What is bigamy? Charges, Penalties, and defenses – A 2022 Update Guide

The United States has strict rules in place when it comes to family protection, marriage, divorce, child custody, alimony, etc. When you live in a place for an extended period of time and make a family there, you have to follow regulated statutes. The same goes with bigamy scenarios.

In the Marbella-Bobis vs. Bobis (G.R. No. 138509) case, the elements of bigamy were found by the Supreme Court on 31 July 2000. If bigamy is something that you are not aware of, then look at this real-life example to know what is bigamy.

In the Marbella-Bobis vs. Bobis case; the Supreme Court found;

  • The offender was legally married
  • The first marriage of the offender was not legally dissolved or the missing of the first spouse was not declared
  • The offender married subsequently
  • If the first marriage had been resolved, the second marriage would be valid.

What is bigamy?

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In the United States and many other countries, it is bigamous to remarry in the existence of first marriage. Also, when a person tries to enter marriage when he still keeps his first, the second marriage becomes void automatically, however, be the grounds for annulment.

In order to obtain a marriage license in European and North American regions, it is important to have a dissolution of a previous marriage and re-entering in another to avoid a bigamous charge.

In addition, if someone knowingly enters a bigamous marriage, it would be considered a criminal act and can be lawfully convicted with felony charges. It is often assumed as the lowest degree felony crime and also be treated with the highest degrees of a misdemeanor. The penalties associated with the bigamy conviction are less severe when compared to drunk driving conviction.

How do states take the offense of bigamy today?

The Supreme Court of the United States made it illegal in 1878 to remarry another woman in the presence of the first spouse. The practice of such acts where a man holds more than one wife was termed polygamy. In the United States, it is illegal for someone to get into another relationship when the first hasn’t dissolved in all fifty states but the penalties vary when it comes to treating the case as a misdemeanor or felony.

Possible penalties for a Bigamy conviction

As said, states can declare a charge of bigamy either a felony or misdemeanor. A criminal offense that is considered both ways (felony and misdemeanor) is referred to as a wobbler crime. Bigamy convictions involve a five years penalty along with a fine depending on the state statutes. Following are some of the states that concludes the penalties against bigamy convictions;

  • California – A defendant/bigamist can be charged with one year jail time with a fine of $10,000. The new spouse would also be charged $5000 if they knew that bigamist has married already.
  • Florida – A bigamy will be charged with a $5000 fine and a jail time of one year.
  • Idaho – A bigamy will be charged with a $2000 fine and a jail time of up to three years.
  • Massachusetts – A fine of $500 and a state prison of five years can be charged.
  • Minnesota – A $10,000 fine and a prison time up to ten years can be charged
  • Michigan – A defendant may end up in jail for one year with a fine of $500
  • Mississippi – The defendants will be incarcerated for up to 10 years in the county jail. Their medical license would be revoked, they cannot be appointed at a public sector for the rest of their lives
  • Montana – The defendant will face a $500 fine or six months behind the bar conviction or both
  • New York – 3-4 years of prisons sentence would be granted
  • New Mexico – 2-7 years of prison would be granted
  • South Carolina – 5 years of prison with a fine up to $500
  • Oklahoma – A jail time of five years would be granted
  • Oregon – A defendant can be sentenced to a $100,000 fine and five years of jail time
  • Texas – A defendant would face 2-10 years in prison with a fine of $10,000
  • Vermont – A prison time of up to five years can be sentenced to a defendant.

As displayed in the above examples that penalties against bigamy vary greatly as the jurisdiction changes. However, penalties can be increased under state laws where a bigamist has a prior history of involving in the bigamous relation in the past. 

How can someone prove bigamy?

It is challenging sometimes to prove bigamy executions when someone is already married while re-entering in another relation. For instance, if an individual is remarrying in another state or outside the United States, locating documentation about previous marriage can be tough.

 Another way to prove that a defendant is already married is to produce a marriage certificate or SSN or ID cards that may reveal that the person is already married.

Possible defenses against the bigamy charge

There’s no national database in the system that keeps records to determine if a person is married while applying for a marriage license. For this reason, most of the time it plays a wild card in the lawsuits where they reasonably believe that the previous marriage was dissolved as a result of separation, divorce, or death.

A defendant may also be convicted for a bigamy charge if they do not contact their former spouse for more than five years. As long as they believe that they were declared dead legally.

If you are facing bigamy charges while living in the United States or any other jurisdiction, it is important to have the assistance of an experienced family attorney. He will review your case and determine what beneficial defenses are there which can lessen your bigamy fines and charges.

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