Bigamy: Is It Legal to Marry a Married Person in Singapore?

Last updated on April 1, 2022

man putting a ring on finger

While bigamy is legal in certain parts of the world, it is illegal in most countries including Singapore.

Under Singapore’s Women’s Charter, bigamy is listed as an offence that is punishable with imprisonment and a fine. The offence also renders the subsequent marriage invalid and may even affect the partner’s right of inheritance.

This article will explain in detail:

What is Bigamy?

Bigamy refers to the act of marrying someone while still married to someone else. It is similar to both polygamy and polygyny, but polygamy involves marrying more than 2 people while polygyny refers specifically to a man marrying more than 1 woman.

If you marry after your previous marriage has ended, your subsequent marriage will not be considered bigamy. For example, if you have divorced your spouse or if your previous spouse has passed away.

Bigamy is illegal for civil marriages solemnised under the Women’s Charter. A married person who enters into a subsequent marriage will generally be considered to have committed an offence, regardless of whether the marriage had been solemnised overseas or in Singapore.

However, the act of marrying someone else while still married will not be considered illegal in the following situations:

Previous marriage was void

It will not be considered bigamy if your previous marriage has been declared void. A void marriage is one that was invalid since its beginning and treated as if it had never existed. A marriage may be voided in situations such as:

  • Where the marriage had not been properly solemnised
  • Marriages between close relatives
  • Underage marriages
  • Polygamous marriages
  • Homosexual marriages
  • Marriages between 2 Muslims solemnised under the Women’s Charter

You may refer to our other article for more information on void marriages in Singapore.

Former spouse is missing

It is not an offence of bigamy if the spouse from the previous marriage:

  • Has gone missing for a continuous period of 7 years; and
  • Has not been heard to be alive at the time of the subsequent marriage.

However, the spouse entering into the new marriage must have informed the other party of the missing spouse before solemnising the new marriage.

Muslim marriages

Muslim men may take on mulitple Muslim wives, with the subsequent marriages not being considered as committing bigamy. This is because Muslim marriages do not come under the purview of the Women’s Charter. Instead, they are governed by Syariah law, which in Singapore permits Muslim men to marry up to 4 wives at a time.

However, the husband must fulfill the following requirements:

  • They must have the capability to provide for the financial, emotional and physical well-being of their wives
  • Their current marriage life is good, and they are not marrying a new wife because they do not have a good marriage life
  • They must have specific reasons for marrying another wife, such as seeking benefits the current marriage is unable to provide, but that the new marriage can. However, love cannot be one of these benefits.

To read more about Muslim marriages in Singapore, you may refer to our other article.

What are the Penalties for Committing Bigamy in Singapore?

For one, the offence of bigamy affects the validity of the subsequent marriage, with the subsequent marriage involving the offender will be void. If the offender is male, then the wife in the subsequent marriage will not be entitled to the offender’s assets upon his death.

There are also heavy criminal penalties for committing bigamy. Under the Women’s Charter, a person guilty of bigamy will be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to 7 years and can also be fined up to $10,000. If the offender had hidden the fact of their former marriage from the spouse of the subsequent marriage, the maximum imprisonment term and fine amount are increased to 10 years and $15,000 respectively.

A 58-year-old married man, Ronnie Oh Yin Yan, was jailed for a month for marrying another woman in Las Vegas. Oh had been giving the woman a monthly allowance to work in his company and for companionship. He offered to increase her allowance if she married him, and she agreed. Oh then registered their marriage in the United States even though he was already married to another woman in Singapore.

What Can You Do If You Suspect that Your Partner is Married to Someone Else? 

Whether you are your partner’s spouse or the third party in the relationship, and can try to find out if your suspicions are true using the following methods:

Install hidden cameras and/or search your spouse’s belongings

You can try to check if your partner is cheating on you and legally obtain evidence of your partner cheating by installing hidden cameras at home and/or going through your partner’s belongings. Installing hidden cameras is one of the most effective ways to catch a cheating partner as they may bring someone home while you are not around. Hidden cameras can also be easily installed in common household items.

When going through your partner’s belongings, look out for items such as spare phones, unfamiliar gifts and receipts that may be incriminating evidence of your partner’s infidelity.

Check for existing marriage records

You can also check if your partner is already married by doing a search with the Registry of Marriages. Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents are allowed to do 2 free online searches over a 12-month period.

To search for a marriage record, you will need the name of the party to the marriage and/or their NRIC or passport number recorded at the time of marriage. No records may be found if there are any inaccuracies in the information.

It may be more difficult to conduct a search if your partner’s spouse is of a different nationality. Although lawyers can write to the registry of marriages in the person’s home country, the registry may not disclose the information for confidentiality reasons.

What Can You Do If It is Proven that Your Partner is Married to Someone Else? 

If you are your partner’s spouse and your suspicions of your partner are proven to be true, you may try to save your marriage and reconcile. This is possible because the subsequent marriage will become invalid (as mentioned above).

However, if the marriage is irreconcilable and you intend to file for divorce, consider engaging a divorce lawyer who can assist you with the legal and procedural requirements for divorce. A divorce lawyer can also assist with ancillary matters such as child custody, maintenance and division of matrimonial assets, and will ensure that your rights are not compromised. You may get in touch with divorce lawyers here.

Whether you are your partner’s spouse or the third party in the relationship, you may also lodge a police report against your partner as bigamy is a criminal offence.

What Can You Do If You have been Charged with Bigamy?

It is best to consult a criminal lawyer if you have been charged with bigamy. A criminal lawyer can advise you on your options going forward, with the view of helping you obtain a fair outcome for the matter.

You may contact experienced criminal lawyers in Singapore here.

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  4. Muslim Marriage in Singapore: How to Register, Inter-Faith and More
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