Penalties for Bigamy in England and Wales
For a considerable period of time in England, a person could be sentenced to death for bigamy. In 1604 The Bigamy Act made entering into marriage with one person while still married to another a capital offence.
Since 1861 though, Section 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act deems bigamy an offence punishable by a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment and/or a fine. However, there are some exceptions.
If a person has had no contact with their spouse for a period of seven years or more, and has no knowledge of their whereabouts or their state of health it may be possible to remarry without penalty.
If someone has married more than one person in a country where it is legal to have more than one spouse, then often they will not be prosecuted if they come to England unless they marry again here.
Divorce or Death
It is important to note that legal separation does not make re-marriage legal, nor does a certificate of decree nisi. Apart from the potential exceptions above, a marriage can be viewed as legally ended only via divorce with a decree absolute or the death of one of the spouses.
A married couple may divorce after living two years apart if both parties agree. If one party does not consent, then they may divorce after seven years living apart. Exceptions to this include if a party can prove unreasonable behaviour within the marriage or adultery.
Different rules apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.
If you are in any doubt about the status of your marriage or civil partnership, your eligibility to marry or if you are seeking a divorce or legal separation, we recommend you seek legal advice as early as possible.
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