House of Commons Library


Published Thursday, January 7, 2016

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

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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.

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


It has been the policy of successive governments to prevent the formation of polygamous households in the UK.  A UK resident cannot sponsor a non-EEA national for permission to enter or remain in the UK as their spouse if another person has already been granted such permission, and the marriage has not been dissolved.  However, it is possible for all parties to a polygamous marriage to be legally present in the UK.  For example, a second spouse may qualify for entry to the UK in a different immigration category, in their own right. 

Social securtiy benefits

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 (UC) is to replace all existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for families of working age but is not expected to be fully introduced until 2021.  The 2010 Government decided that the UC rules will not recognise additional partners in polygamous relationships.  This could potentially result in some polygamous households receiving more under UC than under the current benefit and tax credit system.

State pension

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



Commons Briefing papers SN05051

Authors: Catherine Fairbairn; Melanie Gower; Steven Kennedy; Djuna Thurley

Topics: Family benefits, Family law, Immigration, Marriage, Pensions

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