A Guide To Understanding Bigamy In Singapore

by | Jun 18, 2024 | Knowledge & Insights

In Singapore, bigamy, or marrying someone else while you’re already married, is illegal for civil marriages under the Women’s Charter.

According to the Women’s Charter of Singapore, bigamy is classified as a criminal act. This means you’re breaking the law if you get married again, whether the new marriage happens in Singapore or another country.

This offence leads to penalties such as fines and incarceration. It also leads to the annulment of the subsequent marriage and could impact the spouse’s inheritance rights.

You can contact a Divorce or family lawyer in Singapore to seek expert legal advice when these cases happen.

What Is The Meaning Of Bigamy?

Bigamy is the practice of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another. It shares similarities with polygamy and polygyny.

Polygamy involves marrying multiple people, whereas polygyny is the specific scenario of a man taking more than one wife.

A marriage following the legal conclusion of a previous one, such as through Divorce or the death of a spouse, does not constitute bigamy. This means your next marriage is valid if your previous marital relationship has legally ended.

According to a report by TODAY, the case of Yeo Sick Kong in Singapore serves as an illustrative example of bigamy. Yeo was sentenced to 24 weeks in jail for marrying a woman in Mauritius while still legally married to another woman in Singapore.

This case underscores the legal consequences of entering into a marriage with someone when already married to another person​​.

3 Situations Where Marrying Again Is Not Considered Bigamy In Singapore

The act of marrying another person while still legally bound to a previous spouse is not deemed illegal in the following instances:

1. Previous Marriage Declared Invalid

A subsequent marriage will not be classified as bigamy if the prior marriage is annulled or declared void.

A void marriage is seen as never having happened from the start in situations such as:

  • Improperly solemnised marriages
  • Marriages between closely related individuals
  • Marriages where one or both parties are underage
  • Polygamous unions
  • Same-sex marriages
  • Marriages between two Muslims conducted under the Women’s Charter

2. Missing Former Spouse

Marrying again does not constitute bigamy if the spouse from the first marriage:

  • Has been missing continuously for at least seven years, and
  • Was not known to be alive at the time of the second marriage.

It’s important that the individual remarrying has informed their new partner about their missing previous spouse before the new marriage.

3. Muslim Marriages

Muslim men are allowed to marry multiple Muslim wives without being accused of bigamy, as these marriages fall outside the Women’s Charter and are instead regulated by Syariah law.

In Singapore, Syariah law permits a Muslim man to marry up to four wives simultaneously. However, to engage in such marriages, the husband must:

  • Be capable of financially, emotionally and physically supporting all his wives.
  • Have a satisfactory existing marriage and do not seek additional wives due to dissatisfaction with the current marital relationship.
  • Present specific, justified reasons for the new marriage, such as benefits not obtainable from the current marriage. Love, however, cannot be cited as one of these reasons.

Penalties For Bigamy In Singapore

Bigamy not only harms the legitimacy of the new marriage, rendering it null and void if one party is already married but also carries significant legal consequences.

Specifically, if a man commits bigamy, his wife from the succeeding marriage will not inherit his assets upon his demise.

The Women’s Charter outlines severe penalties for anyone found guilty of bigamy. Convicted individuals face up to seven years in prison and may be fined as much as $10,000.

The penalties escalate if the person conceals their existing marriage from their new spouse, with maximum punishments reaching 10 years’ imprisonment and a $15,000 fine.

3 Steps To Take If You’re Uncertain Of Your Partner’s Marriage Status

If you’re concerned that your partner might be married to someone else, whether you’re officially their spouse or find yourself as the third party in a relationship, there are strategies you can employ to investigate your suspicions:

1. Marriage Records Verification

Verify if your partner has a current marriage registration. Singapore’s Registry of Marriages allows citizens and Permanent Residents to conduct two free online searches within 12 months.

For a successful search, you’ll need the individual’s full name and their NRIC or passport number as recorded at the time of marriage. Be aware, though, that discrepancies in the provided details can result in no records being found.

This process becomes more challenging when the partner’s spouse might be a foreign national. While legal representatives can request marriage records from the respective country’s marriage registry, there’s no guarantee of obtaining the information due to privacy laws.

2. Covert Surveillance And Personal Investigation

Another approach is to use hidden cameras or examine your partner’s personal items to discover potential infidelity.

Hidden cameras, which can be discreetly placed within everyday household objects, offer a powerful means to capture evidence of a partner possibly cheating, especially if they might bring someone else into your shared space during your absence.

Additionally, checking personal belongings for clues like secondary phones, unfamiliar gifts or receipts can reveal signs of your partner’s possible infidelity.

3. Legal Consultation For Personal Protection

Engaging with a Divorce or family lawyer in Singapore can provide additional legal avenues to protect your interests and ascertain your partner’s marital status.

Lawyers can offer guidance on the acceptable scope of personal investigations to avoid legal issues.

They can also assist in navigating complex situations, such as filing for a personal protection order if you discover deceitful behaviour that affects your safety or well-being.

Conclusion About The Meaning Of Bigamy In Singapore

Singapore’s civil law strictly enforces the principle of monogamous marriages, ensuring that an individual can be legally married to only one spouse at a time.

Attempting to marry another person when already married, essentially taking two wives or more, directly violates this legal framework.

Such actions disrespect the commitment made to the first wife and breach the Penal Code, leading to serious legal consequences.

The country’s stance on this matter underscores its commitment to upholding the values of monogamy and the sanctity of marriage under its legal system.

If you need guidance or are considering Divorce due to a bigamy case, our Divorce lawyers in Singapore offer a free consultation to help you navigate your options.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bigamy In Singapore

Who Handles Bigamy Investigations In Singapore?

The Singapore Police Force typically handles bigamy investigations in Singapore. When the authorities receive a report or evidence of bigamy, they initiate an investigation to gather evidence, which may involve interviews, document verification and coordination with other legal bodies.

What To Do If You’re Charged With Bigamy In Singapore?

If you’re charged with bigamy in Singapore, seeking legal representation is crucial.

An experienced lawyer can provide advice on navigating the complexities of bigamy law, help defend your case, or negotiate for a more lenient penalty by presenting mitigating factors or circumstances to the Court.

It is important to cooperate fully with your legal counsel and follow their guidance throughout the legal process.

How Does Singapore Law Treat Foreign Marriages In Bigamy Cases?

Singapore has no specific statute of limitations for bigamy charges under the Penal Code. This means that individuals can be charged with bigamy regardless of how long the offence has passed.

Is There A Statute Of Limitations For Bigamy Charges In Singapore?

Singapore law recognises foreign marriages as long as they comply with the legal requirements of the country where they were performed.

However, suppose an individual already legally married in Singapore or any other country enters a marriage overseas. In that case, this can still be prosecuted as bigamy under Singapore law, emphasising the universal applicability of its statutes on monogamy.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.