What is the crime of bigamy?
Bigamy is the offence of marrying someone while already married to another person.
In Australia, it is illegal to marry someone if you are already married to someone else. Having more than one spouse at the same time is called polygamy, and is also against the law.
Man charged with bigamy in South Australia
A Perth man was recently arrested and charged with bigamy – allegedly being married to two women at the same time.
Police have confirmed that the man was charged following an investigation by Australian Federal Police.
He has been charged with one count of bigamy, contrary to section 94(1) of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) and two counts of giving a defective notice, contrary to section 104 of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth).
It’s alleged that the man was not divorced from his first wife, when he married for the second time. One wife tracked the other down via social media. Police say that the second wife, whom he married in September 2021, was not aware of his first marriage, and on his marriage license application form said he had never been validly married before.
But in a twist to the tale, the man also made the same false declarations for a third marriage which allegedly took place late last year. The charges of bigamy don’t relate to the third marriage, as the man was divorced from his first wife by the time he married for the third time, and police claim that the second marriage was invalid.
What are polygamous or bigamous marriages?
In some countries, polygamous or bigamous marriages – where a person has several ‘wives’ , ‘husbands’ or ‘partners’ are legal, including places such as (but not limited to):
- Central African Republic;
- the Maldives;
- United Arab Emirates.
However, in Australia it is illegal to be married to more than one person at the same time.
What is the Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy in Australia?
Bigamy is defined as the act of going through a marriage ceremony; polygamy is defined as the practice of having more than one spouse at one time.
The Marriage Act
In Australia, the legal definition of marriage, which was changed in 2017, in recognition of same sex marriages, is the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Section 94 of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) defines the offence of bigamy as a person who goes through the form or ceremony of marriage with any person when that person is already married, to another person. The maximum penalty for this offence is five years’ imprisonment.
Giving Defective Notice
Giving defective notice is outlined under Section 42 of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), which states: A person shall not give a notice to an authorised celebrant under section 42, or sign a notice under section 42 after it has been given, if, to the knowledge of that person, the notice contains a false statement or an error or is defective.
The maximum penalty for this offence is six months’ imprisonment.
What about overseas polygamous marriages?
Polygamous marriages entered in countries where they are legal are not recognised in Australia.
What about polyamory?
Polyamorous relationships, of course, are perfectly legal. These may even be de facto relationships, with people living together, perhaps even raising children together, and they remain legal so long as they are not formalised by the act of marriage.
While being married to more than one person at the same time may seem harmless, it is an act which can be emotionally traumatic for spouses who are unaware of an existing marriage or intimate partner, and also for children and other family members.
There are many people who consider that Australian marriage law is outdated and should be reformed to recognise a declining interest in monogamy.
Does the law need to change?
Polyamorous relationships are probably more common than we think, even though there are virtually no statistics available in Australia. However, if we consider Australia within the context of US academic studies, then as many as 5 per cent of Australians could be in polyamorous partnerships.
Last year, evolutionary psychologist Dr Khandis Blake Melbourne University confirmed these estimates in an article in Wellness, saying that polyamorous relationships are becoming more socially acceptable and are becoming more popular, particularly amongst younger age groups.
“The prevalence right now of young people is somewhere around 4-5 percent of people might be involved in a polyamorous relationship, and about 20 per cent have probably tried one,” Dr Blake says.
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