Polygamy – The Hidden Face of Marriage in Michigan (Part 2)

A group of barbie dolls and one Ken
Hollywood has glamorized plural marriage, but the reality rarely looks anything like the screen version.

Polygamy may seem like a strange topic for a family law blog, but variety is the spice of life, and technically this is a version of marriage (however obscure and illegal it may be.) In the previous segment we discussed what the law is regarding polygamy, both here in Michigan and in the U.S. as a whole. In this piece we’re going to look at the technicalities of marriage and divorce in a plural marriage family.

So, how does it even happen? If marrying more than one person is against the law, how can a guy have three, or four, or even five wives? Well, technically, in the eyes of the law he only has one wife. Most polygamists have one legal marriage – the first one – and then every “marriage” after that is conducted as a commitment ceremony. The ceremony is symbolic but not legal.

However, this is where the situation gets a little tangled. If only the first marriage is legally recognized, and the remaining marriages are not legal, then technically, how can it be prosecuted? After all, living together is not illegal, and from a legal standpoint, that’s all polygamy really is – a married man and his wife living with a number of other women and shared children. Right?

Well, looking back on the history of polygamous prosecution around the U.S., cases can be divided into two categories. Families like the Browns of ‘Sister Wives‘, the Williams family of ‘My Five Wives‘, and the Collier family who “came out” publicly on an episode of the Sister Wives show, are all adults and are all participating voluntarily in their polygamist lifestyle. This makes them much harder to prosecute from a legal standpoint.

And then there are people like Warren Jeffs.

Former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Jeffs was accused of forcing young girls, some as young as 12, to become child brides in his commune. He also organized marriages between young teenaged girls and other FLDS Church members, and was accused of raping a number of young boys. Jeffs made it onto the FBI’s most wanted list before being arrested, convicted of child rape, and sentenced to life in prison.

So realistically, the prosecution of polygamy tends to depend on where the pluraly married family lives, and how open they are about their lifestyle. Kody Brown and his four wives left Utah with only a few days notice, and moved to Las Vegas, because they feared prosecution for the crime of bigamy.

Utah, where the Browns lived, classifies Bigamy as a felony. It also tends to be more aggressive in it’s approach to the prosecution of Bigamy because, as a predominantly Mormon state, Utah’s law enforcement does not want to be perceived as being soft on a crime that is often closely associated with the Mormon faith.

In the next segment we’re going to be looking at divorce practices in a plural marriage, and what that would look like here in Michigan. Until then, if you or a loved one need help with your divorce, paternity issue, or child custody concerns, call The Kronzek Firm at 866 766 5245. Our highly qualified family law attorneys are on standby, 24 hours a day, to help you work through your dilemma.