Bigamy is "formally entering into a marriage while the previous one is un-dissolved".  So that if one spouse remains married, and tries to enter into a second marriage, this is considered bigamous and the second marriage is declared void and grounds for an annulment. Therefore, one who knowingly enters into a bigamous marriage is guilty of the crime of bigamy. In practice however, bigamy is seldom prosecuted unless it is part of a fraudulent scheme to get another’s property or to commit some other felony.

Cases That are Not Bigamous

In most cases, people commit bigamy accidentally with the belief that a prior marriage is dissolved.  The following are examples of accidental bigamy when bigamy has not been committed:

  • if a prior marriage has been terminated by a divorce or a decree of the nullity of marriage.
  • if a husband or wife is absent and unheard of for seven (or in some states five) years and not known to be alive, he or she is presumed to be dead, and remarriage by the other spouse is allowed.  

What is the Status of Bigamy Today?

In 1878, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that polygamy (the practice of having more than one spouse at a time) was illegal, despite the protests of the Mormons who claimed polygamy was part of their religious practice.  Mormons officially renounced polygamy in 1890, but a few still practice polygamy today.

Currently, all 50 states have statutes against bigamy, and in many states, bigamy is considered a felony. The few states that qualify bigamy as a misdemeanor include: 

Hawaii (petty misdemeanor — 30 days in jail)
New Jersey
Rhode Island (misdemeanor, $1,000)

Do I Need a Family Lawyer?

If you have reason to believe that your divorce is not final or suspect that your fiancee is still married, you may want to secure that information before thinking about marriage.  A family attorney may assist you with your divorce and advise you of your rights and the opportunity when you can remarry.