Difference Between Polygamy and Bigamy

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Polygamy and Bigamy

Why read @ Diffzy

Our articles are well-researched

We make unbiased comparisons

Our content is free to access

We are a one-stop platform for finding differences and comparisons

We compare similar terms in both tabular forms as well as in points


Polygamy refers to the practise of having numerous wives or spouses at any given time. In some nations, bigamy may be considered a criminal violation. Polygamy is a religious or cultural practise that is sanctioned by some groups' rules.

Polygamy vs Bigamy

The primary distinction between polygamy and bigamy is that polygamy refers to having several spouses at the same time, whereas bigamy refers to marrying someone while legally married to someone else.

Bigamy is a legal term that refers to the practise of entering into a second marriage contract without first obtaining formal separation from the first.

Difference Between Polygamy and Bigamy in Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Polygamy Bigamy
Definition The habit or practise of having numerous spouses at the same time is known as polygamy. The act of entering into a second marriage contract without obtaining legal severance from the first spouse is known as bigamy.
Legality In certain communities, polygamy is considered lawful. In most nations, bigamy is prohibited.
Etymology The word 'poly' means more than one.' As a result, polygamy refers to having several married partners. The word 'bi' means'two.' Bigamy refers to the practise of having two spouses.
Religious Sanctions Polygamy is required by some religious and cultural norms. Bigamy is not sanctioned by any religious authority.
Structure of Households In polygamous marriages, single large families are prevalent. Bigamous families are usually split up.
Spousal Knowledge Polygamous spouses are aware of their individual responsibilities and existence. In most bigamous marriages, the spouses are unaware of each other's existence.
Sub-categories The two most common types of polygamous marriages are polyandry and polygyny. Bigamous marriages have no known sub-categories.
Scope Polygamy has a broader definition because it includes bigamy. Polygamists are all bigamists. Bigamy has a limited application. Bigamists are not all polygamists.

What is Polygamy?

Polygamy is the practise of having more than one spouse at the same time. Polygamy is a generic term that is used to imply a marriage with numerous partners in the Greek language. A polygamous marriage's various partners are fully aware of each other's presence and precise roles.

Despite the fact that polygamy is prohibited in many countries around the world, there are religious and cultural prescriptions that allow it. Polygamy is religiously permissible for Muslims. In a polygamous marriage, all of the partners normally live together in a single household.

Polyandry and polygyny are two types of polygamous marriages. Polyandry is a term used to describe when a guy marries more than one woman. Polygyny is the practise of a woman marrying more than one man. Polyandry is categorized into two types: fraternal and non-fraternal polyandry. Polygyny can take the form of sororal or non-sororal polygyny.

Types Of Polygamy

Polygamy is divided into three types: polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage.


Polygyny is a type of polygamy in which a man marries several wives. Because polygamy is the most prevalent manifestation of the notion, this phrase is sometimes used interchangeably with it.


Polyandry is a type of polygamy that is less common. Polyandry is when a woman marries more than one man.

Group Marriage

As the name implies, group marriage occurs when multiple men and women marry one other. This is a more uncommon type of polygamy. While some may see the examples above as forms of polygamy, others may see them as distinct notions. Furthermore, the names are sometimes used interchangeably.

How to Practice Polygamy?

Because polygamy is prohibited in many countries, persons who want to practise it opt for a casual arrangement rather than a regular marriage. Polygamy is frequently mistaken with polyamory, which is a more socially acceptable and legal means of having several partners in today's world. All partners must be open and honest with one other for a successful polyamorous relationship to work.

Polygamy is permitted in some parts of the Middle East and Asia. It is not only legal but also frequently done in many parts of Africa, particularly in West Africa. Polygamy is popular in Muslim-dominated areas of West Africa. A man is permitted to have up to four wives according to Islamic law.

Advantages of Polygamy

Polygamy is frequently an integral component of a society's culture. Polygamy is not always imposed upon people; in certain circumstances, consenting adults prefer polygamy over monogamous marriage. Polygamy and polyamory have remained a part of many societies for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it aids in reproduction. Polygamist men can have up to four wives and have more offspring than monogamous men. This helps population expansion and guarantees that there will be enough young family members to support senior relatives in their latter years.

Taking on several partners provides more financial stability for each couple than having only one wife or husband. More children imply more labour for working the land, caring for animals, and participating in communal initiatives, which helps the community as well. Furthermore, there is no chance of the family's assets being divided among fewer offspring. Polygamy is also a viable choice for people who wish to establish a big family but want one parent to stay at home. With only one child-rearing spouse, this would be impossible.

What is Bigamy?

Bigamy refers to the practise of marrying someone while still legally married to someone else. It is commonly used in legal contexts to denote a criminal offense. The word "bigamy" comes from the Greek language, where "bi" signifies "two." Bigamy is defined as the practise of entering into a second marriage contract without first formally terminating the first marriage contract through a legally sanctioned divorce.

The second marriage will be considered invalid from a legal aspect. The two partners in a bigamous martial partnership are frequently unaware of each other's existence. A bigamist also maintains two distinct residences in order to keep the alliance hidden.

Although bigamy is lawful in a few countries around the world, it is prohibited in practically all others. Furthermore, bigamy lacks the same theological and societal support as polygamy. It is a term commonly used in legal proceedings.

History of Bigamy

The origins of bigamy laws can be traced back to ancient Rome. Anti-bigamy laws gradually spread across Europe and finally the rest of the world after the fall of Rome. While bigamy is now prohibited in many nations, multiple weddings were formerly common in many communities. The Christian Old Testament mentions several characters, like Abraham and Solomon, who had multiple wives at the same time.

Many countries have historically practised polygyny, or the practise of men having multiple wives. Polyandry, or women marrying multiple men, is a rare occurrence. One noteworthy society that practiced polyandry was the Arctic Inuit civilization. Even though bigamy is now prohibited in many countries, some religious and cultural groups continue to practise plural marriage.

What is the Penalty for Bigamy?

In the United States, what is the penalty for bigamy? Because many states set their own sentencing rules for bigamy, there is a lot of diversity in the punishments for plural marriages. Different charges apply depending on whether the case of bigamy is considered civil or criminal.

  • In a bigamy case, a civil case is usually one in which there are children born from one or more partnerships; these children are usually entitled to child support and inheritance.
  • When a spouse discovers that they have been involved in a bigamous marriage, they normally press criminal charges. A monetary fine, which can vary from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars, is sometimes imposed as a penalty. In other circumstances, those convicted of bigamy face up to ten years in prison.

In some places, there are also particular requirements for bigamists' spouses: may someone be charged with bigamy if they marry their partner knowing that their partner is already married? Yes, in some situations, depending on the state. Some states have additional penalties, such as withdrawing medical licenses or prohibiting convicted individuals from holding public office. Utah is one notable example in the United States, where bigamy is criminal but only carries a modest punishment.

Before organising your new wedding, be aware of some of the frequent causes of inadvertent bigamy:

  • a person seeks for a fresh marriage license under the mistaken impression that their divorce has been finalized... but it hasn't. It's possible that paperwork was started but not completed, or that it wasn't filed properly.
  • a person believes that remarrying barely a few days before the divorce is official is 'near enough.' When a person marries someone fresh and then divorces an estranged spouse a few months or years later, this is a variant on this.
  • a person incorrectly believes that their prior spouse is deceased.

If you or your fiance have previously been married, be sure all of your divorce and dissolution paperwork is completed before applying for a marriage license. If a prior spouse has passed away, have a copy of the death certificate on hand in case you need it.

Even unintentional bigamy that does not result in criminal charges is a hassle to rectify, and it will render any subsequent marriages null and void. That means you'll have to go through the process of being married all over again, which will be time-consuming and costly. Intentional bigamy is a criminal punishable by up to ten years in jail and hefty penalties. In states like Utah, where bigamy was decriminalised in 2020, offenders still have to pay hefty fines. Overall, we do not advise it.

Officiants who knowingly perform a bigamous wedding ceremony might face months in prison and huge penalties. Ministers in Rhode Island, for example, risk up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

Main Differences Between Polygamy and Bigamy in Points

  1. Polygamy differs from bigamy in that it is the habit or practise of having several spouses at the same time, whereas bigamy is the act of having two marriages without obtaining formal severance from the first.
  2. Polygamy is legal in several countries across the world. It may also be a religious or cultural necessity in some societies. Almost every government on the earth prohibits bigamy.
  3. Bigamy is usually not sanctioned by religious views. Polygamy is, however, religiously sanctioned in many communities, including Islam. Polygamous marriages are preferred over monogamous marriages in many cultures.
  4. The household structures associated with each of these marriage types are also somewhat different. A bigamist frequently maintains two dwellings. The spouses of a polygamist, on the other hand, are commonly housed together.
  5. The degree of awareness that the spouses have varies across the two types of marital alliances. The two spouses in a bigamous marriage are usually unaware of each other's existence. In a polygamous marriage, on the other hand, both spouses are aware of each other's existence.
  6. There are two types of polygamous marriages. Polyandry and polygyny are the two types of polygamous marriages. In bigamy, there are no distinctions.


Polygamy and bigamy are two common types of marriage. The small differences between the two names are commonly ignored when they are used interchangeably. However, there are certain key distinctions between the terms that make them incompatible as synonyms. The practise of having multiple marriage partners at the same time is known as polygamy. There are typically more than two spouses in a polygamous marriage. Bigamy, on the other hand, is a term that describes a situation in which a person marries for the second time without first divorcing his or her first husband. There are always two spouses in a bigamous marriage.

Bigamy is also a legal word that refers to the practise of having two spouses without formally separating from the first spouse. Many communities around the world do not consider polygamy to be unlawful.

It is the favored and advantageous type of marriage in various communities. Polygamy is occasionally compelled by religious beliefs and proscriptions. Bigamy, on the other hand, has no such penalties.

In terms of the understanding of the spouses engaged as well as the structure of the houses, there are major differences between the two. Both of these types of marriage partnerships occur in different places of the world, but they are not as common or popular as monogamy.


Cite this article

Use the citation below to add this article to your bibliography:



MLA Style Citation

"Difference Between Polygamy and Bigamy." Diffzy.com, 2024. Mon. 10 Jun. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-polygamy-and-bigamy-529>.

Edited by

Share this article