Q: What, exactly, is bigamy?
A: Bigamy is defined as the criminal offense of marrying one person while still legally married to another. The literal meaning of bigamy is “second marriage.”
Q: Is bigamy a crime in Ohio?
A: Yes, it is considered a crime in Ohio. It is a first degree misdemeanor (the highest degree of misdemeanor offenses) and, if proved, is punishable by up to six months in jail.
Q: I was married when I was very young and I thought my first marriage was annulled, but I just learned that the marriage had never been terminated. I have since been married a second time. Have I committed a crime?
A: If you honestly believed that your previous marriage had been annulled, then you did not intend to commit bigamy. You cannot be convicted of bigamy unless “intent” can be proven, so your belief that your previous marriage had been terminated is a complete defense to the charge of bigamy.
Q: My husband and I have been married for ten years and have three children together. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for our entire marriage. He has always traveled a lot on business, but I just learned that, for the past two years of our marriage, he has been living a double life. He has a second wife and an infant child who live in Ohio about two hours away from our home. What legal remedy do I have?
A: Ohio law provides that you may choose to start an action to annul your husband’s second marriage. A marriage that is not legal and binding under Ohio law can be “annulled.” If a marriage is annulled, it is erased, as if it had never existed. By initiating an annulment action, you will be protecting the rights afforded to you under the law, such as spousal support, an equitable distribution of all marital assets, and a portion of your husband’s Social Security benefits. While the second wife is entitled to child support (if she chooses to initiate a child support action), she would not be entitled to these other rights if her marriage to your husband were annulled.
Q: If I initiate an annulment action, would I still be able to divorce my husband?
A: Yes. Once his second marriage is annulled, you can initiate a divorce action against him. Also, you would be entitled to compensation for all the money he used from your marital assets to support his other family.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by Wendi M. Fowler, currently serving as a trust officer with First-Knox National Bank, and updated by attorney Kristin A. Schultz with the Mount Vernon law firm, Zelkowitz, Barry and Cullers, Ltd.