Nevada has seen its fair share of bigamist marriages. Whether triggered by unfinalized divorces, forgotten drunken escapades, or even the exploitation of the state’s marriage laws, the consequences of entering into a bigamist marriage are severe and far-reaching. Today, we’re addressing a surprisingly common issue in the state known for hosting the most weddings worldwide: Bigamy. With Las Vegas’s reputation as the marriage capital, it’s essential to understand what constitutes a valid marriage and the implications of bigamy under Nevada law.

NRS 201.160 | Is Your Nevada Marriage Legal? Understanding Bigamy Laws

Could Your Nevada Marriage Be Unknowingly Illegal?

In 1878, a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court set a legal precedent by declaring all forms of plural marriage, including bigamy and polygamy, against the law. Defined simply, bigamy is the act of being married to more than one person simultaneously, with full awareness of the situation. Such marriages are considered null and void, with the initial marriage remaining unaffected and legally binding.

Like other states, Nevada stringently prohibits bigamy. Under NRS 201.160, it’s a punishable offense to enter into a second marriage knowing that a legal spouse from a prior marriage is still alive. On the flip side, NRS 201.170 criminalizes marrying an individual when you are aware that they’re already married. Thus, deliberately stepping into a bigamous relationship is a clear violation of the law.

For bigamy to be considered a criminal offense, there must be knowledge on the part of one or both individuals that a legally existing marriage has not been concluded.

Consider this scenario: Alex deceives his partner, Jordan, about being single, when in reality, he’s married and divides his time between his wife and Jordan. Desiring to wed, Alex and Jordan have a marriage ceremony in Las Vegas. However, when a colleague of Alex spots them and informs the police, both are detained. In this case, Alex would face charges for knowingly entering a second marriage, while Jordan would be exempt, given the absence of knowledge regarding Alex’s marital status.

To sum up, Nevada law permits remarriage solely in instances where a previous union has officially ended through death, divorce, annulment, or was never legally valid. It’s important to note that Nevada recognizes marriages from outside the country and common-law marriages from other states. Therefore, individuals in these situations need to formally conclude their initial marriage before legally marrying again, to avoid facing charges of bigamy.

What Are the Legal Consequences of Committing Bigamy in Nevada?

When someone is found guilty of bigamy, which is classified as a category D felony, they are likely to face severe repercussions. The consequence of being convicted of bigamy in Nevada doesn’t just carry the weight of social stigma but also comes with stringent legal penalties. Individuals who are proven to knowingly engage in a second concurrent marriage can face a prison sentence that ranges from one to four years. Furthermore, there is the potential for a financial burden due to fines, which may reach as high as $5,000.

It’s crucial for anyone involved in or considering a second marriage in Nevada to be fully aware of their legal standings. For those who have a previous marriage that might not be legally resolved through annulment, divorce, or in the event of a spouse’s death, the risks of a subsequent marriage could be significant—both legally and financially.

How Can You Defend Against Bigamy Charges in Nevada?

In Nevada, the success of defending against bigamy charges heavily relies on the unique details of each case. There are several common defenses that have proven effective, each hinging on different circumstances surrounding an individual’s marital status:

1. The Previous Marriage Has Legally Ended: In Nevada, it’s entirely lawful to remarry if all earlier marriages have been formally concluded. Defending bigamy charges becomes plausible if the accused can prove their prior marriage was terminated through annulment, divorce, or a spouse’s death. This evidence can substantiate the case that no bigamy offense has occurred.

2. The Absence Rule of Five Years: In scenarios where a spouse has vanished due to abandonment or a disastrous event, the remaining partner is permitted to remarry if at least five years have elapsed with no news of their whereabouts. If the prosecutor cannot demonstrate the accused knew or should have known the missing spouse was still alive, the charges may be dismissed based on this defense.

3. Unawareness of an Incomplete Divorce: It’s not uncommon for individuals to believe their divorce is final when in fact, due to clerical errors or mishandling of documents, it isn’t officially recorded. If it’s shown that both parties genuinely thought the divorce was finalized, bigamy charges could potentially be dropped based on the absence of fraudulent intent.

4. Invalidity of the First Marriage: A marriage that’s considered void from the start in Nevada allows individuals to remarry without formally dissolving the initial union. A prime example would be a union where one party was already married; proving this can negate bigamy charges since the first marriage was never legally acknowledged.

Consider the case where Tom and Lisa (previously referred to as Tommy and Gena), cousins, marry in Henderson but eventually separate. Tom later marries Anna (previously Hannah), not a relative. When Lisa learns about this marriage, she accuses Tom of bigamy, leading to his arrest. In this scenario, Tom can demonstrate that his marriage to Lisa was invalid due to their consanguinity, thus voiding the bigamy charges. Moreover, Tom’s subsequent marriage to Anna would remain valid as he was never legally married to Lisa. However, Tom and Lisa might still face legal repercussions for incest, given their close genetic relationship.

It’s important to note that even if bigamy charges are dropped, this does not retroactively legitimize the second marriage. The accused individual may still need to undergo legal procedures to dissolve their original marriage before legally remarrying.

Defending against bigamy charges in Nevada requires a nuanced understanding of the law, accompanied by strategic legal defenses tailored to the specifics of each case. If faced with such accusations, seeking competent legal counsel is paramount to navigate these complex legal waters effectively.

For further legal assistance and to discuss your case with an expert, don’t hesitate to contact ATAC LAW.