bigamy | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Bigamy is the act of marrying someone while still being legally married to someone else, considered a serious crime in most countries.

Bigamy is a form of marital fraud that involves entering into a second marriage while still being legally married to another person. In the context of criminal law, bigamy is considered a serious offense and is punishable by fines and imprisonment.

In most countries, bigamy is illegal and considered a crime. The specific elements of the offense and the penalties for conviction vary depending on the jurisdiction. Generally, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knowingly and intentionally entered into a second marriage while still being legally married to someone else. In some jurisdictions, the prosecution must also show that the defendant intended to deceive or defraud the second spouse.

The consequences of bigamy can be severe. The first spouse may seek a divorce, and the second marriage may be declared invalid. Any children of the bigamous marriage may be deemed illegitimate, and custody and support issues may arise. The bigamist may also face civil lawsuits for fraud and breach of contract.

Beyond the legal consequences, bigamy can have a profound impact on the lives of those involved. The discovery of a spouse’s bigamy can be emotionally devastating and can lead to the breakdown of the marriage and family. It can also damage the reputation and social standing of the bigamist and cause harm to the innocent parties involved.

To prevent bigamy, many jurisdictions require marriage licenses or certificates, and some require background checks or waiting periods before issuing the license. However, these measures are not foolproof, and some bigamists still manage to evade detection and carry out their deceitful behavior.

The Model Penal Code (MPC) is a document created by the American Law Institute (ALI) that serves as a model for criminal codes in the United States. The MPC is not itself law, but many states have incorporated its provisions into their criminal codes.

The elements of the offense under the MPC mean that in order to be convicted of bigamy, the prosecution must prove that the defendant (1) knowingly entered into a second marriage while still being legally married to their first spouse and (2) had the requisite mental state or intent to do so. In other words, the prosecution must show that the defendant knew they were already married and intended to enter into a second marriage anyway.

The penalty for bigamy under the MPC typically includes a fine and/or imprisonment. The severity of the penalty may depend on the specific circumstances of the offense, such as whether the defendant deceived the second spouse about their existing marriage, whether the defendant has a prior criminal record, and whether there were any other aggravating or mitigating factors involved.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/05/2023

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