Bigamy is the act of marrying one person while legally married to another and is a criminal offense when it is knowingly committed. Bigamy is the wilful contracting of a second marriage when the contracting party knows that the first is still subsisting or it is the state of a man who has two wives, or of a woman who has two husbands, living at the same time. The punishment of the offence varies by state.
A marriage in which one of the parties is already legally married is bigamous, void, and ground for annulment. The one who knowingly enters into a bigamous marriage is guilty of the crime of bigamy, but it is seldom prosecuted unless it is part of a fraudulent scheme to get another's property or some other felony. Occasionally people commit bigamy accidentally, usually in the belief that a prior marriage had been dissolved.
Bigamy is not committed if a prior marriage has been terminated by a divorce or a decree of nullity of marriage. In the United States 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 dead, and remarriage by the other spouse is not bigamous. It is not necessarily a defense to a charge of bigamy that the offending party believed in good faith that he or she was divorced or that his or her previous marriage was not lawful.
All 50 states have statutes against bigamy. In most states bigamy is a felony. However, bigamy is a misdemeanor in Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas. Bigamy is also a misdemeanor in the Territory of Guam.
Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.