Eight questions on bigamy in Singapore answered

Tan Tee Wee, 48, married in Singapore in 1998, then again in New Zealand in 2010. The bigamist was sentenced to two months jail by a Singapore court on Wednesday. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Tan Tee Wee, 48, married in Singapore in 1998, then again in New Zealand in 2010. The bigamist was sentenced to two months jail by a Singapore court on Wednesday. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Tan Tee Wee, 48, married in Singapore in 1998, then again in New Zealand in 2010.

The bigamist was sentenced to two months jail by a Singapore court on Wednesday. We take a look at the laws against bigamy in Singapore, the definitions and some recent cases:

1. What exactly is bigamy?

Bigamy refers to the act of entering into a marriage while still married to another person.

2. Is bigamy always illegal?

Under civil law, yes. Only monogamous marriages are provided for in The Women's Charter. Part II of the charter, titled Monogamous marriages, lists bigamy as an offence.

Section 6 of the Charter states that it is unlawful for any person who is "lawfully married under any law, religion, custom or usage" to marry again in Singapore or elsewhere. A person can be convicted even if the second marriage is a customary one.

3. What are the penalties?

Under section 494 of the Penal Code, the bigamist can be jailed up to seven years, and fined. An exception is made if the prior marriage had been declared void or the former spouse has not been heard from for seven years.

The jail term can extend to 10 years if the man or woman did not inform the second "spouse" that they are already married, according to section 495 of the Code.

4. Are there exceptions?

These laws apply to civil marriages in Singapore. Under Syariah law, a Muslim man may marry up to four wives at one time. A man can take more than one wife if:

- he can provide for the financial, physical and emotional well-being of his wives

- has a good marriage, and is not taking another wife because his first marriage is unhappy

- has specific reasons such as benefits the first marriage cannot provide but the second marriage can. "In this context, love is not one of the benefits", says the Registry of Muslim Marriages on its website.

5. Bigamy, polygamy, polygyny: How are they different?

Bigamy refers to the act of entering into a marriage while still married to another person. Polygamy is the same but with more than two people.

Polygygny happens when, specifically, a man marries more than one woman.

Polyandry is when a woman marries more than one man.

Where there are multiple males and females in an arrangement, it can be termed polygynandry or a group marriage.

6. Who handles bigamy investigations in Singapore?

The Tanglin Division of the Singapore Police Force has a squad dedicated to cracking bigamy cases, as the Registry of Marriage is under its jurisdiction, The Straits Times reported in 2008.

7. How do you check if your partner has been married before?

Singaporeans can do a Registry of Marriages search, but it is more tricky if the spouse is of a different nationality.

Lawyers can write to the registry of marriages in the person's home country to check if he has been married there before. However, the registry may not disclose such information as it is confidential.

Lawyer G Dinagaran told The New Paper in 2011, that he advises clients to engage a lawyer in that country, or make a request through the country's embassy.

8. What are some examples of bigamy in Singapore?

There are a few reported cases in The Straits Times and The New Paper:

- A marketing manager married again in Vietnam just two months after his first marriage, the New Paper reported in 2008. He then arranged for a sham marriage for his second wife, a Vietnamese, so she can live in Singapore. He was jailed a week and fined $6,000 for bigamy. He had a customary wedding, but did not register his marriage in Vietnam as he was afraid the authorities there would check his marital status.

- A taxi driver was jailed one day, and fined $5,000 in 2009 for marrying another woman in China while still married to his Singaporean wife. He also married a Filipino woman in the Philippines while married to his Chinese wife. He was divorced from his Singaporean wife by then.

- There are also cases of women who married more than once. In a 2011 case, a Singaporean man found out that his Filipino wife was already married in the Philippines after seven years together. She was jailed for seven months after pleading guilty to one count each of bigamy and making a false statement in her application for permanent residency in Singapore.

Sources: Singapore Statues online, Registry of Muslim Marriages website, Straits Times archives and The New Paper archives

chuimin@sph.com.sg