What Happens if You Marry Someone Who Was Not Legally Divorced?

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

What Happens if You Marry Someone Who Was Not Legally Divorced?

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

Marrying someone who isn't legally divorced means your marriage to that person won't be legal. It doesn't mean that you're in violation of any laws, however. But your spouse would be. It could also lead to any spousal benefits you have to be revoked.

Bigamy is the legal term that describes someone who is married to more than one person at a time. Sometimes it happens when someone inadvertently thinks they are legally divorced. However, it could also happen intentionally. Regardless of the reason, your spouse could face serious legal trouble, and you can too if you knew about it.

Bigamy results in an invalid marriage.

If two people enter into a marriage when one of them is still legally married to someone else, the state will invalidate the new marriage. This happens even when the person thought they were legally divorced.

This also happens when someone understands what they're doing, meaning they intentionally entered into a marital relationship with someone knowing that the other person is already married. But as long as you weren't aware that your spouse is still married, you're not in any legal trouble.

In the United States, same sex marriage is legal. These marriages are not immune from bigamy. If a same-sex couple gets married but one spouse is still married to another person, the second marriage is invalid. Bigamy laws apply to all forms of marriage.

Common law marriage can lead to bigamy.

Some states recognize common law marriage. This is when you and your partner live together as a couple for a period of time that your state lays out to be sufficient for marriage.

But there is no common law divorce. This means that if your spouse previously had common law marriage with someone else but never actively took the step of filing for divorce, they are still married under the eyes of the law.

As a result, your marriage would be invalid. In addition, your spouse may face jail time for bigamy, even if it wasn't their intent.

There are consequences for bigamy.

Depending on where you live and the laws in that state, your spouse could face serious legal consequences. Some states will even send people to jail for bigamy. But if you didn't know your spouse is still married to someone else, you need not worry, since you won't face any legal trouble.

You can take steps to help yourself by making sure that you have entered into a valid marriage; if you later find out that your spouse is already in a marital relationship with someone else, you'll want to ensure that you can prove your innocence.

There is one exception.

If you marry someone who never divorced their previous spouse, your marriage to that person is invalid due to bigamy laws. However, if the person has died or is presumed dead, then your marriage remains valid.

Since the first spouse is deceased, a divorce is unnecessary. This clears your spouse and you from any liability for bigamy.

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.

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