In Colorado, marrying another person while already married is bigamy. This is a criminal offense and a class 6 felony under CRS 18-6-201. The penalties for bigamy include a fine and up to 18 months in jail. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. The legal definition of bigamy in Colorado
- 2. What are the penalties for bigamy in Colorado?
- 3. What is common law marriage?
- 4. Is polygamy illegal in Colorado?
- 5. What if my spouse is already married?
- 6. Related Offenses
Under C.R.S. 18-6-201, “any married person who, while still married, marries, enters into a civil union, or cohabits in this state with another person commits bigamy.” There are a number of affirmative defenses to the charge. It is a defense to the crime if, at the time of subsequent marriage:
- The accused reasonably believes his or her prior spouse to be dead;
- The prior spouse has been absent for a period of 5 years and the accused did not know the prior spouse to be alive;
- The accused reasonably believed he or she was legally eligible to remarry or enter into a civil union.
Before someone can enter into a marriage, civil union, or cohabitation in Colorado, any previous marriage or civil union must be terminated. This includes a prior marriage or civil union that ended in annulment, divorce, or death.
An individual may believe that their prior marriage ended in a divorce but there was a mistake and the divorce was never finalized. A mistaken belief that the prior marriage ended may be a defense to bigamy charges if the accused reasonably believed the marriage ended in divorce.
Bigamy is a class 6 felony in Colorado. The minimum penalty for a class 6 felony conviction is one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. The maximum penalty for bigamy includes 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. In addition, there is a mandatory minimum parole period of one year.
If you are awaiting naturalization to become a U.S. citizen, a bigamy conviction can prevent you from becoming a U.S. citizen. Bigamy may be considered a “crime of moral turpitude.” As a crime of moral turpitude, bigamy may be a deportable offense.
There are consequences for a felony conviction that go beyond jail time and fines. A felony conviction can affect your future even after you have completed your sentence. A felony conviction can disqualify you from jury duty and prohibit you from holding a public office. A felony record can also make it difficult to find a job.
Individuals may be considered married even if they never went through the formal process of getting married. The law against bigamy includes individuals who cohabit with another person. “Cohabitation” means to live together under the representation of being married.1
If a couple lives together, agree that they are married, and represent themselves to the public as being married, they may be considered to have a “common law marriage.” The court may look at a number of factors to determine whether a couple is considered common law married. This includes filing joint tax returns, friends or family who believe the couple is married, using the other individual's last name and joining finances in shared bank accounts.
Cohabitating with another person while already legally married may be considered bigamy even if the couple never got a formal marriage license.
Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time. Polygamy is punishable by the laws against bigamy in Colorado. Some cultural or religious groups practice polygamy. However, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment does not protect individuals who engage in polygamy for religious reasons. The Supreme Court has ruled that the state can prohibit polygamous marriages.2
If your spouse is already married, then you may be charged with marrying a bigamist. Marrying a bigamist is a separate criminal offense. In order to be charged with marrying a bigamist, you must have knowledge that your spouse is already married. If you were unaware that your spouse was already married, you may have a defense to charges of marrying a bigamist.
Marrying a bigamist is a separate criminal offense in Colorado. Both the person who is already married and an unmarried person who marry or cohabitate together can face criminal charges. However, the criminal charges for bigamy are more severe than the charges for marrying a bigamist.
Any unmarried person who marries or cohabitates with another who is already married commits marrying a bigamist. Marrying a bigamist is a class 2 misdemeanor in Colorado. Penalties for marrying a bigamist can include from 3 to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Call us for help...
If you were charged with bigamy, polygamy, or marrying a bigamist, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group.
- C.R.S. 18-6-203
- United States v. Reynolds, 98 U.S. 145 (1878)