In laymen’s terms, bigamy refers to being married to two different people at the same time. Texas statute lays out the offense of bigamy in a bit more detail, which can be a felony offense. There are two different ways one can commit bigamy. These depend on the married state of the actor.
When one is legally married to another and purports to marry a second partner, or does marry another partner, this is bigamy. However, the married person can also commit bigamy by living with a person other than their lawful spouse and holding themselves out as being married to the person with whom they are living.
When a person is not legally married to another, but either marries or purports to marry another person who they know is already legally married, they have committed bigamy. Additionally, when a person lives with a person they know are already married to someone else, and holds themselves out as a married couple, this is bigamy. See Penal Code Section 25.01 for more information.
As a general rule, bigamy is a felony in the third degree. Felonies in the third degree are punishable by a fine of up to $10,000. Third-degree felonies are also punishable by up to 10 years in prison. There is a minimum prison sentence of two years for third-degree felonies in the state of Texas. Bigamy can be charged as a second-degree felony when the partner is 17 years of age, and a first-degree felony if the partner is 16 years of age or younger. Both these offenses also cap fines at $10,000. A second-degree felony carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, with a minimum of two years. First-degree felonies cap prison time at life or 99 years, with a five-year minimum prison sentence.
When a person reasonably believes their prior marriage is no longer valid, either because it was void, or had previously been dissolved due to death, divorce, or annulment, this is a defense to a charge of bigamy. However, “reasonable belief” requires either a certified copy of a death certificate or other, relevant document signed and issued by a court of law which legitimately supports the actor’s belief.