Almost nothing is more distressing than finding out the man you’re married to is already married to someone else. What steps should you take to protect yourself, your property, and any children who might be involved?

Find Out Exactly What You’re Dealing With

Legally, it’s important to determine which marriage came first. The first marriage takes priority and is considered the legal and valid one. The second marriage is considered bigamous and is void, and the woman involved in the second marriage has less claim to assets.

It could be that the other woman has no idea her husband has married again. But it’s also possible that she is very aware of the situation and might try to assert a claim over your joint property. Look into public marriage records and other background information to get an idea of which marriage came first and understand the relevant state laws.

Make Sure It’s Not A Mistake

Before you take any decisive action, make sure there hasn’t been a mistake. Sometimes a simple clerical error or processing problem is at issue, and it may be that your husband believed he was legally divorced.

Some states have laws regarding “putative spouse” status. A putative spouse is someone cohabitating with another in a good faith belief that they are legally married. If this is the case, there should be few issues with getting the previous marriage legally ended and your own properly verified.

Get An Annulment Or A Divorce

If you find that your marriage was not the first one, your next step should be to get an annulment. The exact process for filing an annulment will vary from state to state, but in the case of clear bigamy, it will not be hard to get a judge to sign a Petition for Annulment. Just be sure that you want to file for an annulment and not for divorce. 

Filing for an annulment is faster and cheaper, and when it’s done the court will be declaring that your marriage never occurred. But in the case of a divorce, you retain certain community property rights. Depending on your joint financial situation, one of these choices may be better for you than the other, so it’s usually wise to contact an attorney to make sure of your rights.

Protect Your Children

If you have children from the marriage, it is essential that you protect them. Consult with a lawyer as soon as you find out about your husband’s betrayal to ensure you retain primary custody.

At the same time, you will want to address the issue of child support. The law is on your side in this regard, and the courts will help you determine how much child support your husband is obligated to pay so that your children’s future is secure.

Protect Everyone’s Mental Health

Consider using withtherapy.com to find a therapist near you. A mental health professional can help you (and any children involved) deal with the difficult emotions of this time. Protecting your mental health means you’ll be better able to get closure and make sound decisions for your future.

A therapist can help you learn how to move on while also standing up for your rights. And the intervention of a therapist may be the only way to help your children overcome feelings of betrayal and reconnect in some way with their father if that’s what they want for their future.

Nothing is more hurtful than a betrayal, and betrayal by a spouse is the most personal hurt of all. Never forget that you are capable. You can get through this. Find out where you stand, take steps to protect your children, and get the mental health support you need to stand strong.