Most people would no more take second or third spouse than they would grow an extra limb, but it does happen. For some, bigamy and polygamy are as natural as traditional marriage is to everyone else. There are consequences to both of these ways of being married, so read on to find out more.
Know the Differences in Bigamy and Polygamy
The main difference in these two relationships in the manner the marriage becomes official. Polygamists usually have their own ceremonies for joining people together and that never includes obtaining a marriage certificate for marriages after the first joining. They may decide that they are now man and wife and wife, but they use their own standards for forming these so-called spiritual relationships.
On the other hand, bigamists do just the opposite. They obtain what appears to be a legal marriage without being divorced from a previous spouse. Since only the first marriage is legally valid, the second or more marriages are all invalid.
Are These Unions Legal?
These two forms of marriage have one thing in common, they are both illegal in the United States (even in Utah). For spouses of bigamists, they seldom have knowledge of the fact that their new spouse is already legally married, so only the perpetrator of the bigamy is charged unless the new wife had knowledge of the previous marriage. When bigamy is discovered and charges are brought, it is often prosecuted at a misdemeanor level. Misdemeanors seldom carry more than a year of jail time and fines.
While cases of polygamy are seldom prosecuted, it does happen. There have been cases of people being forced into polygamist marriages against their will. Doing so can mean felony charges of sexual abuse or even child abuse if the spouse is underage. Regardless of sexual or child abuse, however, polygamy also can carry fines and up to a year in jail. In some areas of the country, law enforcement tends to look the other way rather than prosecute polygamist offenders. Surprisingly, many people cite freedom of religion as a defense against being prosecuted for polygamy. Polygamy has often been (perhaps unfairly) attached to the Mormon religion, but polygamy is not unheard of in Islam, cults and other religions.
When Children Are Involved
Another important issue that these two quasi-marriage categories have in common concerns minor children. While it is not necessary to be married to owe child support and have a custody dispute, the child that results from these types of relationships is often the red flag that catches the attention of law enforcement. It's one thing to flaunt traditional marriage and get away with it, but when the health and well-being of a minor child enters the picture law enforcement are more likely to take notice and bring charges.
If you or someone you love has been involved in one of the above and are having problems with child custody or support,speak to a family law attorney, like Scott Lyons Attorney at Law.