Bigamy and polygamy are two different types of marriage practices, both involving marriages to multiple spouses. In a bigamous marriage, the two or more spouses are typically unaware of one another. In a polygamous marriage, two or more spouses are aware of each other’s union to the spouse. Polygamy is also typically practiced for cultural or religious reasons, whereas bigamy is not.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can deny a citizenship application if a person is in a polygamous or bigamous marriage. When applying, foreign nationals will be required to disclose on their Form N-400 whether they have ever been in a non-traditional marriage.
U.S. immigration law frowns upon being married to more than one person at a time. This typically can prohibit both bigamists and polygamists from being naturalized United States citizens.
In the United States, bigamy is a criminal offense in all 50 states. Individual state laws decide, however, if the offense is considered a felony or a misdemeanor. To commit bigamy in the U.S., you would have to first legally marry one spouse, then later apply for a second or third license to marry someone else, and follow through with the second or third marriage ceremony before divorcing the first spouse.
Intentionally committing bigamy is a crime, as it almost always involves deception. In bigamous marriage unions, the spouse with multiple spouses has hidden the fact they are married to multiple people.
Intentional or unintentional bigamy can disqualify you from becoming a U.S. citizen.
In the United States, polygamy is a crime punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. Penalties for polygamy are individual to each state.
USCIS defines polygamy as having more than one spouse at a time. In a polygamous marriage, all spouses are aware of the marital relationships and still choose to practice polygamy for cultural or religious reasons. One is not considered a polygamist if they do not belong to a religion or culture that recognizes this as one of their practices or norms.
USCIS will thoroughly investigate a situation in which they believe an applicant for U.S. citizenship is in a polygamous marriage. Because many immigrants come from cultures that have practiced polygamy, it is not against the law to believe in it, but it is against the law to actively practice it.
If you have practiced bigamy or polygamy, it is not an absolute given that USCIS will deny your application for naturalization. There are many instances in which bigamy was accidental, and those will not typically count against you.
If you have practiced polygamy prior to seeking U.S. citizenship, it may be in your best interest to seek legal advice from an experienced immigration attorney before applying for naturalization.
If you have not personally had multiple spousal relationships at the same time, but have had a relationship with someone you considered a spouse—whether that relationship was legally recognized or not—and that person had other spousal relationships at the same time, USCIS may determine that you are a practicing polygamist. Regardless of whether your partner was living in the U.S. or abroad, this may still be the case. It is especially true if you or your partner come from a country where polygamy is practiced—legally or culturally. You should not apply for naturalization without first terminating those multiple relationships.
There is no set decision when it comes to certain circumstances with polygamy and bigamy in U.S. citizenship applications. The specifics of your case will be taken into consideration when your forms are reviewed. It is also a good idea to speak with an attorney prior to applying or throughout the application process to ensure any questions you may have are answered.
If you or a loved one are applying for citizenship in the United States and have practiced bigamy or polygamy, you will likely benefit from the support of an experienced immigration attorney. The legal team at Scott D. Pollock & Associates, P.C. are here to answer questions you may have regarding your eligibility for citizenship. Contact us today at 312.444.1940.View Similar Articles