How to Have Your Marriage Declared Legal

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by | Apr 10, 2023 | Blog

In most marriages, there isn’t a question of whether it is valid. The parties comply with the law and follow the appropriate procedures to get married. In New York, that means applying for a marriage license at your local marriage bureau and then having a marriage ceremony officiated by someone legally authorized to conduct the ceremony who then signs the license. However, in some cases, the couple doesn’t follow all the steps, which raises the question of whether there is a valid marriage. New York will consider a marriage valid without a license provided certain requirements are met. In that event, however, the parties must go to court to have the marriage declared legal.

What Are the Requirements for a Valid Marriage If You Don’t Have a Marriage License?

New York recognizes that some people may not know the rules about marriage licenses or don’t wait for a license for practical reasons. During the pandemic, the Marriage Bureau was extremely overburdened in processing marriage license requests leaving couples waiting for months while some went ahead with their planned ceremonies without a license.

Regardless of the reason for the lack of a license, the state will recognize the validity of the marriage without a marriage license if the following two requirements are met:

  1. There was a ceremony officiated by either a magistrate or religious official qualified to marry people under New York law and
  2. In the ceremony, the individuals promised to take each other in marriage as spouses with witnesses present.

How Do You Prove You Met the Requirements for a Valid Marriage?

Affidavits are required from you and your spouse, the officiant, and each witness that attended the ceremony. The affidavit must describe the ceremony and state that you and your spouse agreed to take each other as their spouse in front of the officiant.

What Steps Do You Take to Have the Marriage Declared Legal?

You must bring an Article 78 special proceeding by filing a petition with New York State Supreme Court in your county. An Article 78 proceeding is a court proceeding wherein you request the court to order the government to do something it refuses to do or refrain from doing something that it is otherwise going to do. In this case, you are asking the court to order the Marriage Bureau to register your marriage as lawful. 

The court will review your affidavits to determine if you meet the legal requirements for marriage. It may also require a hearing so the court can observe the demeanor of the parties and witnesses testifying before it. Upon determining the existence of a valid marriage, the court will issue an order directing the Marriage Bureau to recognize your marriage as legal.

The reason for this complicated process is that marriage is a serious step that gives the parties legal and financial rights and obligations toward each other. As a result, in the absence of a marriage license, the state wants to ensure that both of you really intended to get married.

If you are unclear about the status of your marriage or may be considering divorce or a postnuptial agreement, contact us for a consultation to find out how we can help you.

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