Is Polygamy Legal in Australia?

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Polygamy in Australia is illegal. The Marriage Act of 1961 defines marriage as a union between two people, and any other form of marriage is not recognised by the government. This means that individuals in Australia cannot legally marry more than one person at a time.

Polygamy Meaning

Polygamy is the practice of having multiple partners in a marital and sexual relationship. The word “polygamy” comes from the Greek words “poly,” meaning many, and “gamos,” meaning marriage. The term is typically used to refer to a man having multiple wives, but it can also refer to a woman having multiple husbands.

What is Polygamy?

Polygamy is the practice of having multiple spouses and in a marital and sexual relationship without being in open relationships. This is better understood, when one considers the Australian law. Polygamous marriages are regulated under the Marriage Act 1961 and the Family Law Act 1975. Section 94 of the Marriage Act states the following;


“(1) A person who is married shall not go through a form or ceremony of marriage with any person.”




“(4) A person shall not go through a form or ceremony of marriage with a person who is married, knowing, or having reasonable grounds to believe, that the latter person is married.”


Both of these are a criminal offence and carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.


However, it is not illegal to have multiple de facto relationships at the one time. This is covered by Section 4AA(5)(b) of the Family Law Act which explicitly allows that “a de facto relationship can exist even if one of the persons is legally married to someone else or in another de facto relationship”.


In addition to the above, in Australia, marriages that take place abroad are recognised, but the laws limit the recognition of marriages that occur in countries where having multiple spouses is allowed.


Section 6 of the Family Law Act states:


“For the purpose of proceedings under this Act, a union in the nature of a marriage which is, or has at any time been, polygamous, being a union entered into in a place outside Australia, shall be deemed to be a marriage.”


The exception to the above is that an overseas marriage will not be recognised at law if:


  • a party was aged under 16;
  • the union was non-consensual due to fraud, duress or mistaken identity;
  • the union was incestuous.

Polyamory vs Polygamy

It’s important to note that the term “polygamy” is often used interchangeably with “polyamory,” but the two concepts are not the same. Polyamory refers to the practice of having multiple romantic partners with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. Unlike polygamy, polyamory is not illegal in Australia.


The meaning of polygamy is different from polyamory. Polygamy is the practice of having more than one partner in a marital relationship, often involving one person having multiple wives or multiple husbands. Polyamory, on the other hand, refers to the practice of having multiple romantic partners with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. It is not necessarily limited to marriage and may also involve non-marital relationships.


Australian law doesn’t recognise multiple marriage, it is not possible to practice polygamy legally. If a person in Australia is found to be in a polygamous relationship, they may be charged with bigamy, which is a criminal offense. Bigamy is defined as the act of marrying one person while still being legally married to another.


It’s also worth noting that polygamy is not unique to any specific culture or religion. While it is commonly associated with certain religious groups, such as the Mormons and Muslims, it is a practice that has been observed in many cultures throughout history.


In conclusion, while polygamy is illegal in Australia, polyamory is not. The distinction between the two is that polygamy is the practice of having multiple partners in a marital relationship, while polyamory is the practice of having multiple romantic partners with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. It is important to understand the difference between the two and the laws that govern them.


If you have been charged with a bigamy offence, you should speak to a criminal lawyer. Lyons Law Group can you assist you anytime and provide sound legal advice in relation to any criminal offence in NSW.

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    • Mohammad Khan | Criminal Defence Lawyer

      Mohammad Khan is the Principal Solicitor of Lyons Law Group. After graduating with a Bachelor of Aviation from the University of New South Wales, Mohammad took a keen interest in the law. He began training in criminal law under the tutelage of Australia’s leading criminal lawyer Adam Houda and studied law at the University of Sydney.