Polygamy, Polygyny, Polyandry and all that jazz….

You may have read in the papers about the matrimonial dispute between the ruler of Dubai and his sixth wife and wondered, amongst other things, how on earth he could manage to be married to six women at the same time. Isn’t that bigamy? Not always and never if you are from Dubai.

Polygamy is the practice of marriage to more than one person at a time. In Dubai and a further 57 sovereign states around the world, polygamy is legal. In a number of states, its legal for Muslims living within those areas but not non-Muslims. In the remainder of the world, the practice is illegal. In Russia, although polygamy is illegal it is not actually a criminal offence.

In most of the western world, polygamy is not only illegal but it is a crime known as bigamy.   It is committed by ‘a person who, being married to another person, goes through a ceremony capable of producing a valid marriage with a third person’. The offence is created by section 57 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861

A person guilty of bigamy is liable, on conviction by the Crown court, to imprisonment for a term of up to seven years, or on conviction in the Magistrates court, to up to six months in prison, or to a hefty fine or even to both. In February 2018, a Judge in East Sussex jailed bigamist Michael Eels for a total of three months. The judge also ordered him to pay both wives £1,000 each in compensation.

As with many offences, bigamy laws have exceptions and defences. For example, if you have not heard from your partner for 7 years and are unsure if they are alive, you are unlikely to be charged with bigamy if you marry someone else. Other exceptions include when you genuinely thought your marriage had dissolved.

Ladies, be aware that this polygamy is a man thing. It is polygyny that is legal in these 58 states and that means it is the man who can have more than one wife. Polyandry is the practice of women having more than one husband and that is illegal in all but some remote parts of the Himalayas. I am sure this must be a triumph for common sense – one is surely enough for any sane girl!

Susan Devereaux,

Solicitor, Family Department

If you have any questions on the above points

Contact GoodyBurrett on 01206 577676 or email [email protected]