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Difference Between Polygamy and Bigamy

Polygamy vs Bigamy

One might find it easy to define the terms “polygamy” and “bigamy” by plainly looking at their prefixes. It is because if you literally translate “gamy” which means “marriage” and the prefix “poly” to mean “many” and “bi” as “two,” then you will come up with the definitions of the former as “many marriages” and the latter as “two marriages.” But this is not really the true meaning of the latter. Rather it is just, in a sense, somewhat true.

To be exact, bigamy is a criminal offense used in court when a legally married individual marries a secondary or additional spouse after a prior legal marriage. By contrast, polygamy is when one has more than one spouse at the same time. This clearly shows that the differences between bigamy and polygamy are not based on the number of mates, spouses, or marriages.

The grounds for bigamy are also met when you’re having two legal marriages and yet none of the two know that you’re legally married to another partner. As a result, the bigamist ends up having two marriage licenses. In a court of law, the first one will be considered as the legal case.

Polygamy is more of a religious practice which allows the household head to take home more than one spouse. The striking difference with polygamy from bigamy is that when the polygamous head brings home more than one spouse, these spouses know of each others’ existence in the life of the household head. They are even considered to be part of one big family and are comfortable living together and sharing the love of their partner.

In terms of punishment, the penalty for bigamy has several differences. If the bigamist remarries another for financial gain at a time when he or she is still legally married to the original spouse, then the crime is more serious and the punishment will be severe. The bigamist who tends to remarry when his or her previous divorce is not even finalized yet will serve a milder punishment.


1.Bigamy is treated as a crime and is a term used in a court of law.
2.Polygamy is a religious practice (like among Muslims).
3.Bigamy is having two marriages with the additional marriage coming after the first when divorce has not yet been finalized for the original marriage.
4.Polygamy is having many spouses at the same time.
5.Bigamy is usually having two spouses not knowing of each other’s existence and they don’t belong to the same household.
6.Polygamy involves many spouses who know of each others’ existence or role and are under one household.

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  1. This is not entirely true if you live in Texas. In Texas if someone has a legal marriage and then a ceremonial one to another person they are committing bigamy. (Review Neilson FDLS case file). The devil is in the details, if a party holds out to others that they are married and they live together they are common law married even without filing official forms. Basically, in Texas polygamy is bigamy if anyone involved is legally married.

    • Given that basis, then any two or more individuals living together would have become married under common law marriage and thus would have forced people not intending marriage to be in illegal polygamous, same sex (illegal at the time of the writing I would guess by context), and incestious marriages.

  2. i married a man 2001 in usa. then after 14 years i found out that he commited 2 another marraiges before me in the philippines. I filled annulment to this guy. will i be granted annulment?

  3. How is polygamy illegal when all parties are in agreement and happy but it’s legal to have many “baby mommas” and they dont know of each other?

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