In countries where monogamy is the normal practice, such as in the UK, bigamy involves entering into a marriage arrangement with someone whilst still being legally married to someone else, and is considered a criminal act. If a bigamous marriage was entered into abroad, under some circumstances it may be recognised in the UK for legal purposes.
In the UK, if a person gets married whilst still legally married to another partner, this is considered illegal. In the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, under Article 57, a prosecution can be brought. This offence carries a maximum custodial sentence of seven years on indictment, although prosecution in cases of bigamous marriages is by no means automatic.
In the case where a person’s wife or husband has been absent continuously for a period of at least seven years prior to the second marriage taking place, and not knowing whether the absent partner is still alive or not, then the person entering into the second marriage is exempted from punishment. Of course, in the case where parties have been legally divorced, there is no obstacle to marrying a second time.
If a person has been legally married in the UK and subsequently decides to contract a marriage abroad whilst still being married here, as long as the legal system of the other country allows for marriages of this kind, the second marriage abroad will be allowed in England and Wales. Conversely, if someone living abroad has several wives, for example, in a country that allows such marriages, and that person enters the UK, his multiple marriages will not be construed as an offence and no prosecution will be brought under UK law. However, if after having entered the UK they then enter into another marriage ceremony here they will be prosecuted under the bigamy laws.
Where someone who is legally married in the UK goes abroad to a country that allows multiple marriages and enters into a second legal marriage there, this will not be considered an offence in the UK. If the other country has also criminalised polygamy, however, he or she will be open to prosecution under that country’s laws and under UK law too.
In terms of UK immigration rules, a UK spousal visa will not be granted to an applicant if his or her sponsor living in the UK is already legally married and the applicant’s marriage to the sponsor is a polygamous one. This effectively means that if a man is legally married and living in the UK that he cannot bring another wife into the country.
Men living legally with more than one wife in the UK were allowed to claim additional welfare benefits by the UK government in 2008. This is only the case if the multiple marriages took place in countries that allowed for them.
Anyone planning on getting married in the UK should check that any previous marriages undertaken by either partner have been completely dissolved, as if any technicalities have hindered this, then one or both of the partners may be open to prosecution under the bigamy laws.
If you are concerned that you may be open to prosecution due to a bigamous relationship, it would be wise to contact Duncan Lewis or another crime solicitor right away.