Even though most people know it's illegal to marry more than one person at a time – a practice known as bigamy – some men do it anyway. You can find out whether your husband is married to someone else by doing your own research or, if necessary, by hiring a private investigator. Whether the bigamist spouse was too lazy to get a divorce or he just enjoys juggling two families doesn't matter – most wives are not willing to share their husbands.
Consequences of Bigamy
Intentionally being married to two people at the same time is a criminal offense in most states, and bigamists can receive fines, jail time or both when they're prosecuted. Even though bigamy isn't legal, the first marriage remains valid. The second marriage, which is the bigamist marriage, is void, however. This is a formal way of saying that it never happened.
Even so, the second marriage remains on the public record until you file for an annulment, a procedure that asks the judge to declare the marriage void in a court order. If both wives claim they are entitled to the same assets, they can file a lawsuit to resolve any outstanding property issues.
Search Marriage Records
There is no central agency that keeps track of marriage records. Instead, many states have websites that tell you how to buy vital records for a fee, and in some states, such as Alabama, anyone can get marriage records. Not all states are the same, however. In Alaska, unless you are the registrant, which means one of the two people who got married, marriage records are only available to the public after 50 years.
Oregon and some other states are more lenient and give records to family members, or if you can show that it’s needed to resolve a property dispute. If the marriage took place in California, you'll need to know the county in which your spouse lived because counties maintain marriage records.
Read More: How to Search for a Marriage Certificate
Be a Sleuth
Private investigators are not hybrid police officers – they investigate cases as private citizens. This means that you can do everything they can do, including calling people to verify background facts, conducting surveillance and searching public records. Other investigative techniques include checking out social networking sites, talking to friends and family, and searching public databases for criminal records and other vital statistics.
Hire a Private Investigator
Even though you can do everything a private investigator can do, if you cannot find what you need you may want to hire an investigator to help. Not only are they experts at investigating infidelity, but they have the advantage of knowing how to get the information safely and without being detected.
Did the Marriage End?
Even if your spouse married someone before you, it's possible the marriage ended, either in death or divorce. An internet search for the other party's name plus your spouse's may turn up information such as a divorce announcement or an obituary. Several sites will search Social Security's death index for you, though there may be a fee. Other sites can do the same for divorce records.
If you have reasonable confidence where the divorce or death would have happened – your spouse has spent her entire life in one county, say – you can go to the county courthouse and look through their records or search them online.
- Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute: Annulment
- Alabama Department of Health: Marriage Certificates
- Alaska Department of Health and Social Services: Bureau of Vital Statistics
- Oregon.gov: Eligibility to Order Vital Records
- United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Private Detectives and Investigators Do