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Bigamy Laws (PC 281) in California

California Penal Code 281: Bigamy

Legal Definition: Every person having a spouse living, who marries or enters into a registered domestic partnership with any other person, except in the cases specified in Section 282 , is guilty of bigamy.

PC 281 does not extend to any of the following:

(a) To any person by reason of any former marriage or former registered domestic partnership whose spouse by such marriage or registered domestic partnership has been absent for five successive years without being known to such person within that time to be living.

(b) To any person by reason of any former marriage, or any former registered domestic partnership, which has been pronounced void, annulled, or dissolved by the judgment of a competent court.

What does this mean?

It is a crime in California for a person, already married, to get married to another person. It is also a crime to marry a person that is already married. Commonly, people will attempt to divorce but never finalize the legal paperwork for one reason or another. People can live separately, not talk to each other, and believe that they are somehow divorced.

After this separation, the same person marries again without realizing that the divorce from their first marriage was never finalized (due to a lack of formality). In that case, they have committed bigamy.


Bigamy is a wobbler crime, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony, based on the level of the deceit, your criminal history, and the specific facts of your case. If you are convicted of this charge as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to up to one year in County Jail. If you are convicted of this offense as a felony, you could be sentenced to upwards of 16 months, two or three years in State Prison. You would be required to serve 50% of that sentence.

Bigamy, however, is not a serious or violent felony, and therefore not a Strike offense under the Three Strike’s Law. However, because this is a crime of deceit/lying, it will affect your legal status for immigration purposes, as well as any professional licenseyou may hold.

Common Defenses

  1. Statute of Limitations
  2. Insufficient Evidence
  3. Violation of your Rights
  4. Good Faith Belief
  5. False Accusations
  6. Coerced Confessions

If you attempt to marry a person but have a food faith belief in the fact that the person was not married when you married them, then you are not guilty under this section. However, this belief must be reasonable, and not a hoax or a lie. If your new spouse refers to their ex, says they just left, and never mentions filing for divorce, then likely it would not be believable that you did not know they were still married.

Call Today

Facing charges under PC 281 often stems from misunderstandings or negligence rather than malintent. It’s a common misconception that ending a marriage is as simple as parting ways, overlooking the extensive paperwork and legal procedures required to dissolve a union officially. Laziness, unfortunately, can lead to unintended legal consequences.

Why Inland Empire Criminal Defense?

  • Specialized Knowledge in Bigamy Charges: Our PC 281 Ontario criminal defense attorney is adept at handling cases under PC 281, employing a depth of knowledge and a targeted approach to defend against these specific allegations. Our experience includes a strong background in sex crimes, providing a comprehensive legal strategy.
  • Compassionate and Comprehensive Defense: We understand the personal turmoil and confusion that can accompany these charges. Our goal is to navigate you through this challenging time, ensuring that a momentary oversight doesn’t lead to lasting repercussions on your life.
  • Round-the-Clock Support: Legal issues don’t adhere to business hours, which is why we’re available 24/7 to address your concerns and questions. The initial consultation is free, providing an opportunity to discuss your case without commitment and gain insight into your legal options.

Start Your Defense Journey Today

A charge under PC 281 requires a nuanced and empathetic legal approach. At Inland Empire Criminal Defense, we are committed to offering tailored advice and vigorous defense strategies to prevent these charges from unduly impacting your future.


Secure Expert Legal Representation

Don’t let a misunderstanding dictate your future. Reach out to Inland Empire Criminal Defense for skilled and sensitive legal representation. Our extensive experience with PC 281 and related charges positions us as your ideal partner in securing a favorable outcome. Contact us at 909-939-7126 for a free consultation and take the first step toward safeguarding your rights and reputation. Our office in Ontario, CA, is strategically placed to serve clients throughout the Inland Empire with unparalleled legal services.

Frequently Asked Questions

Absolutely, Inland Empire Criminal Defense prioritizes your privacy and confidentiality. Every consultation with our attorney is conducted with the utmost discretion, ensuring your information remains secure and private.

Yes, understanding the financial pressures that can come with legal representation, our attorney offers flexible payment plans. This approach ensures that quality legal defense is accessible for all our clients in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

Yes, Inland Empire Criminal Defense offers free consultations. This is part of our commitment to providing accessible and transparent legal services to residents of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

We offer both in-person and over-the-phone consultations to accommodate your preferences and needs. Whether you’re in Riverside, San Bernardino, or Los Angeles County, we ensure that you can access our legal services in the way that suits you best.

Our office is typically closed on weekends. However, we do make exceptions for meetings by special arrangement. Our commitment is to be as accommodating as possible to meet the unique needs of our clients in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

Our legal services are specifically tailored to residents of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties. For cases outside these areas, we recommend consulting to find appropriate legal assistance. Our focused approach allows us to provide specialized defense catering to the unique legal landscape of these counties.

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