Polygamy - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 09 May 2014 | Standard notes SN05051

Authors: Catherine Fairbairn

Topic: Family law, Marriage

Constituents sometimes raise concerns about the status of polygamous marriages in this country and the rights of wives of polygamous marriages.

In order to be recognised as valid, all marriages which take place in the United Kingdom must be monogamous and must be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the relevant legislation. For a polygamous marriage to be considered valid in the UK, the parties must be domiciled in a country where polygamous marriage is permitted, and must have entered into the marriage in a country which permits polygamy.

The Immigration Directorate Instructions (IDI) state that it is Government policy to prevent the formation of polygamous households in this country. Although the current Immigration Rules relating to spouses prevent two wives from seeking entry to the UK in this capacity, there are ways in which all parties to a polygamous marriage may be legally present here. For example, a second wife may come to the UK legally through an alternative migration route other than in her capacity as a spouse.

At present, some benefits can be paid, in certain cases, in respect of more than one spouse but the allowances that may be paid in respect of additional spouses are lower than those which generally apply to single claimants. Universal Credit is to replace all existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for families of working age. It has been introduced for a small subset of new, single claimants in selected “pathfinder” areas and is to be expanded to include other groups, but the transfer of all existing claimants to UC is not expected to be completed until after 2017. The Government has decided that the Universal Credit rules will not recognise additional partners in polygamous relationships.

A wife in a polygamous marriage does not generally have the right to a state pension on the basis of her spouse’s contributions.

No formal assessment is made of the number of polygamous households.

This note deals with the recognition of polygamous marriages; immigration issues; social security benefits and pension entitlement.

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