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Tennessee Law on Bigamy and Divorce

by Jill Stimson

Bigamy may occur anywhere in the United States because there is no central database that tracks marriages across the nation. In Tennessee, as in other states, there is no marriage background check--instead, the parties' sworn statements are relied on.

Fault-based divorce

The Tennessee Code provides that bigamy is grounds for a fault-based divorce. Compared to no-fault divorces, fault-based divorces are awarded when one spouse is guilty of conduct that led to the dissolution of the marriage.

No-Fault Divorce

In no-fault divorce proceedings, spouses simply divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences; live separate and apart for a specified period of time; and enter into a property settlement agreement.

Alimony

Tennessee's legal definition of bigamy is entering into a marriage before another marriage is legally dissolved. The Tennessee family courts may consider bigamy when determining whether one spouse (the innocent spouse) should be awarded alimony.

Misdemeanor

Tennessee is one of only 13 states that codifies bigamy as a Class A misdemeanor. The majority of the other states treat bigamy as a felony. Tennessee Code, Section 39-15-301, states that an individual in Tennessee is guilty of a misdemeanor when he marries another person knowing that a prior marriage was not dissolved. The maximum prison term is one year, and misdemeanor charges may also be punished with a monetary fine.

Exceptions

However, criminal charges pursuant to Section 39-15 may be dropped upon a showing of reasonably believing a marriage was dissolved by annulment, divorce or death. This is general information for educational purposes. Laws change frequently; this information should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.

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