Family Law

Grounds for Divorce: Bigamy

When someone files for divorce, he or she will have to state a valid legal reason or grounds for the divorce. There are fault and no-fault grounds. Some states include bigamy as a fault-based ground for divorce.

Bigamy is when someone gets married and already has an existing legal marriage. Other terms to describe this situation are polygamy and plural marriage, and it's also crime. Find out how bigamy may be a ground for divorce, and whether or not it's the right choice to use in your case.

Defining Bigamy

State laws vary, but you can only have one legal spouse at a time. Generally, if a state law offers bigamy as a ground for divorce, only the innocent spouse, meaning the one who did not enter into more than marriage, may use bigamy as a ground for divorce.

Generally, the following must be true for there to be bigamy:

  • Existence of a valid marriage entered into by the accused spouse before the bigamous marriage
  • Bigamist must be aware that his or her spouse is living at the time of the second marriage

When is bigamy not present? Someone doesn't commit bigamy when a prior marriage ended through divorce or annulment before the second marriage took place. Also, under some state laws, a spouse is presumed dead if absent and unheard of for a certain number of years. In that case, remarriage by the other spouse is not considered to be bigamy.

In some states, a sincere and reasonable belief that the prior marriage ended by divorce is a defense to bigamy.

Using Bigamy Grounds and Your Options

When you've come to the decision to end your marriage and bigamy could be a factor, it's wise to get help from your divorce attorney. Even if grounds of bigamy is an option in your state, it may not be the best choice for you. Other fault-based grounds, such as adultery, or a no-fault divorce may be best for you. Every case is different.

If your spouse has committed bigamy, it's also important to discuss with your attorney whether or not you can use bigamy grounds. In some states, only the innocent spouse from the prior marriage can raise the issue of bigamy. Why? You can't have a legal existing marriage with more than one person, so subsequent marriages aren't even valid in the first place.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do any time limits apply to bigamy as a ground for divorce?
  • I found out my spouse committed bigamy and I want a divorce. Does the second "spouse" have any legal rights?
  • How would my divorce differ depending on whether I used bigamy grounds or no-fault grounds?

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