Bigamy and Marrying a Bigamist

Have you Been Charged with Bigamy or Marrying a Bigamist in Georgia?

While bigamy is occasionally thought of as a crime of the past, bigamy is still around today. TV shows like Sister Wives among other shows highlight other cultures and their propensity for multiple spouses. However, Georgia among other states criminalizes practicing bigamy and marrying a bigamist. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Criminal Defense Attorneys have more than two decades of experience in criminal law and are here to help you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Georgia Law on Bigamy O.C.G.A. §16-6-20 reads as follows:

A person commits the offense of bigamy when he, being married and knowing that his lawful spouse is living, marries another person or carries on a bigamous cohabitation with another person.

Georgia Case Law on Bigamy

The accused obtained a second marriage, but he had believed that his first marriage was over due to a divorce. Reikes v. State, 71 Ga. App. 324, (1944). Defendant paid a lawyer to obtain a divorce from his first wife. The lawyer told him later on that he was free to marry again and the accused reasonably believed that he had obtained a valid divorce. However, the accused did not have any evidence to show that he had received a valid divorce. The only evidence he presented was the statement the lawyer told him. It turned out that the divorce was not final and therefore, the accused had not been free to marry again because his first wife was living and he knew she was alive. The Court stated that when defendants honestly believe they have a right to marry for a second time because of reasonable diligence in ascertaining the truth, then there is no crime. However in this case, because the accused did not exercise reasonable diligence in making sure he was divorced, the Court was justified in convicting him of bigamy.

Georgia Law on Marrying a Bigamist O.C.G.A. § 16-6-21 reads as follows:

An unmarried man or woman commits the offense of marrying a bigamist when he marries a person whom he knows to be the wife or husband of another.

The penalty for marrying a bigamist is a prison term between one and ten years.

What has to be Proven to be Convicted of Bigamy or Marrying a Bigamist

To be convicted of bigamy in Georgia, the State must demonstrate that the suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This involves a showing that the defendant either did not honestly believe they had a right to remarry because the first spouse was alive or that they did not exercise reasonable diligence in finding out the truth about the legality of the first marriage.

Penalty for Bigamy in Georgia

The consequences for practicing bigamy or marrying a bigamist in Georgia will be a prison term between one and ten years.  A person convicted of bigamy will be guilty of a felony. 

Bigamy and Marrying a Bigamist Defenses

The spouse had been absent for a long time. One defense to bigamy is if the prior spouse had been continually absent for a period of seven years and the accused did not know the former spouse to be alive or reasonably believed that they were eligible to remarry.

The defendant honestly believed he had a right to consent to a second marriage because of their efforts to discover the truth. As long as there is proof that efforts were made to find the truth about the first marriage, then the jury has the right to infer that the defendant had no criminal intent, and was therefore not guilty of bigamy.

What are not Defenses

The accused reasonably believed they had a right to remarry but did not exercise reasonable diligence to ascertain the truth. Even if the accused was reasonable in assuming they had a right to remarry, they have a duty to exercise diligence in making sure they are eligible to be deemed not guilty of bigamy. Absent proof of reasonable diligence will mean that the accused is guilty of bigamy.

We didn't get married. The statue states that bigamy can occur when a person gets married or if they carry on a bigamous cohabitation with another person. Therefore, as long as you are cohabiting then you can still be guilty of bigamy.

Both wives or husbands were okay with it. Nothing in the statute allows for an exception if the first wife and the soon to be second wife consent to the marriage. Therefore, even if consent is obtained, the defendant will still be convicted of bigamy in Georgia.

There was little to no contact with the previous spouse for a period of seven years. The statute requires that the former spouse is continually absent for a period of seven years. Therefore, any contact will restart the timer, and the accused will be guilty of bigamy if they attempt to marry before the seven years is up.

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