A form of polygamy, bigamy occurs when one person (man or woman) has more than one “legal” spouse at the same time. In truth, only the first marriage would be considered legal, automatically voiding any subsequent unions.
Technically, bigamy and polygamy are essentially the same things. However most practicing polygamists include all the spouses in the same family unit while a true bigamist often hides the other relationships from the respective spouses.
This can often mean that the bigamist maintains more than one household, sometimes even in different cities so that each spouse is unaware of the others.
In addition to violating various religious doctrines, bigamy is considered a crime in all 50 states. The punishment for bigamy varies, with many states treating bigamy as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Other states however treat bigamy as a felony and if convicted, the perpetrators could face prison time.
Most states requires that the perpertrator be aware of the bigamous relationship prior to entering into a subsequent marriage in order to be found guilty and the complaining party must also be unaware that the prior marriage exists in order to claim damages. If proved, bigamy is a compensable crime and the innocent spouse could civilly sue for emotional distress and mental anguish.
In addition, if the bigamous relationship was done with the intent to secure property or assets from the innocent spouse, the bigamist could also face charges of criminal fraud.
The United States also recognizes legal marriages in other countries so any subsequent marriage in the States would also be considered bigamy if the first marriage was still legally intact.
Related Article: Polygamy, Bigamy and Adultery – What’s the Difference?