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Polygamy in Australia: 6 Key Facts You Need to Know

Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse simultaneously.

Polygamy is a term used to describe the practice of being married to more than one person simultaneously. It comes from the Greek words “poly,” meaning many, and “gamos,” meaning marriage. There are two main types of polygamy:

  1. Polygyny: This is the most common form of polygamy, where a man is married to more than one woman at the same time. This form of polygamy has been practised in many cultures throughout history and is still prevalent in some parts of the world today.
  2. Polyandry: This is a less common form of polygamy, where a woman is married to more than one man at the same time. This practice is rare but has been observed in some societies.

Is Polygamy Illegal in Australia?

Yes, polygamy is illegal in Australia. Under the Marriage Act 1961, marriage is defined as the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, meaning that a person cannot be legally married to more than one person at the same time in Australia.

Further, bigamy, the act of going through a marriage ceremony with another person while already legally married to someone else, is a criminal offence in all Australian jurisdictions.

While polygamous marriages are not recognised or legal in Australia, certain protections and responsibilities may apply to people in polygamous relationships in areas such as family law and domestic violence, depending on the circumstances.

It’s important to note that despite the legal restrictions, polygamy is practised in some cultural and religious communities in Australia, although such marriages are not recognised under Australian law.

When Can a Polygamous Marriage Be Recognised in Australia?

While polygamy is not legally recognised in Australia, and it’s illegal to enter into a polygamous marriage in the country, there are circumstances in which it might be considered or given some recognition, particularly regarding family law matters or for social security purposes.

This typically applies when polygamous marriage is legally performed in a foreign country where polygamy is legal. Australia generally recognises foreign marriages unless they are against public policy. While polygamous marriages aren’t recognised, they are not considered ‘against public policy’; thus, the spouses might have some rights.

For instance, although Australia doesn’t legally recognise polygamous marriages, a person in a polygamous marriage could claim a property settlement or spousal maintenance under the Family Law Act following separation, provided they meet specific criteria.

Similarly, for social security purposes, a person in a polygamous marriage might be recognised as a member of a couple, which can affect the rate of payments they’re eligible for.

Bigamy vs Polygamy

In the legal context within Australia, there are distinct differences between polygamy and polyamory.

In Australia, both bigamy and polygamy are illegal under the Marriage Act 1961. However, these terms refer to different situations:

Bigamy: Bigamy is entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another. It is a criminal offence in all jurisdictions within Australia.

Under Australian law, a person cannot be matched to more than one person at the same time. Bigamy can be punishable by law, with penalties varying by state and territory.

Polygamy: Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time. While this is not recognised or allowed under Australian law, it is not a punishable offence in and of itself, as bigamy is, unless one attempts to marry more than one person within Australia legally.

It’s important to note that while a polygamous marriage cannot be lawfully formed in Australia, certain protections and responsibilities may apply to people in polygamous relationships, particularly in areas such as family law and domestic violence.

The critical difference is that bigamy involves explicitly a person trying to legally marry more than one person within a jurisdiction where that is not allowed.

In contrast, polygamy refers more broadly to being in a relationship with more than one spouse, regardless of the legal status of those relationships.

Can You Go to Jail for Bigamy in Australia? 

Bigamy is considered a criminal offence under the Australian Marriage Act 1961.

Bigamy refers to the act of marrying another person while still being legally married to a different person. If found guilty, a person could face penalties, which include imprisonment.

The severity of the punishment would depend on the case’s specifics and the jurisdiction in Australia, as penalties can vary among different states and territories.

Are Overseas Polygamous Marriages Recognised in Australia?

Australia acknowledges marriages conducted overseas but imposes limitations on recognising unions permitted in countries practising polygamy.

As per Section 6 of the Family Law Act, a polygamous union resembling a marriage formed outside of Australia will be deemed a valid marriage.

However, marriages performed abroad will not be acknowledged if any of the following conditions apply: 

  • one or both parties were below the age of 16, 
  • the union was forced due to deception, coercion, mistaken identity, or 
  • the marriage was incestuous.

What is Polygamy, and Is it Legal in Australia? 

Curious about the legal aspects of polygamy in Australia? Need help with how it may affect your rights and responsibilities? Look no further than Justice Family Lawyers!

Our expert team specialises in family law matters, including polygamous unions. With our deep understanding of Australian legislation, we can provide you with the guidance and support you need. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.

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