Second Spouse’s Legal Rights Affected by Bigamy

When one spouse commits bigamy, the second spouse in the relationship usually has a marriage that is invalid and has no legal standing. If this person does not want to pursue criminal or civil action against the individual committing bigamy, he or she may have rights under federal law to return to a relatively normal life devoid of the bigamist.

Bigamy and the Invalid Marriage

When a person marries more than one person, he or she engages in bigamy or polygamy. The first marriage between spouses is usually a valid and legal binding of the two. However, subsequent legal relationships require the first to either end in divorce or for one party to die. If one individual disappears and there is no contact or it is a belief by the local authorities that the person died, the person may remain free of the marriage and marry another person. However, if the relationship stays valid by the state, the spouse will engage in bigamy when marrying another during the marriage.

The second or further
marriage is then invalid when the spouse marries more than one person. This is the law throughout the entire country, and if the individual marries two or more others, he or she may suffer under the law and face incarceration or civil penalties. The impact of the second spouse could also lead to a negative quality of life if he or she depends on the spouse for monetary or other types of support. The consequences extend to the second spouse in that he or she has no right to what a spouse usually receives as an entitlement such as a divorce with a settlement.

The Invalid Marriage Effects

Because the second and other marriages of a bigamist or polygamist are invalid, this removes all rights afforded to the wife or husband in these relationships. While there is no need to annul or dissolve the marriage, there are no other rights either such as spousal or child support. The usual way a second spouse may acquire the necessary benefits that he or she would have in a valid marriage is through civil suits against the person. Some states may not permit this based on the illegal act of bigamy, and the individual will need to consult with a lawyer about possible available options.

Other Relationships

There are some domestic partnerships and common law marriages that some states will recognize as legally binding. When same-sex couples are already in a legal marriage to another person, the domestic partnership will constitute as bigamy. The same applies to another person that enters into a common law marriage in the state the recognizes it. When presenting these relationships to the state, the individual may face criminal charges of bigamy when attempting to recognize the relationship as legal. If there is any doubt that the other person is already in a marriage, the second spouse should contact a lawyer to determine what rights exist and will remain if in the relationship.

The Potential Consequences

When a second spouse turns into his or her romantic partner, there are several possible consequences that may punish the criminal. These may exist in fines, prison or a combination of punishments. Another considerable factor involves the knowledge of the second spouse. If he or she is aware and fully understands that he or she has another legal marriage, the state may convict both parties of bigamy even if only one commits the actual crime. The rights of the second spouse are nonexistent when knowledge is present. Incarceration or fines are possible, and the likelihood of these penalties increases the longer the couple remains illegally married.

Exceptions that Lead to Charges

While some states will let a person marry another when the former spouse is either missing or presumed dead, the exception exists when the individual does not seek to divorce from his or her spouse before marrying another person. However, the presumption is another exception when the state either declares the spouse dead or sufficient time passes to claim the person as no longer among the living. It is best to contact a lawyer any questions remain.

Legal Support for the Second Spouse

Because most of the second spouse’s rights do not exist, it is important to seek the consultation of a lawyer before pursuing any action or attempting to seek a civil remedy for the bigamy situation. The lawyer may have answers about how to progress through the criminal or civil matter.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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