Bigamy is seemingly an infrequent event but the emotional, financial and criminal consequences are all too real for parties caught up in it. In March 2018 a man was jailed for six months at Preston Crown Court for marrying bigamously, having been married to his first wife for 8 years at the time of marrying his second wife. The husband in question lied to the registrar when registering to marry. He divorced his first wife two years after his second marriage but his second wife only became aware of the deception when they divorced in 2012.
Both marriages took place in the UK where polygamous marriage is illegal, but if the second marriage takes place in a country that permits plural marriage then that marriage will not be bigamous in the UK. The gentleman concerned got off lightly, as a person convicted of bigamy may be jailed for up to seven years, be fined, or both. Whilst he intended to be duplicitous, bigamy can arise in circumstances where a party simply makes a mistake about their marital status, particularly where a first marriage might have been contracted abroad.
It is vital to make sure that a decree absolute of divorce has been obtained before a new marriage is entered into. This vital document should be carefully stored on receipt as getting a copy from the court, whilst possible, can be a lengthy and cumbersome process.
Nicola Furmston is a solicitor and head of the Family team at Barker Gotelee.