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Penal Code 284 PC | Marrying the Husband or Wife of Another

 

Marrying The Husband or Wife of Another: An Overview of California Penal Code 284 PC

What is Penal Code 284 PC?

California Penal Code 284 PC makes it a felony crime to marry or enter into a registered domestic partnership with someone who is already legally married to or in a domestic partnership with another person[1]. This law prohibits marrying or entering into a domestic partnership with someone else’s spouse or partner.

Simply put, PC 284 states that “Every person who knowingly and willfully marries or enters into a registered domestic partnership with the spouse of another, in any case in which such spouse would be punishable under the provisions of this chapter, is punishable by a fine not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”[2]

Some key things to note about PC 284:

  • It applies to both marriages and registered domestic partnerships with a married person. A domestic partnership is a legal relationship between two people who live together but are not married.
  • The law requires that the person acted “knowingly and willfully” – they must have known the other person was already married.
  • There are exceptions, such as if the first marriage was legally annulled or dissolved.
  • Violating PC 284 is a felony offense, punishable by up to 3 years in jail.

How is this different from bigamy?

Penal Code 284 is often confused with the crime of bigamy under [Penal Code 281 PC](https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-281.html), but they are distinct crimes:[3]

  • Bigamy is when a person marries someone new while still married to someone else. It applies when the defendant is already married.
  • PC 284 applies when the other person is already married. The defendant themselves may have been single.

So in bigamy, the defendant commits a crime by remarrying when already married. In PC 284, the defendant commits a crime by marrying a person who is already married to someone else. A person can be charged with violating both if they were already married and marry another married person.

What does the prosecution have to prove?

For a defendant to be convicted under Penal Code 284 PC, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:[4]

Christine Twomey
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2024-03-21
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Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
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I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
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2024-03-12
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
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2024-02-24
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • The defendant married or entered into a registered domestic partnership with someone else
  • When they did so, that other person was legally married to or in a domestic partnership with someone else
  • The defendant knew the other person was already married/partnered
  • The defendant acted willfully – they intended to marry or partner with the person despite knowing their marital status

If the prosecution cannot conclusively prove each of these elements, a conviction cannot be secured.

Are there any exceptions under PC 284?

There are two main exceptions under Penal Code 284 where marrying or partnering with a married person is legally permitted:[5]

  • If the first marriage/partnership was legally ended – If the spouse’s first marriage was annulled, dissolved, or declared void by a court, the defendant can legally marry them. However, they must wait until the marriage is officially terminated.
  • If the spouse was absent for 5+ years – If the spouse’s partner has been absent and not known to be living for 5 consecutive years, and the spouse marrying the defendant did not know if their partner was still alive, the defendant can legally marry them.

As long as the defendant can show one of these exceptions applies, they cannot be convicted under PC 284.

What are the penalties for violating PC 284?

Marrying the husband or wife of another is a felony offense in California. Potential penalties include:[1]

  • Imprisonment in county jail for 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years
  • A minimum fine of $5,000

Penalties can sometimes be reduced through a plea bargain, but a PC 284 conviction will still result in a permanent felony record. This can negatively impact the defendant’s future employment, housing, and other opportunities.

What are some legal defenses?

There are several legal defenses that a criminal defense attorney may use to contest PC 284 charges:[3]

  • Lack of knowledge – The defendant can argue they did not know the other person was already married or partnered. This would negate the “knowingly” element.
  • Duress or coercion – The defendant was pressured or coerced into the unlawful marriage against their will.
  • Mistaken belief – The defendant reasonably but mistakenly believed the other person’s marriage was already legally dissolved.
  • Accusatory instrument defect – There was a technical flaw in the accusatory instrument filed against the defendant.
  • Lack of intent – The defendant did not act “willfully” in marrying the other person.
  • Exception applies – One of the exceptions, like dissolution of the first marriage, applies.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the specific details of the case to determine the strongest defenses.

Related offenses

Penal Code 284 is closely related to other marriage-related offenses, such as:[6]

  • Bigamy – Penal Code 281 PC, marrying someone new while already married.
  • Incest – Penal Code 285 PC, marrying or committing incest with a close blood relative.
  • Spousal rape – Penal Code 262 PC, committing rape against one’s spouse.

If applicable, a defendant could face charges under multiple related statutes for the same act of unlawful marriage.

Recent changes to California marriage laws

In recent years, California has updated its marriage laws to recognize same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships. Some of the key changes include:

  • 2008: Same-sex marriages became legal in California. Previously, only heterosexual marriages were recognized.
  • 2016: PC 284 was updated to apply to registered domestic partnerships in addition to marriages. This formally prohibited partnering with a married person.[2]
  • 2020: SB 132 lowered the minimum age for consent to marry from 18 to 17 in certain cases.

So today, PC 284’s prohibition on partnerships with married persons applies equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The law has expanded in scope to keep pace with California’s evolving definition of marriage and partnerships.

 

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