified. This trail can become helpful if and when one seeks to naturalize.

Failure to Comply with Child Support Order – Ground for N-400 Denial

Within the United States, the issue of support typically arises with regard to children. If there is not a child support order, proof of the type discussed above is generally appropriate. If there is a child support order, one should be prepared to present proof of compliance with that order at the naturalization interview. One who has willfully failed to honor child support obligations is likely to receive a denial for failure to establish good moral character in the N-400 naturalization context.

Aggravating Factors with Adultery – Ground for N-400 Denial

Adultery is generally not a sufficient basis for denying a naturalization case. However, if there are aggravating factors, it becomes relevant to the consideration of good moral character. One aggravating factor that comes to light on occasion is adultery “tending to destroy an existing marriage.” This is not particularly common, but it is sometimes raised due to birthdates of children not born of the marriage, or allegations of such conduct during divorce proceedings.

Other Unlawful Acts Adversely Reflecting Good Moral Character

There is a broad, catch-all provision that permits a denial for lack of good moral character based on the commission of unlawful acts that adversely reflect upon an applicant’s moral character. The USCIS often uses this ground when an individual’s conduct does not fit neatly into any of the other moral character categories.

There is a lot of room for argument with this category, and a potential for overly-broad application by the USCIS. As noted above, the government’s inquiry into an applicant’s moral character should be limited to the three- or five-year periods that are applicable to the case.

Applicants with histories that are potentially problematic should be prepared to address the issue of having good moral character and why the particular incidents in question do not reflect upon moral character. Anyone who has received a denial based on moral character, citing this catch-all provision, should consult a qualified immigration attorney to assess the decision and determine potential options, including a possible appeal to determine if the case possibly can be approved notwithstanding the lack of good-moral-character allegations.

Failure to Register with Selective Service – Possible Ground for N-400 Denial

Failure to register with the Selective Service is a common good-moral-character issue. Males between 18 and 26 years of age, who are in the United States (except for those who are in lawful nonimmigrant status), are required to register for Selective Service (the military draft). Thus, male legal permanent residents (green card holders) between 18 and 26 years of age are subject to this requirement and are expected to register, as are those who are undocumented or have overstayed their nonimmigrant visas.

While failure to register is not a mandatory ground for denial of citizenship, this provision normally is strictly enforced. Lack of knowledge of the registration requirement can excuse failure to register, but the USCIS must accept that the applicant genuinely did not know of the requirement. Men under 26 years of age, who are required to register for Selective Service, should do so immediately. Once a man is 26 or older, it is no longer possible to register.

Males who believe they may have violated the registration provision should contact a qualified immigration attorney before applying for naturalization. If the problem cannot be overcome immediately, it is possible to qualify for naturalization at a later time. The violation applies to the timeframe when one was supposed to register. Thus, three or five years after the applicant’s 26th birthday, this failure to register should be beyond the scope of N-400 review, in most circumstances.


The seemingly straightforward good-moral-character requirement for naturalization can be a trap for those who are unaware of the nuances. MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers planning to apply for naturalization may wish to discuss any concerns about eligibility, including good moral character, with an attorney at the Murthy Law Firm. We can help determine whether filing for citizenship now or waiting for a few years is prudent, as well as discuss other possible options.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.