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Is she a serial bigamist?

Dr Margarette MACAULAY
Monday, July 02, 2012

Dear Mrs Macaulay,

I got married to a man and four months into the marriage he told me that he was already married but he did not think it was important to tell me because that marriage was not legal.

He said he had found out that his wife had married a man in England and had not been divorced. She later came to Jamaica and married him with the intention of filing for him and their three kids. To date only the kids migrated.

His wife, however, remarried in the USA, where she now resides. She has not divorced him.

Is it possible for one woman to get married in three different countries without divorcing any of these men? I know this behaviour is illegal, but is our marriage legal? Would my man have to go through a normal divorce from this woman, or can it be annulled?

Your letter is really interesting and unusual.

It is clear that this woman has married three times without suffering any adverse legal effects so far. You see, once the party is prepared to lie about their status, it certainly can be done. When one applies for a marriage licence, the party's answers are generally taken as truthful and no checks or investigations are made. So if she kept lying about her status, then she could definitely get married in these different countries without bothering about divorces and get away with repeat bigamies unless, of course, one of her 'husbands' were to ensure that the law deals with her.

I would have liked to know how and when your spouse found out that his 'wife' was married to another man in England and was not divorced from him at the time of their marriage. In other words, did she confess to him or did someone make the allegation to him or did he just hear rumours? Is he also certain that she has gone through an actual marriage ceremony with another man in the United States? Or is this person merely living with her and is referred to as her husband?

You see, in order for a bigamous situation to exist, the person must have knowingly gone through a ceremony of marriage knowing that her husband of her previous marriage is still alive and that she had not been legally divorced from him. In other words, the previous marriage must still be in existence -- at least in law -- even if they have been separated for years and years.

You have asked if your spouse's marriage to his 'wife' is legal in the circumstances you have related. Well, my dear, if her marriage in England was still subsisting at the time she married your spouse, and she knew that her English husband was still alive at that time, then it would not be a legal marriage. If the English marriage was dissolved legally, then your marriage would not be legal.

Parties must be single -- that is never married, legally divorced or widowed -- in order for them to be able to contract a legal marriage.

You ask whether your spouse would have to get a normal divorce or whether his marriage can be annulled.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1989 provides that decrees of nullity of marriage can be pronounced by the court for the reason that a marriage is void. It says that a marriage is void when one of the parties to the marriage had a husband or wife living at the time the marriage took place. There are other circumstances stated in the Act when a marriage is said to be void, but they do not relate to your spouse's situation, so I have not mentioned them here.

The Act says that he should apply to the court for a decree of nullity of the marriage. This is also done by way of a petition. If this situation applies, your spouse should seek the assistance of an attorney and proceed to free himself from this travesty of a 'marriage'. If they were legally married, he would have to get a divorce.

He can then confidently go on with his life without compounding the legal mess created by his 'wife'.

Bigamy is indeed illegal. It is dealt with in the Offences Against the Person Act. It provides that this offence is a felony and on conviction the offender can be sent to prison for a maximum period of four years with or without hard labour. If his 'wife' comes to Jamaica your spouse may choose to report her for her offence, or decide just to get his nullity decree and leave her to go on with her life in her own peculiar and illegal way, marriage-wise.

For a criminal charge of bigamy against her to succeed, it must be proven that her first marriage in England was still subsisting and that she knew this and knew that the husband of hers was still alive when she said "I do" to your spouse in front of witnesses at their wedding, which must have been conducted by a duly appointed marriage officer of Jamaica.

I hope that your spouse does get his nullity decree so that he can thereby disentangle himself from this woman's legal mess. Good luck to you both.

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 allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. Mrs Macaulay cannot give advice via e-mail.

DISCLAIMER:

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.




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