Cheating on your partner is already bad in itself already. It breaks the trust and emotional stability of the person. However, cheating during the dating stage rarely involves legal or civil issues. The worst-case scenario is when a person not only cheats on their spouse but also the law.
Such is the case with marrying the spouse of another person. Under California Penal Code PC 284, it is illegal for a person to enter marriage with an individual who is already a registered domestic partner to someone else.
Of course, marriage is a complicated concept and there are special cases. So, there's really a lot to unpack here. But first, let us the conditions of the law. The married person can still be charged under PC 284 even if:
- He/she is no longer living with their husband or wife;
- He/she filed a divorce that has yet to be approved or processed;
- The initial marriage ceremony took place outside of the state or country; and
- He/she gained consent from their first spouse to marry another person.
Now, there are exceptions to this rule. For the defendant to be ruled guilty, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- The defendant married an individual who is not yet legally annulled or divorced;
- A wedding ceremony or legal acknowledgment from the court of the union between the defendant and the spouse has been commenced;
- The defendant acted willfully; and
- The defendant knew that his/her partner was still married to someone else.
With that said, a person is not guilty under PC 284 if:
- He/she did not act willfully or knowingly;
- The fiancee of the defendant did not know that his/her spouse is still alive;
- The spouse of the defendant's fiancee has been AWOL for 5 consecutive years.
Given the complexity of this law, we have put up a list of scenarios that violate PC 284:
- You had just been informed that a friend of yours is going through a divorce. Knowing how painful it must be, you decide to visit the husband's house and comfort him. Then, things happened between you two and you both start dating. After a couple of months, he asks for your hand in marriage. You knew that he still isn't divorced from his current wife, but you still decide to get married to him anyway.
- Two brothers have been raised in a community where polygamous relationships are considered normal. The older one eventually gets married to his high school sweetheart, who also happens to be dating the younger sibling. Unable to resist his love for his brother's wife, the younger brother confesses his feelings to his older sibling and asks if he could share his wife. The older brother, touched by his sibling's sincerity, agrees and lets him marry his wife.
- On Christmas Day, you decided to invite a co-worker over for dinner since she's celebrating it by herself. You introduce her to your husband, and they get along well. A few months go by and you begin to suspect something fishy going on between the two of them. One day, you wake up and find a letter on the bedside table. As it turns out, it is from your husband expressing that he's leaving you and will be marrying your co-worker outside the country so their marriage can be “valid”.
California Penal Code PC 284 is similar to three other offenses, such as:
Penalties for Marrying the Spouse of Another Person
If you marry the husband or wife of someone else despite knowing about their marriage, you can be charged under PC 284. A violation of this law is considered a felony offense, where the punishments are as follows:
- Either 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail; and/or
- A fine not exceeding $5,000
However, if you are found guilty of more than one crime, the punishments you will be facing will not be limited to the penalties stated above.
A felony offense carries the harshest penalties. With that said, courts are stricter when it comes to felony charges, making it harder for an average individual to prove their innocence by themselves. That is why you need a criminal defense lawyer on your side to help you increase your chances of winning the case. A good defense attorney will discuss all of the possible defenses that you can use, such as:
- You did not know about your partner's marriage or legal domestic relationship with another person;
- The husband/wife of your partner has been absent for more than 5 years;
- Your partner is already divorced or annulled;
- You were falsely accused.
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