I am a u.s citizen. I got married(We had a wedding with witness) and lived with my ex-wife who's non-u.s citizen for 7 years without registering our marriage in any country. We've never lived in the U.S together and she's not a GC holder. We are now separate. Can she sue me for bigamy if I married someone else later? And how can she do that outside of America? What happens if she reported this to the U.S embassy in her country?

Our marriage is not legal under the laws of neither the place we got married in nor the place that we live now. We didn't register our marriage anywhere in the world. But we had a wedding, a ton of photos and witness who are friends and families.

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    When you say that you did not "register" your marriage, what do you mean? Was the marriage legal under the laws of the place you got married in? – Robert Columbia Jun 10 '17 at 13:42
  • Are you married where you live now? – Elena Jun 10 '17 at 14:12
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    If you have spent any appreciable amount of time in a state that has common law marriage (even if you didn't live there are get married there), you are married and must get divorced. (Case law supports common law marriage with as little as a hotel registration as married.) If you have not, you aren't married but could be subject to rights of a putative spouse or palimony rights. Nobody "sues" for bigamy, it is a crime, not a civil action. But, if you are married you would commit that crime if you marry later. – ohwilleke Jun 11 '17 at 22:37
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    It is also worth considering the complications of having made many representations that you are married even if you are not legally married, both legally and morally. Absent a court ruling, many authorities will not believe you if you previously claimed to be married for seven years, old tax returns would have to be redone, etc. – ohwilleke Jun 11 '17 at 22:46
  • Shorter response: More facts are needed to provide an accurate answer. – ohwilleke Jun 11 '17 at 22:53

Informal common-law marriages are recognised in a number of common-law jurisdiction, though not in Ireland, and not in Alabama (which recently un-recognized them), or Washington. In Montana, you would be married (which still doesn't resolve the bigamy question). In Texas, you might be. There are three relevant elements to legal marriages at least in the US: a solemnization (ceremony), a license (or document like the Declaration of Informal Marriage document signed in Texas), and filing the license. You claim that the marriage is not legal in the place you got married or where you are now, but that conclusion might be wrong (I assume that opinion is based on your understanding of local laws, but that understanding might be in error. If your lawyer told you so, then I don't know why you're asking here, so I assume you didn't ask a lawyer). The main issue of concern would be over whether that country requires a license of registration for a marriage to be valid, or does a church ceremony along suffice. Unregistered marriages are not legally recognized in Kenya, so it could matter what country this happened in.

Assuming that you did not cross the threshold for "common law marriage" wherever you were when you "got married", then you are not married now. As pointed out by ohwilleke, an issue could arise if you visited one of the 10 US states that recognizes common law marriage, and accidentally satisfied the requirements for a common law marriage (without ceremony). Texas would not be a problem even if you were there and introduced yourselves as man and wife, because there is also a cohabitation requirement (FAM § 2.401: "the man and woman agreed to be married and after the agreement they lived together in this state as husband and wife and there represented to others that they were married"), but such a requirement might not exist in all states.

Assuming also that you are currently in the US (hence subject to jurisdiction of some state), it is pretty much guaranteed that you have not committed bigamy. Bigamy laws can differ somewhat from state to state, but picking the Washington law as an example, one would have committed bigamy if one "intentionally marries or purports to marry another person when either person has a living spouse". However one can defend oneself against that charge if "the actor reasonably believed that he or she was legally eligible to marry". I cannot find a statutory definition of "spouse" in the relevant chapter of RCW, in which case the term takes its ordinary meaning (which means there considerable wiggle room if the matter hasn't been decided by some court). At any rate, bigamy charges in Washington are extremely unlikely.

If your "ex" lived in a country which has a very expansive definition of bigamy (presumably by having a very expansive definition of marriage), then you might be subject to charges if you were ever in that country. But you could not be extradited from the US to that country for prosecution.

  • Ok, let me make it clear. Sorry for the confusion, guys. I had a wedding with this woman in her country but we didn't go to any official place inside or outside of this country to register our marriage. It was a mistake that we didn't do so. But our wedding was a christian wedding and witnessed by our friends and families. We lived like a married couple for 7 years. No one knows we didn't have a marriage certificate including our parents. Now we broke up. I am worried that she will try to prove our marriage with photos and media clippings if I got married with someone else in the future. – Christ Jun 11 '17 at 4:05
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    Depends upon whether marriage in the original country is necessary to have a legal marriage there and also on whether any place you have lived or spent time in which you declared yourself to be husband and wife to someone since then has common law marriage. For example, if you went on a ski trip in Colorado and held yourself out as husband and wife you are married forever after. – ohwilleke Jun 11 '17 at 22:41
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    "Assuming that you did not cross the threshold for "common law marriage" wherever you were when you "got married", then you are not married now." This is not accurate. – ohwilleke Jun 11 '17 at 22:43

The answer to your question depends on two other questions: Was your first marriage legal at the time? and If so, does your State recognise the first marriage as legal? The answer to the second question is almost certainly Yes: this overview points out that "A marriage in another country is normally valid in the US; so, if someone is married in another country, they cannot get married again in the US or vice versa."

The answer to the first question depends on the laws of that country at that time, so you would need to consult a specialist. If, however, you are relying solely on the fact that neither of you registered the marriage, you may well be out of luck, since the USA is unusual in placing the onus on the married couple. Many Christian countries have a State church, and any marriage conducted by the rules of that church is legally binding; a marriage certificate is proof that the marriage took place, but is not required. If there is a question about whether the marriage was valid, the records will be consulted; and they are very carefully kept.

(As an example, in England a 'church wedding' in an Anglican church includes the formality of signing the register, which legally creates the marriage. The chuch sends off a six-monthly list to the relevant department. A 'marriage certificate' is optional, in case someone needs to check before the update, and do not wish to consult the parish register. Other weddings, from Catholic to atheist, must meet certain standards including having an official from the register office present; any 'church' that does not do so would be fraudulent if it charged a fee, so this is unlikely to happen. The official will register the wedding on the next working day, regardless of the actions of the parties.)

Of course, your wife cannot "sue you for bigamy"; the most she can do is report you to the police. The overview I quoted also says "A person who knowingly commits bigamy is guilty of a crime, but it is seldom prosecuted unless it is part of a fraudulent scheme to get another's property or some other felony." You would not, however, be able to marry again while the first marriage remains.

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