In laymen’s terms, bigamy refers to being married to two different people at the same time. Texas statute lays out the offense of bigamy in a bit more detail. There are two different ways one can commit bigamy. These depend on the married state of the actor.
When one is legally married to another and purports to marry a second partner, or does marry another partner, this is bigamy. However, the married person can also commit bigamy by living with a person other than their lawful spouse and holding themselves out as being married to the person with whom they are living.
When a person is not legally married to another, but either marries or purports to marry another person who they know is already legally married, they have committed bigamy. Additionally, when a person lives with a person they know are already married to someone else, and holds themselves out as a married couple, this is bigamy.
Consequences for Bigamy
As a general rule, bigamy is a felony in the third degree. Felonies in the third degree are punishable by a fine of up to $10,000. Third-degree felonies are also punishable by up to 10 years in prison. There is a minimum prison sentence of two years for third-degree felonies in the state of Texas. Bigamy can be charged as a second-degree felony when the partner is 17 years of age, and a first-degree felony if the partner is 16 years of age or younger. Both these offenses also cap fines at $10,000. A second-degree felony carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, with a minimum of two years. First-degree felonies cap prison time at life or 99 years, with a five-year minimum prison sentence.
Defenses to Bigamy
When a person reasonably believes their prior marriage is no longer valid, either because it was void, or had previously been dissolved due to death, divorce, or annulment, this is a defense to a charge of bigamy. However, “reasonable belief” requires either a certified copy of a death certificate or other, relevant document signed and issued by a court of law which legitimately supports the actor’s belief.
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(a) An individual commits an offense if:
(1) he is legally married and he:
(A) purports to marry or does marry a person other than his spouse in this state, or any other state or foreign country, under circumstances that would, but for the actor’s prior marriage, constitute a marriage; or
(B) lives with a person other than his spouse in this state under the appearance of being married; or
(2) he knows that a married person other than his spouse is married and he:
(A) purports to marry or does marry that person in this state, or any other state or foreign country, under circumstances that would, but for the person’s prior marriage, constitute a marriage; or
(B) lives with that person in this state under the appearance of being married.
(b) For purposes of this section, “under the appearance of being married” means holding out that the parties are married with cohabitation and an intent to be married by either party.
(c) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(1) that the actor reasonably believed at the time of the commission of the offense that the actor and the person whom the actor married or purported to marry or with whom the actor lived under the appearance of being married were legally eligible to be married because the actor’s prior marriage was void or had been dissolved by death, divorce, or annulment. For purposes of this subsection, an actor’s belief is reasonable if the belief is substantiated by a certified copy of a death certificate or other signed document issued by a court.
(d) For the purposes of this section, the lawful wife or husband of the actor may testify both for or against the actor concerning proof of the original marriage.
(e) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree, except that if at the time of the commission of the offense, the person whom the actor marries or purports to marry or with whom the actor lives under the appearance of being married is:
(1) 17 years of age, the offense is a felony of the second degree; or
(2) 16 years of age or younger, the offense is a felony of the first degree.