Polygamy – The Hidden Face of Marriage in Michigan (Part 1)

rooster with many hens
Although the animal kingdom is rife with examples of “plurality” in relationships, it’s still illegal for people.


Big Love was an enormously successful HBO drama a few years ago. Bill Henrickson is an all round kind, hardworking husband and father in Utah. His children are clean and cute. His wife is ….wait, his wives are industrious and welcoming. Well, most of the time. Hold up! Wives? He had more than one? Oh yes, he did.


That was the one big difference between Mr Henrickson and the average American husband –  instead of one wife, he had three. Along with nine children, three houses, and a secret polygamous lifestyle he worked hard to hide from the neighbors. In short – he was at the center of a world of drama.


Later on, after Big Love had ended, came Sister Wives – another show about a polygamous family in Utah. The difference this time, of course, was the fact that this one wasn’t fiction. Kody Brown and his four wives ended up fleeing the state of Utah some time after the show began airing because they feared persecution from the State. Why, you wonder?


Because polygamy, also known as plural marriage, is illegal in the United States. And while it is entirely possible for something to be illegal on a federal level while being legal in a particular state (think medical marijuana), polygamy is illegal in every state in the U.S. And it’s not a “slap-on-the-wrist” type of crime either. It’s a big deal. In Michigan, polygamy is a felony that can earn you up to four years in prison.


The question you may be asking now is why? Why is polygamy illegal, and why does it make any difference?


After all, who cares what people choose to do in the privacy of their own homes, right? Well, not according to the law. In Michigan, the specific act that is illegal is the act of “bigamy”, which by definition means marrying one person when you are already married to another. However the term “bigamist” is used more commonly for a person who gets married again without formalizing a divorce from their prior spouse first.


The term “polygamist”, on the other hand, tends to refer to a person who has chosen to pursue plural marriage. In other words, living with many wives at the same time, all of whom know about each other and are at least nominally okay with the lifestyle choice. (Technically, the term can refer to a woman with many husbands, but this is an extremely rare instance.)


Due to it’s long Mormon history, Utah seems to have the largest number of polygamy protagonists. But even then, this is a small and generally quiet group of people. Very few of them seek out the limelight for fear of both public persecution, and legal prosecution. It is worth noting though, that polygamy is a felony in 30 out of the 50 states, and Utah is one of these.


In the wake of such publicized TV shows and reality shows that reveal the behind-the-scenes lives of modern day polygamists, some practitioners now feel safer being open about their plural marriage choices. Most, however, still lead double lives. Hiding their additional wives and children behind layers of carefully crafted facade, or on communes where the prying eyes of the law and other non-believers won’t interfere.


But does this happen in Michigan? And does divorce mean the same thing for someone in a plural marriage as it does for someone with a single spouse? Join us next time, when we will be looking at the legalities of plural marriage, and what divorce means in this context. Until then, if you need help with with your (single spouse) divorce, custody issues, or parenting time, our highly skilled divorce attorneys are here to help you. Call 866 766 5245 today to discuss your situation and get the best legal help in mid-Michigan.