What Is a Polygamous Family?

Polygamy is defined as having more than one spouse at a time; it usually refers to a situation in which a husband has more than one wife. Polygamy was outlawed in the United States in 1862, yet an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 individuals continue to practice polygamy in America. Polygamy is more well-known in developing countries in Africa and Asia.

NPR explains that academics believe 50,000 to 100,000 American Muslims live in polygamous families. Many of these Muslim families immigrate from West Africa or Asia. Conservative Muslims are more likely to engage in polygamy so they can have more children.

Some fundamentalist Mormons still practice polygamy. They include reality television star Brady Williams and his five wives. Williams has 24 children among his wives, and they live in a polygamist community in Utah. Williams spends each night with a different wife, so each woman gets to have her husband every fifth night.

Polygamists get around American laws by having one legal marriage and effecting the other marriages through religious ceremonies in the United States or in other countries, according to NPR. Polygamy was banned by Mormonism in 1890, even though two of its founding members had multiple wives. The Huffington Post explains that a group of fundamentalist Mormons formed their own splinter group in the 1920s to continue practicing polygamous marriages. One of the most prominent examples of Mormon polygamy in the late 20th century was Warren Jeffs in Texas, who was convicted of statutory rape.