Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy

Main Difference – Bigamy vs Polygamy

Bigamy and Polygamy are two types of marriages. Bigamy is the act of marrying one person while being legally married to another person whereas polygamy is the act of having multiple spouses at the same time. This is the main difference between bigamy and polygamy. Although these practices are not legal in many countries, some traditional communities and societies still accept them.

What is Bigamy

Bigamy is the act of entering into a marriage with one person while still being married to another. This is considered a crime in many countries, especially when the two spouses are not aware of the other marriage. When a person marries another without obtaining a legal divorce from his first spouse, he is committing bigamy. In a court of law, the second marriage is considered invalid, if the offender has not legally terminated the first marriage.

Although many countries have monogamous marriages, there are some countries in the world which recognize bigamous marriages.Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy

What is Polygamy

Polygamy is the state of having more than one spouse at the same time. It involves having sexual activity with multiple partners without or with marriage. Polygamy is more of a religious or cultural practice. If a woman is married to more than one man at a time, it is called polyandry. Polyandry is basically of two types. Fraternal polyandry is a marriage where the husbands are brothers, and nonfraternal polyandry is a marriage where the husbands are unrelated. If a man is married to more than one woman at a time, it is called polygyny. Polygyny can also be divided into two types: sororal polygyny and nonsoroal polygyny. Sororal polygyny is a marriage where the co-wives are sisters. When a family unit consists of multiple wives and husbands, it is called a group marriage.

In a polygamous marriage, all the spouses usually live in one household. Therefore, the spouses are well aware of each other’s existence.

Although polygamy is not recognized by law in many western countries, it is widely accepted in many traditional societies. Some religions also allow polygamy. This can be observed in countries such as India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Philippines, which have a large Muslim population. In such countries, polygamy is only legal for Muslims.Main Difference - Bigamy vs Polygamy

Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy


Bigamy is the act of marrying someone while already being married to another person.

Polygamy is the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.


Bigamy is illegal in many countries.

Polygamy is legal in some countries.


Bigamists generally maintain two households.

Polygamists maintain one large household.


Bigamy is not usually a religious practice.

Polygamy is often a religious and cultural practice.

Spouses’ Knowledge

In a bigamous marriage, the two spouses are not usually aware of each other’s existence.

In a polygamous marriage, the spouses are aware of each other’s existence.Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy- infographic

Image Courtesy:

“Polygamy” by NYPL Digital Gallery, (Public Domain) via

“Defenders of Marriage” by Mike Licht  via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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