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In the United States, laws relating to the marriage relationship are created by and litigated in the individual states. In all of the states, it is illegal to willfully and knowingly enter into a second marriage while being validly married to another person. This crime is listed as Bigamy in all of the states. In California, Bigamy is defined in section 281 of the Penal Code. California law does not require any particular type of marriage ceremony for either marriage as long as it was valid where entered into.
Even common law marriages (those created by cohabiting for a specified period of time), which cannot be created in California, can be used for Bigamy prosecutions if the marriage was valid where entered into. California does recognize common law marriages lawfully entered into in other states. Cohabitation of the spouses is not required, only a valid marriage. And, even if the marriages were entered into outside of California, cohabitation in California is enough to constitute bigamy.
If the first marriage is voided or nullified prior to the second marriage, bigamy has not been committed. But a voidable marriage which has not been voided in court will justify a bigamy prosecution. A defective divorce results in a continuing marriage and it is no defense to bigamy that the person believed that the divorce was valid. A good faith belief that the divorce was valid will sometimes persuade a prosecutor not to file bigamy charges. But erroneous legal advice, mistake or ignorance of the law is not a defense to the crime of bigamy. A valid divorce or annulment of the first marriage after entering into to second marriage does not eliminate the crime of bigamy.
Under California law, a second marriage is not considered Bigamy if the first spouse is absent for five consecutive years without being known to be alive to the other spouse. And, immigrants visiting temporarily in this country will not be charged with Bigamy if married to more than one spouse if the laws of their country permit it. The U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that people who practice bigamy as part of their religion are still guilty of a crime.
People facing bigamy charges sometimes try to get their first marriage annulled by the courts since this means that it never existed. Marriages can be annulled if:
In California, the penalty for committing bigamy includes a fine of up to $10,000 and incarceration in either a county jail or state prison. A person who knowingly marries a married person can be fined not less than $5,000 or be incarcerated in state prison. Immigrants convicted of bigamy can be deported. Bigamous marriages also created many legal and social problems for the second marriage partner and children of that marriage. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
Jess J. Araujo