What is Bigamous Marriage and what are the legal implications in the UK?

Posted on: 7 mins read
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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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It is important to understand that if you get married whilst you are still legally married to someone else, you could be committing bigamy by the laws of England and Wales.

In 2022, it was reported in Leicestershire Live News, that: “Across all the police force areas in England and Wales, a total of 599 cases have been recorded in the past decade.”

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Bigamy is not allowed in the UK

Bigamy is a criminal offence in the UK There are known cases where people remarry without having completed previous divorce proceedings, and this is something you want to avoid.

Whilst you may be caught up in a new romance and looking to start the next chapter in your life, you must make sure that your first chapter has been closed legally. It can be even more complicated if you were married abroad or had a religious marriage, as the processes for marriage and divorce are not always as clear and records aren’t stored in the same way either.

Here's why It could make things more difficult:

There are known cases, where people have not submitted their divorce properly and ended up doing Bigamy without knowing they are doing it.

Different Rules:

Marriages abroad may not be recognised everywhere, and countries have different marriage and divorce rules.

Religious Ceremonies:

Religious weddings might not be legally binding, so you may need to use a separate process to end your marriage.

Religious rules can be different from the legal position, making things more complex.

Record Keeping:

Each place keeps marriage records differently, and it can be hard to check someone's marital history.

Records might not be easy to find or may not be well-maintained.

Paperwork Issues:

Documents like marriage certificates may need translation, authentication, and approval to be valid in another country.

Dealing with official paperwork can be tricky and time consuming.

Culture and Language:

Different cultures and languages can make it hard to understand legal requirements.

Navigating legal systems becomes tougher due to cultural differences.

To sum up, things get complicated because laws vary between countries, religious ceremonies may not be legally recognised, record-keeping practices differ, paperwork can be tricky, and cultural and language differences add another layer of complexity.

Bigamy and Polygamous Marriages: What are the differences?

Bigamy and polygamy are two distinct marital concepts that often lead to legal and cultural complexities. Bigamy involves the act of marrying someone while already being married to another person. Whereas, polygamy means having multiple spouses at the same time, which can vary based on cultural and legal contexts.

In certain Islamic nations, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, it is legally permissible for a man to have more than one wife concurrently. However, in England and Wales, entering into a second marriage without dissolving the first is considered a criminal offence. As a result, individuals may find themselves uncertain about the validity of their second marriage under these varying circumstances.

two women in wedding dresses holding hands

Parveen vs Hussain – a Bigamous Marriage?

In the recent case of Hussain v Parveen, it is reported that Ms Parveen married her first husband, Mr Aslam, on 1st November 2000 in Pakistan. After a few weeks, Mr Aslam moved back to the UK whilst Ms Parveen stayed in Pakistan.

Mr Aslam could not afford to bring Ms Parveen to the UK and was given an ultimatum by her family - either bring Ms Parveen to the UK or divorce her.

On 10th February 2008, Mr Aslam pronounced Talaq (Islamic Divorce) in the UK. The Talaq was presented to a mosque and converted into a divorce certificate.

The divorce certificate was then presented to the local Union Council in Pakistan, where the religious divorce was obtained.

Ms Parveen then married Mr Hussain on 19th December 2008 and moved to the UK in March 2009. After some time the marriage broke down and Mr Hussain claimed that Ms Parveen’s marriage to him was bigamous, and he started nullity proceedings to establish that the marriage was void.

The Court ruled that the divorce from Ms Parveen’s first marriage was not recognised as a legally effective divorce and it had not ended the first marriage.  As a result, the second marriage was declared not valid.

This case shows that some situations are not always straightforward and that despite the best efforts and intentions of those involved, legal complications can still arise.

R v V – Luton Crown Court Case Overview

In the case of R v V, heard at Luton Crown Court, the Defendant, a 23-year-old married man hailing from the Philippines, encountered and subsequently married a French National while in the United Kingdom. Based on this marriage, he sought legal permission to remain in the United Kingdom.

The Defendant faced two specific charges:

He intentionally gave a false statement at Barnet Registry Office to try to get married. This goes against the law, specifically Section 3(1)(A) of the Perjury Act 1911, which deals with lying in declarations related to marriage.

While his previous wife in the Philippines was still alive, the Defendant engaged in a marriage ceremony at Watford Registry Office. This act was against Section 57 of The Offences Against The Person Act 1861, i.e. bigamy.

Following the trial, the Defendant received a sentence of 8 months' imprisonment, which was subsequently suspended for an 18-month period. Additionally, he was ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

No Decree Absolute/Final Order, No Divorce

The impact of entering a second marriage when the first hasn’t ended is wide-ranging and there are many different consequences, apart from potential criminal charges.

In England and Wales, unless you have a Decree Absolute (for divorce application started prior to 31 March 2022) or Final Order (for divorce application started after 6 April 2022) , which officially brings your marriage to an end, you are still legally married.

Just being apart from your spouse and/or obtaining a Decree Nisi or Conditional Order doesn’t officially or legally end your marriage. Even if you've been separated for a long time. There's more you need to do to complete the divorce process.

After obtaining a Decree Nisi or Conditional Order, the divorce process requires a Decree Absolute or Final Order to be applied for before your divorce is legal. You have to wait a period of time before you are able to apply for a Decree Absolute or Final Order, the length of time depends on which of the divorce laws your application was made.

During the period following the Decree Nisi or Conditional order people often look at settling financial matters and child-related issues, and ensuring all necessary legal paperwork is correctly filed. It's important to seek legal advice from our Divorce Lawyers in our Family Team, as the specific steps can vary based on your location and circumstances.

a wedding ring next to a person's hand

Penalties for Bigamy in England and Wales

The historical consequences for bigamy in England were severe, with death as a possible punishment for a significant period. In 1604, The Bigamy Act established the act of entering into marriage with one person while still being married to another as a capital offence.

However, since 1861, the legal landscape has evolved. Bigamy is now considered an offence under Section 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act.

The Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 provides a comprehensive definition of bigamy in Section 57, clearly outlining the legal parameters of this offence. In essence, bigamy is committed when an individual, already married, enters into a second marriage during the lifetime of their existing spouse, regardless of whether the second marriage occurs within the jurisdiction of England, Ireland, or any other location. Engaging in such conduct constitutes a criminal offence, and upon conviction, the offender is subject to legal consequences.

The punishment for bigamy can differ based on where the case is heard. In a Magistrate's Court, someone convicted might get up to six months in jail, a fine up to £5,000, or both. If the case goes to the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is seven years in jail, a fine, or a mix of both. It is essential to note that there are exceptions to this general rule.

Seven-Year Rule

Under specific circumstances, individuals may remarry without facing penalties. If an individual has had no contact with their spouse for a continuous period of seven years or more and possesses no information about their whereabouts or well-being, they may be eligible to remarry without legal consequences.

How to Report Bigamy

If you have reason to suspect that an individual has committed bigamy, you should get in touch with your local police through their non-emergency contact number: 101.

Get Legal Advice if You’re Not Sure

All of our clients have very different situations and circumstances and so every case is different. No matter what your circumstances, you need to understand the different processes and procedures related to marriage and bigamy as well as the financial implications of your marriage, divorce and any later marriages.

In moments when you feel the need for support, Simpson Millar can help. Our solicitors will stand by your side, offering guidance on navigating the path ahead with confidence and providing the assurance you seek for a more certain future.

Whether you're facing legal challenges, uncertainties about marriage laws, or seeking clarity in various aspects of family law, we are dedicated to helping you find solutions, and supporting you every step of the way.


West Yorkshire Police. (2023). Bigamy and Marrying More Than One Wife. [Online]. Available at: https://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/ask-the-police/question/Q742.

Expatriate Law. (Year not specified). What is Bigamy?. [Online]. Available at: https://expatriatelaw.com/what-is-bigamy/

Legal 500. (Year not specified). Do You Need Any Permission for a Second Marriage in the UAE?. [Online]. Available at: https://www.legal500.com/developments/thought-leadership/do-you-need-any-permission-for-a-second-marriage-in-the-uae/

UK Parliament. (2020). Debates on Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Bill in the House of Lords. [Online]. Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2020-02-05/debates/81678CD1-63E7-4F5A-A70F-44E3B4A4EBEC/DivorceDissolutionAndSeparationBill.

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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