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What is a polyamorous marriage and is polyamory legal in the UK?

‘What is polyamorous’  is a question we are sometimes asked as divorce solicitors. Polyamory, the practice of having multiple partners with the consent of all of the people involved, is a way of life that receives a great deal of criticism.

In this article, we’ll answer the question ‘what is polyamorous’ and discuss whether there are any legal implications to living your life this way.

What does it mean to be polyamorous?

Polyamorous relationships are defined as relationships where people have multiple sexual partners, with the consent of all partners.

They differ from monogamous relationships, like most marriages and long term relationships, where a couple agrees just to have a sexual relationship with each other. ‘Poly’ is a prefix that denotes ‘much’ or ‘many’, while ‘mono’ is a prefix that denotes just one of something.

So what is polyamorous? A relationship can be defined as polyamorous when someone has a number of different sexual partners, who all know about each other and consent to the sexual activity taking place. It is also sometimes called an open relationship (although this is slightly different as knowledge of the sexual partners is not a prerequisite in this instance).

Whereas monogamy is a relationship with just one person, polyamory (‘amor’ is the Latin word for love) involves sexual relationships with more than one person.

What is it like to be in a polyamorous marriage?

The Polyamory Society describes polyamory as, “the non-possessive, honest, responsible, and ethical philosophy and practises of loving multiple people simultaneously”. 

For some who practice polyamory, there will be one relationship that takes priority over the others, if you were married for example, generally the marriage would take priority. In contrast, with polygamy, all relationships take on equal importance and you engage with more than just sexual relations.

When looking at what is polyamorous, it is important to note that consent plays a key part. Polyamorous relationships differ from cheating/adultery as that goes behind the other spouse’s back. Unlike in some other types of non-monogamous relationships, polyamory is about openly communicating with all partners involved.

Is polyamorous marriage legal in the UK?

A Polyamorous marriage, (polygamy) is not allowed to be performed in the UK. You are only legally able to be married to one person at a time.

If polyamorous marriage takes place in the UK, the person who is already married may be guilty of bigamy, which is a crime. If someone is found guilty of bigamy, meaning they married another person whilst already being married, they could be given a prison sentence.

However, if a married couple chooses to engage in a polyamorous relationship, where they remain married just to each other, and engage in romantic partnerships with other people, that is not illegal. 

Can polyamory be grounds for divorce?

Adultery is one of five grounds for divorce. For the purposes of divorce, someone is said to have committed adultery if they are married and have had sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex who is not their spouse.

Therefore, if you or your spouse had sex with someone of the opposite sex outside of your marriage, this could be classed as adultery and therefore grounds for divorce.

People in a polyamorous relationship will likely choose not to marry, as marriage is built on two people promising to be exclusive with each other (a monogamous relationship). Legally, however, if two people get married and decide to practice a polyamorous relationship that involves sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex, this could be used by the other party as grounds for divorce.

Polygamy vs Polyamory

Polyamory and poylgamy sound very similar, and are often mistaken for being the same thing, being used by many people to describe the same thing. However, they are in fact two different concepts in practice.

What is the difference between polyamory and polygamy?

Polyamory is the act of having intimate relationships with multiple partners at the same time, referring to all kinds of relationships, both dating and marriage. Whereas polygamy, refers strictly to marriage and involves being married to multiple partners, which is illegal in the UK.

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22nd March 2022

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