You’ve met the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, but there’s one problem, one (or both) of you is already married. While it’s not unusual to fall in love with someone else while you’re married, some may choose to have an affair, seek marriage counseling, or choose divorce before moving onto the next relationship.
If none of these options are the road you want to travel, one could try to marry the new love of his or her life while still legally married to the first spouse. Before you take another trip down the aisle, Zola is here to help you make sure that you’re doing it the legal way. Here are some things that you should reflect on before making the decision to get remarried, while you’re already married.
In theory, it could work—you marry your new love and ride into the sunset and live happily ever after, or opt to live with two marriages. However, the law frowns upon getting married when you already have a legal spouse that is tied to a marriage license within your state.
In the United States, individuals can only be married to one person. That means that if you’ve already been married, you must be legally divorced from your civil marriage before remarrying. A legal separation does not give you the greenlight to get married while still married. The law states that your divorce has to be finalized before you can remarry, or your new civil marriage will be illegal.
If you decide to remarry while still married, it’s considered bigamy and is illegal. The law states that marriage is a legal binding contract, and, by marrying again, you’re breaking your contract and entering into the second illegally. Bigamy is a class C felony, which means that if you’re convicted, you could receive a fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment for up to 40 years. If you’ve committed bigamy, you can be prosecuted in your state based on where you committed the act, where you reside, and where cohabitation occurred.
However, if you honestly believed that your first marriage had been legally dissolved by the time you entered your second marriage, then the punishment may not be as harsh as it would be if you knowingly committed bigamy. According to Legal Zoom, there are a couple of defenses against bigamy. If the first spouse’s whereabouts have been unknown for a long time and it’s reasonable to assume that they have died, or if the party representing your spouse didn’t follow through and file the paperwork, this may work in your favor. A bigamous marriage is considered void in most states, which means that it was never legal to begin with.
Unfortunately, you can’t hurry the legal system, and even getting a marriage license shows that you and your partner are officially single and can get married. You’ll have to wait until you or your partner’s divorce is final before moving forward with wedding planning.
You may be wondering if the same rules apply for an engagement. It’s not illegal to get engaged before you get divorced. You just have to make sure that you’re legally divorced before you remarry someone else. It’s best to check with your state to find out the laws regarding bigamy.
Talk about adding stress to an already tense situation. Don’t lose sleep worrying about if the divorce will be final in time for the date that you picked to marry the love of your life. Often, that pressure of wanting things to move quickly can put a damper on your relationship, as the unmarried person in the relationship demands the other get a quickie divorce.
If you’re blending families, you’ll need to consider your children. If one, or both, of you has(have) kids, and a divorce is pending, you should consider waiting to get married, so as to give everyone a chance to adjust to a new normal. If there is a bundle of joy on the way and a race to divorce before the unborn child arrives, that just adds to an already stressful situation. Again, you’re on the legal system’s timetable, so you can’t rush things along.
If you still want to get married and aren’t sure if you’re legally married to someone, it’s important to be 100 percent sure, so as to avoid any penalties and fines, depending upon your state laws. The best place to check is the state where you got married the first time to find out if you’re still legally married. Once you’re certain that your previous marriage license has been broken, you can then start planning your nuptials to become a married couple.