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The goal is to obtain legal proof of marriage with the least amount of effort, such as travelling overseas and hiring translators and notaries. This is not a "renew vows" situation.

Answers for New York preferred, but answers pertaining to other jurisdictions welcome.

Statute: A person is guilty of bigamy when he contracts or purports to contract a marriage with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or the other person has a living spouse.

Bigamy is a class E felony.

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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Pat W.
    Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 21:00
  • I don't understand the premise for your question. If you are married, which is a government construct, how do you not have proof of that? Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 23:10
  • @YetAnotherRandomUser You are right. It is impossible to be married and not have proof. Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 11:27

7 Answers 7

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New York's Domestic Relations Law explicitly contemplates the licensing and solemnization of second marriages for already-married couples. However

  • I haven't read it closely enough to determine whether a clerk is required to consider granting a license to such a couple or it within the clerk's discretion to refuse;
  • the law explicitly authorizes clerks to require proof of the existing marriage, so this provision would not meet your goal if the clerk does demand that proof (it leaves room for the clerk's discretion but I wonder whether that is to cover situations where the parties are well known to the clerk, e.g. in small towns); and
  • failing to declare the existing marriage probably constitutes perjury as noted in another answer.

Section 15(1)(a) in full, with emphasis added:

1. (a) It shall be the duty of the town or city clerk when an application for a marriage license is made to him or her to require each of the contracting parties to sign and verify a statement or affidavit before such clerk or one of his or her deputies, containing the following information.  From party one:  Full name, place of residence, social security number, age, occupation, place of birth, name of father, country of birth, maiden name of mother, country of birth, number of marriage.  From party two:  Full name, place of residence, social security number, age, occupation, place of birth, name of father, country of birth, maiden name of mother, country of birth, number of marriage.  Both parties shall also be required to present to the clerk documentary proof of age in the form of an original or certified copy of a birth record, a certification of birth issued by the state department of health, a local registrar of vital statistics or other public officer charged with similar duties by the laws of any other state, territory or country, a baptismal record, a passport, an automobile driver's license, any government or school issued identification card that contains a photograph of the applicant, a life insurance policy, an employment certificate, a school record, an immigration record, a naturalization record, a court record or any other document or record issued by a governmental entity, showing the date of birth of such parties.  The said clerk shall also embody in the statement if either or both of the applicants have been previously married, a statement as to whether the former spouse or spouses of the respective applicants are living or dead and as to whether either or both of said applicants are divorced persons, if so, when and where and against whom the divorce or divorces were granted and shall also embody therein a statement that no legal impediment exists as to the right of each of the applicants to enter into the marriage state.  The town or city clerk is hereby given full power and authority to administer oaths and may require the applicants to produce witnesses to identify them or either of them and may examine under oath or otherwise other witnesses as to any material inquiry pertaining to the issuing of the license, and if the applicant is a divorced person the clerk may also require the production of a certified copy of the decree of the divorce, or proof of an existing marriage of parties who apply for a license to be used for a second or subsequent ceremony; provided, however, that in cities or towns the verified statements and affidavits may be made before any regular clerk or designee of the clerk's office.

The drafting is a bit sloppy, but the intent seems clear. In light of this it is difficult to imagine an interpretation of the bigamy statute that would criminalize a "second or subsequent" marriage of a married couple. Nonetheless, as noted above, this may not solve the problem presented in the question.

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No, you would be guilty of perjury. In order to go through the legal formality, you have to obtain a license, Washington example (King County) seen here. You must swear that you are single, divorced, or widowed. If you leave the box unchecked, you won't get a license. If you are married and check any box, you have committed perjury.

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    I'm not sure this logic holds true if the first marriage was not recognised by (here) Washington. EG Switzerland does not recognise heterosexual civil partnerships formed in the UK; would the same two people marrying in Switzerland be bigamous or constitute perjury?
    – abligh
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 6:08
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    @abligh In Switzerland you wont run into any issues with that. When getting married at least one person is either a Swiss citizen or is registered here. While registering your martial status would be determined and the civil union will or will not be recognized (theoretically left up to the state to define). So if you decide to marry in Switzerland your marital state is already clear and you have to report as such. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 13:40
  • @YanickSalzmann Foreigners can't get married in Switzerland? What happens if a foreigner sees the Swiss Alps and decides they're so beautiful that they'd be the perfect wedding location?
    – nick012000
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 7:02
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    @nick012000 it's not uncommon in Europe to have a requirement that at least one party to the marriage has to be resident in the jurisdiction where the marriage is performed (sometimes even in the municipality -- for example, in France, the ceremony must take place in a municipality where at least one of the couple or the couple's parents is domiciled or resident: service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F36504/…)
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 9:34
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    @nick012000 This would most likely already fail with art 64 section 2 of ZStV which somewhat translates to "Engaged persons not being Swiss citizens have to additionally provide a document indicating they are legally allowed to reside within Switzerland by the time of marriage" Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 21:12
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I know two people who have married the same person twice for cultural reasons. In each case the husband was a Westerner; one bride was Indonesian, the other Bengali. Each bride had married in a Western country first; her parents didn't mind her marrying someone from outside their religion, provided she married within the norms of her culture. The parents wanted their friends and relatives to see that their daughter had indeed married properly, to someone who at least dressed as a Muslim or Hindu groom, and that she wasn't just shacking up with a Westerner.

IMHO bigamy is about an intention to deceive, and that was missing from these two sets of marriages.

1
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 1:05
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This is legal though uncommon in England - I did it nine days after my marriage abroad precisely because it was the easiest and cheapest way to get a marriage certificate in English. We arranged it with my local senior registrar in advance; unfortunately he did not inform his colleague performing the ceremony about this, causing a slight delay when we said "no" to her final check as to whether we were single, divorced or widowed. We now have two wedding anniversaries each year.

The relevant current position is set out in Section 13(2)(h)(iii) of the Registration of Marriages Regulations 2015, though this repeats provisions in earlier regulations.

(2) In column 4 the registrar must enter the condition of the parties to the marriage in the following manner— (h) ... if the marriage is between two parties who have previously been through a form of marriage with each other ... and neither of them has since married a third party, then ... (iii) if the ceremony was performed for the avoidance of doubt as to the validity of a previous ceremony, enter the words “Previously went through a form of marriage at … on …”, inserting the particulars of the place and date of the previous ceremony;

and part of our marriage certificate looks like

enter image description here

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  • That English law accepts this raises the distinct possibility that the similar provision in New York law is an element of its English heritage.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 10:06
  • @phoog - I suspect most regimes have a provision for dealing with "avoidance of doubt" for couples who may be already be married to each other but do not have satisfactory evidence. My great-great-grandfather's army records hint at something similar in 1855.
    – Henry
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 10:30
  • Does the two-anniversaries thing ever cause problems?
    – WBT
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 17:22
  • @WBT - no problems at all - if one of us forgets a present for the anniversary of the first wedding while the other remembers, there are 9 days to make up for it.
    – Henry
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 22:52
  • I meant more in the sense of when filling out any paperwork that requires you to list the single date on which you were married, though I suppose that happens less often.
    – WBT
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 16:34
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The Edmunds Act, of 1882, was passed into law by the 47th Congress. Despite its age, it was not repealed.

On page 3, it reads,

Every person who has a husband or wife living who, in a Territory or other place over which the United States have exclusive jurisdiction, hereafter marries another, whether married or single [...]

It is not an infringement on this statute to marry the "same" person again. Only "another".

The Department of State states [sic]:

If you get married abroad and need to know if your marriage will be recognized in the United States and what documentation may be needed, contact the office of the Attorney General of your state of residence in the United States.

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    The importants words here are probably on this statute which comes in addition to state law, which is the principal source of regulation of marriage in the United States.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 15:59
  • @phoog, in case it lends any clarity to my points in our discussion, I agree with this interpretation of "another". Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 18:16
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    The word ‘another’ is supremely ambiguous in this text – does it mean ‘another person [than themself]’ or ‘another person [than their spouse]’? It can mean either with equal naturalness and likelihood. Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 0:04
  • @JanusBahsJacquet is it? your first interpretation is nonsensical. Of course everyone marries another person [other than themselves]. Marrying oneself is an oxymoron. Marriage is the joining of two people. Older definitions of the term stated man and woman, though not in the XXI century, anymore dictionary.law.com/Default.aspx?typed=marriage&type=1. Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 13:58
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    @Mindwin No, it is not nonsensical. From a grammatical–semantic viewpoint, the two definitions are equally possible and likely, in that there is nothing in the sentence that requires that the antecedent to the implied dependent of another must be a husband or wife living, rather than every person. Consider “Every person who has a sister living who hereafter marries another” – here, interpreting it as ‘another sister’ would be quite unlikely. The fact that ‘another’ means ‘someone other than yourself’ doesn’t imply that marrying yourself is an option. Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 14:40
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This explicitly is not bigamy, which is defined in English law as a second marriage to another person.

Whosoever, being married, shall marry any other person during the life of the former husband or wife, whether the second marriage shall have taken place in England or Ireland or elsewhere, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable

Offences Against the Person Act (1861)

Since no other person is involved, whatever this is, it's not bigamy.

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The bigamy law of Indonesia reads:

Artikel 279.

(1) Met gevangenisstraf van ten hoogste vijf jaren wordt gestraft:

1°. hij die een huwelijk aangaat, wetende dat zijn bestaand huwelijk of zijne bestaande huwelijken daartegen een wettig beletsel opleveren.

2°. hij die een huwelijk aangaat, wetende dat het bestaande huwelijk of de bestaande huwelijken van de wederpartij voor deze daartegen een wettig beletsel opleveren.

This is different from the current Dutch criminal code

Artikel 237
1 Met gevangenisstraf van ten hoogste vier jaren of geldboete van de vierde categorie wordt gestraft:

1°.hij die opzettelijk een dubbel huwelijk aangaat;

2°.hij die een huwelijk aangaat, wetende dat de wederpartij daardoor een dubbel huwelijk aangaat

The Indonesian code refers to an existing marriage being a legal impediment to a second marriage. The Dutch code refers to a 'double marriage'.

Under Indonesian law marriage is a religious act recorded by the state, never ever a civil act of union, and Article 1 of the Marriage Act of 1974 and related court decisions makes it extremely clear that a marriage is conducted by a religious leader, and the state is only recording the act that has already taken place. However, for Muslims, the state is involved in the religious proceedings, while for non-Muslims this takes place only after the fact.

Of course historically marriage in many countries didn't even involve a religious leader, let alone the state, and the Indonesian words for 'marriage', are both Arabic words meaning sexual intercourse and/or marriage, i.e. 'kawin' and 'nikah'.

The decision of the Constitutional Court in 46/PUU-VIII/2010 makes it clear that a purely Islamic marriage that does not involve the state's hand is still valid, providing it complied with Syariah law.

An unrecorded marriage in Indonesia is referred to as 'nikah siri'. This term is often used to describe any form of cohabitating couple who have not undergone any kind of religious ceremony whatsoever.

The term nikah siri is similar to that of نكاح العرفي or nikah 'urfi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikah_%27urfi However siri/sirri are used only in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

The practice of unrecorded marriages/nikah siri is very common in Indonesia, and gives rise to bigamy in that a man requires his wive(s) permission to marry further women.

According to all the sources I can find, if you perform (Muslim) nikah with the same person twice then that is meaningless, and while it's quite common to do so, the second 'marriage' cannot possibly be a marriage.

https://islamqa.info/en/answers/149267/he-did-the-marriage-contract-with-a-girl-but-did-not-tell-his-parents-and-he-wants-to-do-the-marriage-contract-again-in-their-presence

https://www.zawaj.com/askbilqis/doing-nikah-twice/

https://questionsonislam.com/question/nikah

Since the second 'marriage' seems to be acceptable and indeed possibly desirable for familial harmony, while the second marriage does not create a new marriage, it does not seem that it is illegal to do so.

According to Catholic law, married people cannot remarry. They must have their existing marriage pronounced void. Article 1127 of Canon law provides 'It is forbidden to have another religious celebration of the same marriage'. 'Celebration' here refers to 'performing a marriage'.

It would appear that it might violate Indonesia's bigamy law for two Catholics to marry again.

Since it can be difficult to register a marriage many years later, it's likely common for Indonesians of all religions to 'marry again', ignoring the fact of the earlier religious wedding. It is not likely anyone would ever be prosecuted for this, since the state has the goal of regularizing everyone's paperwork, i.e. making sure people have marriage certificates and so on, and getting this done is more important than the specific precise details....

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