If my husband married another person before we were divorced, is he guilty of committing bigamy?
Circumstances arise in multiple cases where one spouse has remarried while still married to his current spouse. In New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-1 provides that a married person is guilty of bigamy if he contracts or purports to contract another marriage, unless at the time of the second marriage, (1) he believes the prior spouse is dead; (2) he and the prior spouse have been living apart for 5 consecutive years throughout which the prior spouse was not known by the actor to be alive; (3) a court has entered a judgment purporting to terminate or annul any prior disqualifying marriage, and he does not know that judgment to be invalid; or (4) he reasonably believes that he is eligible to remarry. Id. Furthermore, if an unmarried person marries another married person and is aware at the time that the other person is committing bigamy, the unmarried person is also guilty of committing the crime of bigamy. N.J.S.A. 2C:24-1(b). That said, sometimes the person accused of committed bigamy could not be prosecuted for bigamy in the State of New Jersey, notwithstanding that he did in fact marry another person when he was still married to the prior spouse because the person got married in another state. This is due to the fact that the State of New Jersey, under the criminal code, has no jurisdiction to prosecute a person who committed the crime of bigamy in another state or country. Therefore, the crime of bigamy technically only occurs if the second marriage happens in New Jersey.
In State v. Ishaque, the Court found that,
Bigamy is not a continuing offense; the offense is committed the moment the second marriage ceremony takes place. Nothing in our code suggests the Legislature intended to make a bigamous marriage contracted outside New Jersey an offense against the laws of this state, nor to expand the jurisdiction of this state’s courts to prosecute one for committing bigamy elsewhere. State v. Ishaque, 312 N.J. Super. 207, 208 (Law.Div. 1997).
Based on New Jersey law, as stated above, a person commits the crime of bigamy at the moment the second marriage ceremony takes place. If a man married in New Jersey travels to another state or country, such as Pakistan as reflected by the facts set forth in Ishaque, and enters into a second marriage, he cannot be prosecuted for the crime of bigamy in New Jersey because the crime committed actually occurred outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the State. Id.
Although someone who commits bigamy outside of the State of New Jersey cannot be prosecuted for bigamy in New Jersey, bringing this to the Court’s attention would likely be quite unfavorable for the bigamist in a divorce proceeding pending in New Jersey.
If you or someone you know has a spouse who has committed bigamy, in or outside of the State of New Jersey, please contact our New Jersey matrimonial attorneys at Lyons & Associates, P.C. at (908) 575-9777 or contact us online. Our skilled attorneys will take the necessary steps to ensure that this information is utilized appropriately and effectively to the extent possible in your divorce proceeding.
WRITTEN BY: MARK T. GABRIEL, ESQ.