Las Vegas is the wedding capital of the United States. Unfortunately, not all of those marriages are legal. Marriages that are not legal are generally not legal because at least one of the parties is already married. Bigamy is a crime in Nevada that can carry harsh penalties.

What is the legal definition of Bigamy?

Bigamy is defined in NRS 201.160.

NRS 201.160 – Bigamy: Definition; penalty.

  1. Bigamy consists in the having of two wives or two husbands at one time, knowing that the former husband or wife is still alive.
  2. If a married person marries any other person while the former husband or wife is alive, the person so offending is guilty of a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.
  3. It is not necessary to prove either of the marriages by the register and certificate thereof, or other record evidence, but those marriages may be proved by such evidence as is admissible to prove marriage in other cases, and when the second marriage has taken place without this State, cohabitation in this State after the second marriage constitutes the commission of the crime of bigotry.
  4. This section does not extend:
    1. To a person whose husband or wife has been continually absent from the person for the space of 5 years before the second marriage, if he or she did not know the husband or wife to be living within that time.
    2. To a person who is, at the time of the second marriage, divorced by lawful authority from the bonds of the former marriage, or to a person where the former marriage has by lawful authority declared void.

The related crime of Marrying a Person Already Married is defined in NRS 201.170.

NRS 201.170 – Marrying person already married; penalty.

If a person, being unmarried, knowingly marries the husband or wife of another, that person is guilty of a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.

I’ve never heard the word “bigamy,” what does it mean?

Bigamy is the legal word for being married to multiple people at one time.

Bigamy, however, really encompasses two separate crimes, one for the person getting married to a second (or more) person, and the second for the person marrying someone who is already married.

But what if I didn’t realize I was still married to someone else, or that the person I was marrying was already married?

That depends. The Nevada Legislature contemplated mistakes when writing these statutes. Depending on the situation, you may have a defense against a charge of bigamy or marrying a person already married, as discussed in more detail, below.

What are the possible penalties?

Bigamy is a category D felony regardless of whether you are the person who is already married, or the person who is marrying someone who is already married. If convicted, you will be facing a possible sentence of:

  • Between 1 and 4 years in a Nevada State Prison; and
  • Possible fines up to $5,000.

What Defenses might apply?

Yes, of course there are. In fact, Libel is an extremely vague and difficult to prove charge. Some of the possible defenses include:

  • First Marriage is Over – Obviously, if your first marriage was legally dissolved by the Court, then you are not committing bigamy.
  • First Marriage is Void – An annulment is different than a divorce. When a married couple divorces, they are legally no longer married. With an annulment, the Court is determining that you were never legally married in the first place. There are a number of requirements that must be met in order to have your marriage annulled, but if you meet the requirements, and your marriage is voided, then any bigamy charges based on that marriage should be dropped or dismissed.
  • No Intent – As noted above, if one of the parties to a bigamist marriage was previously married and believed that previous marriage to be terminated, whether through divorce or annulment, then you might be able to avoid prosecution. If you did not know that your previous marriage was still in effect, then you may not be liable. However, there are certain requirements:
    • Reasonable belief in the termination – Obviously, if you never saw any paperwork, or filled out in forms, then you could not reasonably believe that your marriage was over. If you did fill out all the necessary paperwork and the marriage was not terminated due to a clerical error or some other minor flaw that you had no knowledge of, then you probably had a reasonable belief; or
    • Your previous spouse abandoned you – If your spouse left you and has been absent for at least 5 years, and you have no knowledge of whether they are alive or dead.
  • No Knowledge – If you marry someone with no knowledge that they are already married, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with Bigamy or Marrying a person already married?

As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.

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