Bigamy is the act of going through a marriage ceremony while already married to another person. In Florida, bigamy is both a crime and a factor that can impact a divorce.
The Crime of Bigamy in Florida
The Florida statutes are very clear that bigamy is a crime.
“826.01 Bigamy; punishment.—Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries another person shall, except in the cases mentioned in s. 826.02, be guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.”
So, if you’re already married and you marry someone else in addition to your first spouse, in Florida, you have committed a third degree felony which is punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Most “bigamists” are not actively marrying multiple people on purpose. They usually fall within the exceptions to the crime and are, therefore, not felons.
“826.02 Exceptions.—The provisions of s. 826.01 shall not extend to any person:(1) Who reasonably believes that the prior spouse is dead.(2) Whose prior spouse has voluntarily deserted him or her and remained absent for the space of 3 years continuously, the party marrying again not knowing the other to be living within that time.(3) Whose bonds of matrimony have been dissolved.(4) Who violates its provisions because a domestic or foreign court has entered an invalid judgment purporting to terminate or annul the prior marriage and the defendant does not know that judgment to be invalid.(5) Who reasonably believes that he or she is legally eligible to remarry.”
It is extremely common for people to have married someone years ago and presume that the spouse they haven’t heard of is either dead or has divorced them. This is especially true for people who were originally married in a foreign country. The key is that the belief in the death or divorce of your former spouse must be “reasonable.”
The person who marries the bigamist is not free from criminal charges…if they know their spouse is already married.
“826.03 Knowingly marrying husband or wife of another.—Whoever knowingly marries the husband or wife of another person, knowing him or her to be the spouse of another person, shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.”
The same exceptions apply to the person who marries the bigamist so a reasonable belief that the previous marriage is now invalid will be sufficient to avoid criminal culpability.
Does Bigamy Get Prosecuted in Florida?
Yes, bigamy does get prosecuted in Florida. When a crime gets reported in Florida, the police will investigate and the state’s attorney will file charges. In the case of bigamy, an upset husband or wife is very likely to report the crime of bigamy.
As recently as 2017, a Florida man with two wives was charged with bigamy. Neither wife knew about the other and once they found out, they both pressed charges against their mutual husband. The case was eventually dropped (probably because the wives backed out)
Bigamy cases often get dropped in Florida because the States’ attorneys decide they don’t have jurisdiction if the bigamous marriage occurred outside of Florida. This is not a defense to bigamy, this appears to be purely a prosecutorial decision.
The Future of Bigamy In Florida
Numerous foreign countries and cultures allow for multiple spouses. There was even a show about bigamists on TLC called “Sister Wives.” The stars of the show were all prosecuted but a judge declared the law against bigamy to be unconstitutional.
Marriage is a fundamental right per the U.S. Supreme Court, so we can expect that right to eventually be extended to legitimate relationships that may include bigamy.
How Does Bigamy Affect A Divorce in Florida?
If you marry a bigamist in Florida…you’re not really married. Therefore, you can declare your marriage void. This means you have no rights or responsibilities under the Florida divorce laws because you never were married in the first place.
The Florida Supreme Court will allow an unknowing spouse to collect alimony and divide marital property even when the marriage is void, “When a wife is an innocent victim of the husband’s wrong, then the court may allow permanent alimony and attorneys’ fees on equitable principles as well as under Section 65.08, Florida Statutes.” Burger v. Burger, 166 So.2d 433, 436 (Fla. 1964)
If you believe you are in a bigamous relationship and would like to know your rights, contact my Naples, Florida family law firm to schedule a free consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer.