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How French law regulates bigamy and polygamy?

Bigamy is the fact for a person, already committed in the bonds of an undissolved marriage, to contract a new marital union. In the case of more than two simultaneous marital unions, the person is in a situation of polygamy and is called polygamous.

What principles govern bigamy?

Article 147 of the Civil Code stipulates that it is forbidden to enter into a second marriage before the dissolution of the first.

Thus, bigamy can only exist if there is a valid first marriage.

Even if the spouses from the first marriage reunite, the first marriage must be dissolved before a new marriage can be entered into. Legal separation does not end the marriage, but declaration of absence, divorce or death can dissolve the marriage. The future spouses must prove the absence of a previous marriage by providing a copy of their birth certificate and, if applicable, a divorce record or a death certificate. The national law of the spouses governs the validity of the marriage.

If a marriage is validly celebrated abroad and bigamy is authorized by the national law of each of the spouses, it can produce certain effects in France.

Since August 26, 2021, bigamy is an obstacle to the issuance of a residence permit for any foreigner in a state of polygamy living in France.

What sanctions are incurred by persons in a situation of bigamy or polygamy?

Bigamy is sanctioned by the absolute nullity of the second marriage, which can be invoked by any interested party at any time and is prescribed by thirty years.

If the new spouses oppose the nullity of the first marriage, its validity or nullity must be judged beforehand.

The spouse of the second marriage may invoke the nullity of the first marriage as a defense, and the judge will first rule on the existence and validity of the first marriage. If the first marriage is null and void, the second marriage will be valid, even if the nullity of the first marriage is pronounced after the celebration of the second.

As of August 26, 2021, a polygamous spouse is no longer entitled to a survivor's pension. The putative marriage to the bona fide spouse may cause difficulties in the distribution of property and rights between the spouses.

Bigamy is also punishable under article 433-20 of the French Criminal Code, with a penalty of one year's imprisonment and a fine of 45 000 € for the bigamist, as well as additional penalties. To be characterized, bigamy must bring together the elements of a first union, the conclusion of the second and the guilty intention of the bigamist, and the nullity of the first marriage defeats the intentional element.

Texts of French law governing bigamy:

- Civil Code, art. 147, 184, 202-1

- Penal Code, art. 433-20

- Social Security Code, art. L. 161-23-1 A

Basic decisions:

- Soc. 25 March 2003, n° 01-20.608

- Civ. 2e, Sept. 16, 2003, n° 02-30.224

- Civ. 1st, Feb. 3, 2004, No. 00-19.838

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