Can You Marry More Than One Person In Australia?

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The short answer is NO, it is not legal to be married to more than one person simultaneously. 

This practice, known as polygamy, is prohibited under Australian law. According to the Marriage Act 1961, which governs marriage laws in Australia, marriage is defined as the union of two people to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life. This definition excludes the possibility of a legally recognised marriage involving more than two people.

When Can a Polygamous Marriage Be Recognised?

There are certain circumstances under which some elements of a polygamous marriage might be recognized for specific legal purposes. 

This usually occurs when considering parties’ rights in family law matters, social security, migration, and some aspects of property settlement. 

For instance, if someone in a polygamous marriage migrates to Australia and seeks a divorce, the Australian legal system may need to acknowledge the existence of that marriage to some extent to resolve the divorce and related matters like child custody and property distribution.

The recognition in these cases does not imply legal validation of the polygamous marriage itself but rather an acknowledgment of the relationship to apply Australian law fairly and justly to the people involved.

What is the Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy?

Bigamy and polygamy are terms often used in discussions about marriage law and societal customs, but they refer to different practices:

  • Bigamy: Bigamy is the act of marrying one person while still legally married to another. In most jurisdictions, including Australia, bigamy is illegal. It’s considered a criminal offense because the legal framework of these societies is based on the principle of monogamy, where an individual is allowed to be married to only one person at a time. So, if a person who is already married goes through a marriage ceremony with another person without legally dissolving the first marriage, that constitutes bigamy.
  • Polygamy: Polygamy refers to a marriage system where an individual has more than one spouse simultaneously. Polygamy is primarily of two types: polygyny, where a man has multiple wives, and polyandry, where a woman has multiple husbands. Polygamy is practiced in some cultures and religions around the world, but it is not legally recognised in many countries, including Australia. In these countries, even if a polygamous marriage is legally conducted in another country where it’s permitted, it won’t be legally recognised.

The key difference is that bigamy is a specific legal offense related to the act of marrying someone while already being married to another, whereas polygamy is a broader term for a marital system allowing multiple spouses. Bigamy usually occurs within societies that legally endorse monogamy and is considered a violation of the law. In contrast, polygamy is often a part of religious or cultural practices in societies where it’s legally or socially accepted.

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Can You Go to Jail for Bigamy?

Yes, in Australia, bigamy is considered a criminal offense, and a person can potentially face imprisonment for committing this act. According to Australian law, it is illegal to marry someone while already being married to another person. A person who is found guilty of bigamy can face criminal charges.

The specific penalties for bigamy can vary depending on the state or territory within Australia. For example, under the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), which governs marriage law in Australia, a person found guilty of bigamy can face up to five years in prison. However, the application of this law and the severity of the punishment can depend on various factors, including the circumstances of the case and the individual’s intent.

In practice, prosecutions for bigamy are relatively rare, and the circumstances of each case, such as whether deception was involved, are typically considered in determining the appropriate legal response. However, the potential for imprisonment highlights the seriousness with which Australian law treats the offense of bigamy. It is always best to talk to an expert family lawyer for advice.

How Common is Polygamy?

Polygamy is not common in Australia, primarily because it is legally not recognized and is against the law to practice. Australian law is based on the principle of monogamy, where an individual is legally allowed to be married to only one person at a time. This legal framework reflects Australia’s predominant cultural and social norms, which also largely adhere to monogamous practices.

However, it’s important to note that there are diverse communities within Australia, including those from cultures or religions where polygamy is a part of traditional practices. In such communities, polygamous relationships might exist to a limited extent, typically in an informal or cultural context rather than as legally recognised marriages. These relationships may not be officially registered or legally acknowledged as marriages under Australian law.

The actual prevalence of polygamous relationships in these communities is difficult to determine due to their unofficial status and the private nature of personal relationships. Additionally, the lack of legal recognition and potential legal ramifications can lead to a reluctance to disclose such relationships.

Polygamy Charges Against Client from UAE

Our client, an individual of Islamic faith from the UAE, has been charged with polygamy in Australia. He approached Walker Pender Group seeking assistance in dismissing these charges. The client maintains that his multiple marriages were legally conducted in the UAE, where polygamy is permitted under certain Islamic practices. However, upon relocating to Australia, he found himself conflicted with Australian laws, which strictly adhere to monogamous marital principles. Our legal strategy will highlight the cultural and legal context of his marriages and argue for recognising his unique situation within the Australian legal framework.

Can You Marry More Than One Person In Australia?

Curious about the legalities of marrying more than one person in Australia? Walker Pender Group provides expert legal guidance on this complex issue. Navigating the intricacies of Australian marriage laws, we offer personalised advice tailored to your unique situation. Contact us today to explore your legal options and understand your rights. Trust Walker Pender to clarify your queries about marital laws in Australia.

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