Bigamy in The U.S. - Is It Criminal in All States?

Bigamy occurs when one spouse enters into a marriage while they are still legally married to someone else in any state. It is a crime and may lead to incarceration. The subsequent marriage is the one that is invalid and may be annulled due to the void status of the union no matter in which state the subsequent marriage occurs.

How Bigamy and Marriage Work

When a person marries another individual in any location around the world, this person becomes his or her spouse. If the man or woman enters into a romantic relationship with another and decides to marry before divorcing or annulling a previous legal marriage, he or she commits bigamy. The second relationship is not legally binding and could lead to criminal charges for the person engaging in these activities. A foreign spouse invalidates the ability to marry in the United States even if the wedding was in secret or not on the same legal documentation that the American marriages use.

Some marriages do not end as soon as the spouse is ready to marry another person. If the divorce does not finalize in time, the bigamy is accidental. This is also possible if the other spouse is still alive when presumed dead. This presumption is possible if the other person is not available or absent for seven years in most states and five years in others, not known if alive and does not appear to anyone that could claim he or she was alive. Remarriage is possible in these instances, and bigamy does not happen. Good faith is not necessarily a valid defense when committing bigamy in the United States.

Criminality of Bigamy

The original ruling in 1878 viewed any form of plural spouses, or wives at the time, to exist as bigamy or polygamy and is illegal no matter what religion practices the activity. The original criminality affected the Mormon religion that practiced multiple wives to a single man throughout the religious community. To the public, the Mormon Church renounced polygamy in the year 1890, but some within the community still practice the illegal act of marrying more than one wife at the same time. Many are unaware of the activity when the church or specific location keeps the matter within the area confidential and away from prying eyes.

The bigamous marriage is a void relationship legally and the spouse affected has grounds to seek an annulment. While there are certain local laws that may affect the situation, the spouse that discovers the crime may have a judge declare the marriage invalid and pursue criminal charges against the bigamist. The laws may vary from state to state on how to handle the illegal activity, but some will fine the person and add punishments based on the circumstances. Other states may provide the spouse with civil litigation as an additional option to seek compensation for the mental pain, suffering and trauma from the actions of the bigamist.

Bypassing the Crime of Bigamy

While it is a crime to commit and engage in bigamy throughout all the United States, there are ways to bypass the crime based on the actions of the perpetrator. These include adherence to state laws and specific activity. When the person does truly believe that the other spouse is either dead, divorced or annulled the marriage, a new legal relationship with another person is usually valid. The proof that he or she believes one of these situations to exist must also exist with the individual. The person in a previous relationship must legally live apart for a certain number of consecutive years based on the state before a new marriage is in place. During this time, the individual must not know that the other spouse is alive.

The possibility of raising such defenses is possible in the courtroom when accused of bigamy. However, these defenses are not necessarily able to shift the burden of proof or supply the defendant with a valid claim. The more the state places on this person to prove the case, the more difficult it is to pursue success in defending against the charges.

Legal Criminal Defense for Bigamy

Bigamy crimes are often felonies, and the defendant has the serious burden of proof to either defend against the charges or that there was reasonable proof available that the other spouse was dead, or the marriage was not still in effect. The lawyer hired for these situations will attempt to protect the person’s rights.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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