How does bigamy affect family law in Washington?

Understanding Bigamy in the Context of Washington State Family Law

In the state of Washington, as in the rest of the United States, bigamy is illegal. Bigamy is defined as the act of marrying one person while still being lawfully married to another. This can have profound implications on family law cases, including issues related to divorce, child custody, and property division. Washington's laws are designed to uphold the integrity of marital relationships and ensure that legal obligations are met within the confines of legally recognized unions.

Legal Implications of Bigamy

When a bigamous marriage is discovered in Washington, it is considered void from the start. This means that the marriage has no legal standing, and any subsequent legal decisions related to this union are affected. For instance, if a person who is already married attempts to marry another individual without first obtaining a divorce, the second marriage would not be recognized by the state. This can complicate matters such as inheritance rights, spousal support, and other benefits that are typically conferred through lawful marriage.

Impact on Divorce Proceedings

In cases where one spouse discovers that their partner was already married at the time of their union, they may file for an annulment rather than a divorce. An annulment differs from divorce in that it treats the marriage as though it never legally existed. However, issues like division of property or child custody can become complex when an annulled bigamous marriage involves shared assets or children.

Child Custody and Support Considerations

Bigamy can also influence decisions around child custody and support. In Washington, family courts prioritize the best interests of the child when making custody determinations. If a parent's conduct—including engagement in bigamous relationships—raises questions about their ability to provide a stable and ethical environment for their children, it may impact their custody rights.

Historical Context

The prohibition against bigamy has deep historical roots. For instance, notable cases such as Reynolds v. United States (1878) have underscored the societal and legal importance of monogamous marriages in American culture and law. Such cases affirm that laws against bigamy protect against fraud and ensure clarity in familial and legal relationships.


In summary, bigamy significantly affects family law in Washington by undermining the validity of marriages, complicating divorce proceedings, property division, child custody, and support arrangements. It is essential for individuals to understand these implications and seek appropriate legal counsel should they confront issues related to bigamy in their personal lives.