What Can Happen to Me if I Remarry Before Getting a Divorce?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

What Can Happen to Me if I Remarry Before Getting a Divorce?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

If you remarry another person before your divorce to your current spouse is final, this is considered bigamy. Committing bigamy in the United States is against the law in every state, and those who engage in it can be subject to both criminal and civil penalties. Civil law treats this concept somewhat differently than criminal law. Because your second marriage is illegal, it is considered void because it legally cannot exist. A void marriage can be annulled in every state.

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The Basics of Bigamy

Bigamy occurs when one person is married to two people simultaneously. It can be intentional, where a married person intentionally enters into a second marriage with someone else. Or it can be unintentional, in the case of an attempted divorce that was never legally finalized. It is important to note that, if you are married to two people, and one or both of them know that you are engaging in bigamy but fail to take steps to end the marriage, then they are also legally liable.

There are a couple of defenses against bigamy, such as if a previous spouse's whereabouts have been unknown for a substantial period of time and it is reasonable to believe they may have passed away. Or if there was a good faith effort to file for dissolution of marriage but the party representing your spouse did not follow through and file the paperwork.

Criminal Penalties for Bigamy

Each state has its own laws and penalties for dealing with bigamy. Criminal penalties can include jail time ranging from months to years, or fines ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In Wisconsin, it is considered a felony, whereas in California it is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.

If your spouse was aware of your other marriage, they can also face those same charges. Spouses who knowingly maintain a bigamous marriage may receive a somewhat lighter penalty.

Bigamy in Civil Court

A bigamous marriage is considered "void" in most states. A void marriage is one that was never legal in the first place, so it qualifies for an annulment. An annulment essentially cancels a marriage and declares that it never technically existed in the first place.

In order to annul a void marriage, you or your second spouse must petition the court for an annulment and prove one of the specific grounds that establishes your marriage is void. In the case of bigamy, proof that your first marriage was valid at the time of your second marriage would be sufficient. Once you have annulled your second marriage, it is unlikely you would risk criminal prosecution.

If you want to remarry but are unsure of whether you are still legally married to someone else, it is a good idea to be certain before moving forward with the subsequent marriage or else you risk certain penalties depending on your state. In order to do so, visit your state's website where you initially got married to find out if you are still legally bound.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.