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LEGAL DICTIONARY

Bigamy

What Is Bigamy?

Bigamy is the act of entering into another marriage while legally married to someone else. In 1878, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. United States that having more than one spouse at a time was illegal, making bigamy a criminal offense in all 50 states. However, individual states vary in whether they classify the crime as a felony or a misdemeanor.

The typical punishment for a bigamy conviction involves a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine. The second marriage is void or annulled, while the earlier marriage remains intact.

Can Someone Defend a Bigamy Charge?

If someone is facing bigamy charges, their best defense is to produce documentation that supports the legal end of the previous marriage, such as a signed divorce agreement, alimony payment records, or annulment paperwork.

There are some cases where the court does not consider remarriage as bigamy. In these situations, an individual may have entered into another marriage under the belief that their prior marriage was legally over by divorce or annulment.

Another example is when one spouse has not been heard from the other spouse for three to seven years (depending on the state’s law) and is thought to be dead.

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What Are the Steps For Filing a Bigamy Charge?

The most direct way to prove bigamy is to show the court the original marriage certificate and other legal documents that show a couple is still married. The paperwork can include tax records, lease agreements, bank statements, and other records.

If the previous marriage occurred outside the United States, it might be difficult to produce these documents. In some cases, the court might accept some or all of the following as evidence:

  • Testimony from the person who performed the prior marriage ceremony
  • Statements from people who witnessed the previous ceremony
  • Photos or videos of the prior ceremony
  • Testimony from the other spouse

In some cases, bigamy and marriage are associated with other legal issues, such as immigration fraud. For example, someone might commit bigamy as a way to secure a U.S. visa or U.S. citizenship. The legal consequences of this type of fraud can include loss of visa status, deportation, fines, and possible jail time.

Here are some examples of how the states vary in the way they handle bigamy penalties:

  • California – The defendant may be fined up to $10,000 or sentenced to one year in prison. Also, the spouse may be fined $5,000 if they knew that the bigamist was already married.
  • Florida – The defendant may face a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
  • Idaho – The defendant may face a fine of $2,000 and three years in jail.
  • Montana – The defendant may face a $500 fine, six months in prison, or both.
  • New York – The defendant may face three to four years in prison.
  • Oregon – The defendant may receive a $100,000 fine and a sentence of up to five years in prison.
  • Texas – The defendant be fined $10,000 and serve up to 10 years in prison.
  • Utah – In 2020, the state changed the crime from a third-degree felony, punishable with up to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine, to an infraction. Unless the bigamy involves fraud or abuse, a Utah defendant now faces fines of up to $750 and required community service.
  • Vermont – The defendant may face a sentence of up to five years in jail.

In most jurisdictions, the penalties for bigamy may be increased if the defendant has a previous bigamy conviction.

Helpful Resources:

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

Office of Justice Programs - Bigamy

The New York Times - Utah Lowers Penalty for Polygamy, No Longer a Felony

Cornell Law - Reynolds V. United States.

What Is Bigamy?

Bigamy is the act of entering into another marriage while legally married to someone else. In 1878, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. United States that having more than one spouse at a time was illegal, making bigamy a criminal offense in all 50 states. However, individual states vary in whether they classify the crime as a felony or a misdemeanor.

The typical punishment for a bigamy conviction involves a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine. The second marriage is void or annulled, while the earlier marriage remains intact.

Can Someone Defend a Bigamy Charge?

If someone is facing bigamy charges, their best defense is to produce documentation that supports the legal end of the previous marriage, such as a signed divorce agreement, alimony payment records, or annulment paperwork.

There are some cases where the court does not consider remarriage as bigamy. In these situations, an individual may have entered into another marriage under the belief that their prior marriage was legally over by divorce or annulment.

Another example is when one spouse has not been heard from the other spouse for three to seven years (depending on the state’s law) and is thought to be dead.

Start your Divorce Agreement

What Are the Steps For Filing a Bigamy Charge?

The most direct way to prove bigamy is to show the court the original marriage certificate and other legal documents that show a couple is still married. The paperwork can include tax records, lease agreements, bank statements, and other records.

If the previous marriage occurred outside the United States, it might be difficult to produce these documents. In some cases, the court might accept some or all of the following as evidence:

  • Testimony from the person who performed the prior marriage ceremony
  • Statements from people who witnessed the previous ceremony
  • Photos or videos of the prior ceremony
  • Testimony from the other spouse

In some cases, bigamy and marriage are associated with other legal issues, such as immigration fraud. For example, someone might commit bigamy as a way to secure a U.S. visa or U.S. citizenship. The legal consequences of this type of fraud can include loss of visa status, deportation, fines, and possible jail time.

Here are some examples of how the states vary in the way they handle bigamy penalties:

  • California – The defendant may be fined up to $10,000 or sentenced to one year in prison. Also, the spouse may be fined $5,000 if they knew that the bigamist was already married.
  • Florida – The defendant may face a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
  • Idaho – The defendant may face a fine of $2,000 and three years in jail.
  • Montana – The defendant may face a $500 fine, six months in prison, or both.
  • New York – The defendant may face three to four years in prison.
  • Oregon – The defendant may receive a $100,000 fine and a sentence of up to five years in prison.
  • Texas – The defendant be fined $10,000 and serve up to 10 years in prison.
  • Utah – In 2020, the state changed the crime from a third-degree felony, punishable with up to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine, to an infraction. Unless the bigamy involves fraud or abuse, a Utah defendant now faces fines of up to $750 and required community service.
  • Vermont – The defendant may face a sentence of up to five years in jail.

In most jurisdictions, the penalties for bigamy may be increased if the defendant has a previous bigamy conviction.

Helpful Resources:

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

Office of Justice Programs - Bigamy

The New York Times - Utah Lowers Penalty for Polygamy, No Longer a Felony

Cornell Law - Reynolds V. United States.