California Penal Code 284 PC makes it a crime to marry or enter a registered domestic partnership with the spouse of another person. This offense is a felony that carries a penalty of up to 3 years in jail.
Specifically, the code section states that:
284. Every person who knowingly and willfully marries or enters into a registered domestic partnership with the spouse of another, in any case in which such spouse would be punishable under the provisions of this chapter, is punishable by a fine not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.
- Denise marries Dave even though she knows that he is already married to Kila.
- Darnell enters into a domestic partnership with Jada despite the fact that she is already married.
- Paco marries Luciana even though she is married to another man.
Please note that a crime under this code section is different than bigamy, which is also a criminal offense under Penal Code 281. Bigamy is committed when a defendant marries someone while he is still married.
Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused. These include showing that an accused party:
- did not know the other person was married;
- can prove an exception to the law applies; and/or,
- was falsely accused.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. Is it illegal to marry a married person?
- 2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 284 PC?
- 3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing
- 4. Related offenses
1. Is it illegal to marry a married person?
There are four important things to note about this section. These are:
- it prohibits certain marriages,
- the section now applies to registered domestic partnerships,
- a defendant must act knowingly and willfully to be guilty under the statute, and
- there are exceptions to PC 284.
1.1. Prohibited marriages
Penal Code 284 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to do either of the following with a person that is already married:
- marry that person, or
- enter into a registered domestic partnership with that person.1
Note that PC 284 applies even if the person that the accused marries:
- is separated from or has tried unsuccessfully to divorce his/her first spouse,
- has a first marriage that occurred in another state or country, or
- has a spouse that is okay with him/her marrying the accused.
Please also note that a crime under this code section is different than bigamy, which is a criminal offense under Penal Code 281. Bigamy is committed when a defendant marries someone while he is still married.
1.2. Addition of registered domestic partnerships
Penal Code 284 was amended in 2016 so that it now applies to “registered domestic partnerships.”2 These are interpersonal relationships between two individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are not married (to each other or to anyone else).
Prior to 2016, the statute did not have this language and simply stated that a person could not marry “the husband or wife of another.”3
1.3. Knowingly and willfully
The statute says that a person must knowingly and willfully marry someone else for there to be an illegal act.
“Knowingly” means that a defendant was aware that the person he married was still married to someone else. It does not mean that he needs to have known that what he was doing was illegal.4
“Willfully” means that the accused deliberately and willingly married the other person. It is not necessary that the accused intended to:
- break the law,
- harm anyone else, or
- gain any advantage.5
A person is not guilty of marrying the husband or wife of someone else if:
- the spouse of the person that an accused marries has been absent for five years in a row, and
- during that time, the person the accused marries has not known for a fact that the absent spouse was alive.6
Further, a person is not guilty of marrying the husband or wife of another if his/her first marriage has been annulled, declared void, or dissolved by a court with jurisdiction to do so.7
2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 284 PC?
A person accused under Penal Code 284 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.
Three common defenses to PC 284 accusations are:
- No knowledge
- Exception, and/or
- Falsely accused
2.1. No knowledge
Please recall that a defendant is only guilty under this statute if he marries someone and actually knows that the person is currently married to another person. This means it is always a legal defense for an accused to show that he did not have this requisite knowledge.
Please also recall that there are certain exceptions to the general rule prohibiting a person from marrying a married person. A defense, therefore, exists if a defendant can show that one of these exceptions applies.
2.3. Falsely accused
Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to get prosecuted based on false allegations. People get falsely accused out of
- revenge, and
Thus, it is a valid defense for a defendant to say that a party falsely accused him of violating Penal Code 284.
3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing
A violation of Penal Code 284 is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for 16 months, two years, or three years, and/or
- a fine of at least $5,000.8
Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with felony (or formal) probation.
4. Related Offenses
There are three crimes related to marrying someone else that is married. These are:
- bigamy – PC 281,
- incest – PC 285, and
- spousal rape – PC 262
4.1. Bigamy – PC 281
Penal Code 281 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to marry someone else while he is still married.
This California crime is referred to as “bigamy.”
A violation of PC 281 is a California wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.9
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.10
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for up to three years.11
4.2. Incest – PC 285
Penal Code 285 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to engage in incest. “Incest” is defined as marriage or sexual relations between close relatives.12
The types of relatives who may not marry or have sex with each other under PC 285 are:
- parents and children,
- grandparents and grandchildren, or anyone else with an ancestor-descendant relationship (like great-grandparents and their great-grandchildren),
- half-siblings, and
- uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews.13
A violation of this statute is charged as a felony in California. The crime is punishable by a maximum state prison sentence of three years.14
4.3. Spousal rape – PC 262
Penal Code 262 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to rape his spouse.
The punishment for spousal rape in California is the same as the punishment for rape of a stranger (per Penal Code 261).
A violation of PC 262 is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for:
- three years,
- six years, or
- eight years.15
Not only that, but in some cases of spousal rape, a defendant may be required to register as a California sex offender.16
For additional assistance…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Code 284 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7.
For similar charges or allegations in Nevada, please see our article: “Nevada Laws for Marrying the Spouse of Another (NRS 201.170).”
- California Penal Code 284 PC.
- California Senate Bill 105.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 7 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 282 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 284 PC. See also California Penal Code 1170h PC.
- California Penal Code 283 PC.
- See same.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 285 PC.
- Family Code 2200.
- California Penal Code 285 PC.
- California Penal Code 264 PC.
- California Penal Code 290 PC.