Bigamy is the act of getting married while you are already married to someone else. This act does carry legal consequences for individuals guilty of the offense. However, this will depend on the state where bigamy happened and the specific situation of the bigamist. Here's all you need to know about the legal consequences for committing bigamy knowingly and unknowingly.
What Constitutes as Bigamy?
Bigamy only happens at the conclusion of a second marriage when the first marriage still stands and the former spouse is still alive. The state where the second marriage took place is usually allowed to prosecute, as that is where the crime took place. This does depend on state laws, as a small number of states have statutes that ensure the first state of marriage will prosecute.
Both the bigamist and the party who aided and abetted the bigamous marriage can be prosecuted. This will include the second spouse if he or she knowingly agreed to the bigamous marriage.
In some cases, the divorce proceedings may have started but not been finalized. If a person marries during this period, it is possible that a bigamous marriage will take place.
What Happens to a Bigamist?
There are both financial and custodial sentences imposed on those guilty of bigamy. These will differ by state, but Legal Match states that most people will receive a medium fine and five years in prison. California can set a fine of $10,000 against the bigamist and $5,000 against the spouse, for example. In Mississippi, on the other hand, a prison sentence of up to 10 years is normal and Michigan has a prison sentence of a year and up to $500 for a fine.
The spouses will often lose rights to the inheritance of properties and estates.
What If You Don't Know?
There are times that you won't know you've committed bigamy. This happens when you reasonably believe that your former marriage came to an end, whether through annulment, divorce, or death. If you've had no contact with your spouse for a prolonged period, courts will usually rule that you have reasonable expectation to believe that your former spouse has died.
However, you will need to have proof that you believe the former marriage has dissolved in some way.
What Happens to Children?
In most cases, the second marriage will be null and void. When it comes to children being conceived during the second marriage, they will usually be considered legitimate, as long as this took place before the marriage was annulled. Children born in a bigamous marriage should not be negatively affected when it comes to inheritance.
Bigamy is against the law in the United States, and each state has its own penalties for the crime. When you enter a marriage, you need to ensure as well as possible that a previous marriage has been completely dissolved to avoid this. Contact a family law attorney for more information.