Bigamy Meaning: Can You Get Married While Already Married?

Don’t know if you can get married if you’re already married? Find out now, with our comprehensive guide.

By McCall Minnor

Can You Get Married If You’re Already Married
Photo by Zola

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.

What is Bigamy?

Simply put, the definition of bigamy is when someone formally enters into a marriage (e.g. a legal marriage) while still in one that is un-dissolved. If a person is currently legally married and attempts to marry another individual, it is considered bigamy/bigamist. Technically, in these cases, the second marriage is considered void.

When applying for a marriage license, it’s common to be asked (whether verbally or in writing) if you are currently married. Answering yes—meaning, your prior marriage isn’t yet dissolved or you haven’t had an annulment—can prevent you from getting married again. If you do manage to do so successfully in The States, you are committing a crime and can be faced with bigamy charges (more on those details below).

Can You Get Married If You’re Already Married?

Can You Get Married If You’re Already Married? | Zola Photo Credit // Unsplash

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.

What Are the Ramifications?

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.

Can You Still Get Engaged?

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.

Don’t Set That Wedding Date

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.

Can You Get Married If You’re Already Married? | ZolaPhoto Credit // Unsplash

Consider Your Kids

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.

What is the Status of Bigamy Today?

It’s paramount to be one-hundred percent sure you aren’t still legally married to someone when pursuing a marriage with someone else. Not only due to personal complications, but as to avoid any penalties and fines re: bigamy law. State laws vary depending on your location, though bigamy is illegal in all 50 states and you will be faced with criminal charges.

The best place to check is the state where you got married the first time. Once you’re certain that your previous marriage license has been broken, you can then start planning your nuptials to become a married couple with someone else.

That said, bigamy is considered a criminal offense in all 50 states. Depending on the state you were/are getting married in, the crime of bigamy can be considered either a felony or misdemeanor. The following are the states that consider it a misdemeanor.

States Where Bigamy is a Misdemeanor

  • Alaska

  • Arkansas

  • Hawaii

  • Iowa

  • Maine

  • Missouri

  • Montana

  • Nebraska

  • New Jersey

  • Ohio

  • Pennsylvania

  • Rhode Island

  • Utah

  • Tennessee

  • Texas

What Are the Differences Between Bigamy and Polygamy?

Though they are, in major ways, similar, bigamy and polygamy are different terms with different meanings and uses. While bigamy is the act of getting married to a second spouse while still being married to a first, polygamy is the act of having more than one spouse at a time.

That means one has to engage in bigamy to be a part of a polygamous marriage or relationship. That said, there are a few key differences that define and separate the terms. For example, new spouses within a polygamous relationship are typically aware of the other partner(s), whereas those involved in bigamy tend not to be. Likewise, those participating in bigamy will usually maintain two households—one with each partner. In contrast, those in a polygamous marriage may all live together.

Finally, legally, polygamy is allowed in some countries, whereas bigamy isn’t. Some religious views will also support the former, while they don’t mention the latter.

All of this being said, it’s crucial that you ensure you aren’t still legally married when trying to marry someone else. Not only will being clearly divorced or annulled prevent you from a variety of emotional hardships, but legal and criminal ones as well. If for any reason you’re unsure of your marriage status, contact the marriage office of the city and state in which you were previously married. If you are still in a marriage, work on getting it dissolved before moving forward with any new marriage plans.

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