Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I was in a relationship with a man for over 20 years. His father filed for him and the children and they left for New York. After some years, he returned to Jamaica and we got married. He then left again for his home abroad and before our first anniversary, he got married again to another lady in New York. I am aware that it is illegal to get married twice without a divorce. The fact that I am living in Jamaica and he lives abroad, is there any way I can pursue him legally?
I appreciate your letter, though it was rather short on facts. For instance, how many children did the union produce and what were their ages when they went with him to New York consequent on the successful filing by their grandfather?
I hope that you have been able to have access to your children since they left. If not, this could have adversely affected their emotional stability. You made no mention of the children apart from saying that their grandfather filed for them and they left for New York. You then said that your husband returned to Jamaica after some years but you said nothing further about your children.
Also, you did not say whether or not you consummated your marriage before he left. I am going to assume that you did and so you therefore validated/consummated your marriage — not that this omission would affect the fact that he should legally terminate even an unconsummated marriage.
Well, my dear, if your husband did indeed marry someone else during the currency of the first year of your marriage you would be correct in saying that he has committed an illegal act. He has committed the offence of bigamy because he contracted a second marriage while his first marriage to you was still subsisting. It also matters not whether the purported second marriage took place in Jamaica or elsewhere. So the fact that he married this lady in New York does not change the fact that pursuant to Section 7 (1) of the Offences against the Person Act, he has committed the offence of bigamy which is a felony. If he is charged and convicted he shall be liable to be imprisoned for a maximum term of four years, with or without hard labour. In any trial of your husband for bigamy, you can give evidence against him as a witness for the prosecution or for him as one of his defence witnesses.
You ask if there is any way you can pursue your husband legally since he lives abroad and you live here. You can make a report to the police here that he has committed bigamy and if they fail to act, report the failure to the commissioner and/or you may present your facts to the Director of Public Prosecutions. When making your complaint/report you will have to produce your marriage certificate and your birth certificate and current identification to prove that you are the person named in the marriage certificate. You should also have applied for and obtained a copy of his New York marriage certificate possibly from the County Court Clerk's office. It should not be too difficult to get.
However, you can only take steps to have him charged and tried in Jamaica if he periodically visits Jamaica. You will have to inform the authorities when he normally comes here. If you do so, when the investigations following your report have been concluded and it is clear that there is sufficient evidence to support a charge of bigamy, they can apply for a warrant for his arrest. He can be arrested, charged and tried when he next visits Jamaica, in any parish where they happen to find and apprehend him.
If he no longer comes to Jamaica, then you may choose to make the report to the American authorities providing them with the same documents I mentioned above and a sworn statement from you that neither you nor he have ever applied to dissolve your marriage and that it was still subsisting at the date he got married a second time in New York, and is still subsisting. Bigamy is an offence there as well. You should ask them to charge and try him for the offence of bigamy based on your report and indicate your willingness to give evidence in support of your complaint.
Whether he is charged and tried in Jamaica or in New York depends on you and/or on the lady he purported to marry in New York if she finds out that her "marriage" is void by reason of the fact that he was married to you, his living wife, at the time they purported to exchange their vows.
If neither of you wish to take steps to sort out the situation through the criminal courts of either Jamaica or New York, then let me tell you what other step is open to you.
You may wish, instead of having him charged and tried criminally, to inform the lady in New York of your existence as his wife. Send her, through your attorney-at-law, a certified copy of your marriage certificate and your attorney could inform her that her purported marriage is void and her "husband" is liable to be charged and tried for bigamy. You can offer to apply to divorce him and if she still wants him after you obtain your Decree Absolute, they can then legally go through their marriage ceremony again.
If you do not wish to do all this, you may decide to just divorce him and let them remain in their void marriage. I personally do not recommend this because I am strongly of the opinion that when you know someone has broken the law, you are duty bound to report the matter to the authorities.
It is for them to decide whether or not they will prosecute an alleged felon, but you would have done what you ought as a citizen of Jamaica who respects its laws.
I do wish you all the best with whatever you decide to do, but you need to get an attorney-at-law.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. Mrs Macaulay cannot give personal advice.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.