New York Wedding Laws
Whether it's the romantic and awe-inspiring spectacle of Niagara Falls, the hustle and bustle of the City That Never Sleeps, or the glamour of upscale destinations such as the Hamptons, it's no wonder that the Empire State is one of the most in-demand wedding destinations in the United States. Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for tying the knot in this high-demand location. The marriage laws in New York State are some of the most complex in the country. However, don't give up on your dream of a New York wedding just yet. The Universal Life Church is here with all the details you need to successfully navigate the legal jargon. This user-friendly guide can't help you book a hot venue or figure out where to seat your feuding relatives at the reception dinner, but it can guide you down the path to a legally recognized New York marriage ceremony.
How to Become a Wedding Officiant in New York
A minister or clergyman of any religion, any leader of The Society for Ethical Culture or a civil magistrate may solemnize marriages in the state of New York if they meet the requirements. All ministers ordained online by the Universal Life Church meet the requirements to solemnize weddings in New York State, regardless of gender, personal beliefs or place of residence:
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Present ordination credentials if required by the town or city
- Register and provide a permanent address to the city or town clerk
Additionally, if the wedding is to be performed in one of the five boroughs of New York City, Universal Life Church officiants are required to complete a special registration process that involves specific documentation from the church. All of the documentation and instructions you will need are available through the New York City Wedding Package that can be purchased from our online catalog.
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N.Y. Dom. Law § 11 No marriage shall be valid unless solemnized by either:
A clergyman or minister of any religion, or by the senior leader, or any of the other leaders, of The Society for Ethical Culture in the city of New York, having its principal office in the borough of Manhattan, or by the leader of The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, having its principal office in the borough of Brooklyn of the city of New York, or of the Westchester Ethical Society, having its principal office in Westchester county, or of the Ethical Culture Society of Long Island, having its principal office in Nassau county, or of the Riverdale-Yonkers Ethical Society having its principal office in Bronx county, or by the leader of any other Ethical Culture Society affiliated with the American Ethical Union; provided that no clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader shall be required to solemnize any marriage when acting in his or her capacity under this subdivision.
1-a. A refusal by a clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader to solemnize any marriage under this subdivision shall not create a civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits or discriminate against such clergyman or minister.
- The term "clergyman" or "minister" when used in this article, shall include those defined in section two of the religious corporations law. The word "magistrate, " when so used, includes any person referred to in the second or third subdivision.
Getting Married in New York
New York State law leaves most of the contents of the wedding ceremony up to the couple; however, unless one or both people practice a religion that does not demand it, the law does require that the couple individually solemnly declare that they take the other person as husband or wife. This declaration must be performed before witnesses. The only other legal requirement for the ceremony is that it must be attended by both members of the couple getting married, at least two legally competent witnesses, and the minister, clergyman or magistrate, all of whom are required to complete and sign a marriage contract that includes the date and time of the ceremony.
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N.Y. Dom. Law § 11
- A written contract of marriage signed by both parties and at least two witnesses, all of whom shall subscribe the same within this state, stating the place of residence of each of the parties and witnesses and the date and place of marriage, and acknowledged before a judge of a court of record of this state by the parties and witnesses in the manner required for the acknowledgment of a conveyance of real estate to entitle the same to be recorded.
N.Y. Dom. Law § 11-B Registration of persons performing marriage ceremonies in the city of New York. Every person authorized by law to perform the marriage ceremony, before performing any such ceremonies in the city of New York, shall register his or her name and address in the office of the city clerk of the city of New York. Every such person, before performing any marriage ceremonies subsequent to a change in his or her address, shall likewise register such change of address. Such city clerk is hereby empowered to cancel the registration of any person so registered upon satisfactory proof that the registration was fraudulent, or upon satisfactory proof that such person is no longer entitled to perform such ceremony.
N.Y. Dom. Law § 12
No particular form or ceremony is required when a marriage is solemnized as herein provided by a clergyman or magistrate, but the parties must solemnly declare in the presence of a clergyman or magistrate and the attending witness or witnesses that they take each other as husband and wife. In every case, at least one witness beside the clergyman or magistrate must be present at the ceremony.
The preceding provisions of this chapter, so far as they relate to the manner of solemnizing marriages, shall not affect marriages among the people called friends or quakers; nor marriages among the people of any other denominations having as such any particular mode of solemnizing marriages; but such marriages must be solemnized in the manner heretofore used and practiced in their respective societies or denominations, and marriages so solemnized shall be as valid as if this article had not been enacted.
How to Get a New York Marriage License
The first step to obtaining a marriage license in New York State is usually appearing in person before a town or city clerk. However, due to COVID-19, the state has put a virtual application process in place. The couple must complete a statement that includes specific personal information:
- Full name
- Social Security number
- Names of both parents and their places of birth
- Birthplace of each person applying for the license
If either person in the couple has previously been married, that person must disclose this information and provide evidence, such as a divorce decree, that the marriage has been legally dissolved, before obtaining a marriage license.
Both members of the couple will be required to prove they are of legal age to be married by providing an original or certified copy of a birth record or certificate, a passport, a baptismal record, a driver's license, an employment certificate, an immigration record or a photo ID issued by their school or government. They will also need to pay a license fee, which varies depending on the county.
The couple will be given the opportunity to legally change their names to the same last name or a combination of their two last names. However, they can also opt to retain their separate, original surnames.
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N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 15 Duty of town and city clerks
- (a) It shall be the duty of the town or city clerk when an application for a marriage license is made to him or her to require each of the contracting parties to sign and verify a statement or affidavit before such clerk or one of his or her deputies, containing the following information. From party one: Full name, place of residence, social security number, age, occupation, place of birth, name of father, country of birth, maiden name of mother, country of birth, number of marriage. From party two: Full name, place of residence, social security number, age, occupation, place of birth, name of father, country of birth, maiden name of mother, country of birth, number of marriage. Both parties shall also be required to present to the clerk documentary proof of age in the form of an original or certified copy of a birth record, a certification of birth issued by the state department of health, a local registrar of vital statistics or other public officer charged with similar duties by the laws of any other state, territory or country, a baptismal record, a passport, an automobile driver's license, any government or school issued identification card that contains a photograph of the applicant, a life insurance policy, an employment certificate, a school record, an immigration record, a naturalization record, a court record or any other document or record issued by a governmental entity, showing the date of birth of such parties. The said clerk shall also embody in the statement if either or both of the applicants have been previously married, a statement as to whether the former spouse or spouses of the respective applicants are living or dead and as to whether either or both of said applicants are divorced persons, if so, when and where and against whom the divorce or divorces were granted and shall also embody therein a statement that no legal impediment exists as to the right of each of the applicants to enter into the marriage state. The town or city clerk is hereby given full power and authority to administer oaths and may require the applicants to produce witnesses to identify them or either of them and may examine under oath or otherwise other witnesses as to any material inquiry pertaining to the issuing of the license, and if the applicant is a divorced person the clerk may also require the production of a certified copy of the decree of the divorce, or proof of an existing marriage of parties who apply for a license to be used for a second or subsequent ceremony; provided, however, that in cities or towns the verified statements and affidavits may be made before any regular clerk or designee of the clerk's office.
(b) Every application for a marriage license shall contain a statement to the following effect:
NOTICE TO APPLICANTS
(1) Every person has the right to adopt any name by which he or she wishes to be known simply by using that name consistently and without intent to defraud.
(2) A person's last name (surname) does not automatically change upon marriage, and neither party to the marriage must change his or her last name. Parties to a marriage need not have the same last name.
(3) One or both parties to a marriage may elect to change the surname by which he or she wishes to be known after the solemnization of the marriage by entering the new name in the space below. Such entry shall consist of one of the following surnames:
(i) the surname of the other spouse; or
(ii) any former surname of either spouse; or
(iii) a name combining into a single surname all or a segment of the premarriage surname or any former surname of each spouse; or
(iv) a combination name separated by a hyphen, provided that each part of such combination surname is the premarriage surname, or any former surname, of each of the spouses.
(4) The use of this option will have the effect of providing a record of the change of name. The marriage certificate, containing the new name, if any, constitutes proof that the use of the new name, or the retention of the former name, is lawful.
(5) Neither the use of, nor the failure to use, this option of selecting a new surname by means of this application abrogates the right of each person to adopt a different name through usage at some future date.
(Optional -- Enter new surname above)
NB Effective until December 20, 2020
If it appears from the affidavits and statements so taken, and from the documentary proof of age presented, that the persons for whose marriage the license in question is demanded are legally competent to marry, the said clerk shall issue such license.
If it shall appear upon an application of the applicants as provided in this section or upon information required by the clerk that either party is at least seventeen years of age but under eighteen years of age, then the town or city clerk before he shall issue a license shall require:
(a) the written consent to the marriage from both parents of the minor or minors or such as shall then be living, or if the parents of both are dead, then the written consent of the guardian or guardians of such minor or minors. If one of the parents has been missing and has not been seen or heard from for a period of one year preceding the time of the application for the license, although diligent inquiry has been made to learn the whereabouts of such parent, the town or city clerk may issue a license to such minor upon the sworn statement and consent of the other parent. If the marriage of the parents of such minor has been dissolved by decree of divorce or annulment, the consent of the parent to whom the court which granted the decree has awarded the custody of such minor shall be sufficient. If there is no parent or guardian of the minor or minors living to their knowledge then the town or city clerk shall require the written consent to the marriage of the person under whose care or government the minor or minors may be before a license shall be issued. If a parent of such minor has been adjudicated an incompetent, the town or city clerk may issue a license to such minor upon the production of a certified copy of such judgment so determining and upon the written consent of the other parent. If there is no other parent whose consent is required by this section, then and in such event, the town or city clerk shall require the written consent of the guardian of such minor or of the person under whose care or government the minor may be before a license shall be issued. The parents, guardians, or other persons whose consent it shall be necessary to obtain and file with the town or city clerk before the license shall issue, shall personally appear and acknowledge or execute the same before the town or city clerk, or some other officer authorized to administer oaths and take acknowledgments provided that where such affidavit or acknowledgment is made before an official other than an officer designated in section two hundred ninety-eight of the real property law as authorized to take such affidavit or acknowledgment if a conveyance of real property were being acknowledged or proved, or if a certificate of authentication would be required by section three hundred ten of the real property law to entitle the instrument to be recorded if it were a conveyance of real property, the consent when filed must have attached thereto a certificate of authentication; and
(b) the written approval of a justice of the supreme court or of a judge of the family court, having jurisdiction over the town or city in which the application is made, to be attached to or endorsed upon the application, before the license is issued. The application for such approval may be made by either minor party to the proposed marriage and shall be heard by the judge at chambers. The justice of the supreme court or the judge of the family court shall appoint an attorney for the child for each minor party immediately upon the application for approval. The attorney for the child must have received training in domestic violence including a component on forced marriage. All papers and records pertaining to any such application shall be sealed and withheld from inspection, except by order of a court of competent jurisdiction. Before issuing any approval, the justice of the supreme court or the judge of the family court shall:
(i) provide notification to each minor party of his or her rights, including but not limited to, rights in relation to termination of the marriage, child and spousal support, domestic violence services and access to public benefits and other services, which notification shall be developed by the office of court administration, in consultation with the office for the prevention of domestic violence;
(ii) with respect to each party, including a minor party, conduct a review of related decisions in court proceedings initiated pursuant to article ten of the family court act, and all warrants issued under the family court act, and reports of the statewide computerized registry of orders of protection established and maintained pursuant to section two hundred twenty-one-a of the executive law, and reports of the sex offender registry established and maintained pursuant to section one hundred sixty-eight-b of the correction law; and
(iii) have an in camera interview, separately with each minor party, and make the following written affirmative findings:
A. that it is the minor's own will that the minor enter into the marriage;
B. that the minor is not being compelled by force, threat, persuasion, fraud, coercion or duress; and
C. that the marriage will not endanger the mental, emotional or physical safety of the minor.
In making such findings, the court shall consider, among other relevant factors, the age difference between the parties intending to be married, whether there is a power imbalance between the parties intending to be married, whether the parties are incapable of consenting to a marriage for want of understanding, whether there is a history of domestic violence between the parties and whether there is a history of domestic violence between a party and either parties' or legal guardians' family members. The wishes of the parents or legal guardians of the minor intending to be married shall not be the sole basis for approval under this subdivision.
Upon the approval of the justice of the supreme court or the judge of the family court of the application to marry, each minor party shall have all the rights of an adult, including the right to enter into a contract, except for those specific constitutional and statutory age requirements such as, but not limited to, voting, use of alcoholic beverages, and other health or safety statutes relevant to him or her because of his or her age.
Before issuing any licenses herein provided for, the town or city clerk shall be entitled to a fee of thirty dollars, which sum shall be paid by the applicants before or at the time the license is issued; provided, however, that when either of the parties applying for such license is a member of the armed forces of the United States on active duty (i) a town or city may not collect that portion of the fee which would otherwise be transmitted to the state commissioner of health pursuant to this subdivision and (ii) such town or city may elect to waive the portion of the fee which the town or city is entitled to. Any town or city clerk who shall issue a license to marry any persons one or both of whom shall not be at the time of the marriage under such license legally competent to marry without first requiring the parties to such marriage to make such affidavits and statements or who shall not require the production of documentary proof of age or the procuring of the approval and consents provided for by this article, which shall show that the parties authorized by said license to be married are legally competent to marry, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be fined in the sum of one hundred dollars for each and every offense. On or before the fifteenth day of each month, each town and city clerk, except in the city of New York, shall transmit to the state commissioner of health twenty-two dollars and fifty cents of the amount received for each fee collected, which shall be paid into the vital records management account as provided by section ninety-seven-cccc of the state finance law; provided, however, that no fee shall be collected on behalf of or paid to the commissioner of health when either of the parties applying for such license is a member of the armed forces of the United States on active duty. In any city the balance of all fees collected for the issuing of a marriage license, or for solemnizing a marriage, so far as collected for services rendered by any officer or employee of such city, shall be paid monthly into the city treasury and may by ordinance be credited to any fund therein designated, and said ordinance, when duly enacted, shall have the force of law in such city. Notwithstanding any other provisions of this article, the clerk of any city with the approval of the governing body of such city is hereby authorized to designate, in writing filed in the city clerk's office, a deputy clerk, if any, and/or other city employees in such office to receive applications for, examine applications, investigate and issue marriage licenses in the absence or inability of the clerk of said city to act, and said deputy and/or employees so designated are hereby vested with all the powers and duties of said city clerk relative thereto. Such deputy and/or employees shall perform said duties without additional compensation.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the city clerk of the city of New York, before issuing any licenses herein provided for, shall be entitled to a fee of twenty-five dollars, which sum shall be paid by the applicants before or at the time the license is issued and all such fees so received shall be paid monthly into the city treasury.
Applying For a Marriage License in New York
Once couples have their marriage license in hand, they need to make sure they follow the rules that dictate legal usage of the license. A minister or magistrate who fails to adhere to these rules can be fined $50 and restricted from conducting marriages for 90 days.
First, the license is only valid for 60 days. Any license presented to an authorized magistrate or minister outside of this 60-day period will be considered invalid and the couple must reapply or obtain court approval. Second, the couple must wait at least 24 hours after the marriage license is issued to get married unless they are granted a court-approved exception. The exact date and time of issuance are noted on the marriage certificate. If an exception is requested, the marriage officiant must state the specific reason. Finally, the minister or magistrate must complete, endorse and return the marriage license and certificate no later than five days after the date of the wedding.
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N.Y. Dom. Law § 13 It shall be necessary for all persons intended to be married in New York state to obtain a marriage license from a town or city clerk in New York state and to deliver said license, within sixty days, to the clergyman or magistrate who is to officiate before the marriage ceremony may be performed. In case of a marriage contracted pursuant to subdivision four of section eleven of this chapter, such license shall be delivered to the judge of the court of record before whom the acknowledgment is to be taken. If either party to the marriage resides upon an island located not less than twenty-five miles from the office or residence of the town clerk of the town of which such island is a part, and if such office or residence is not on such island such license may be obtained from any justice of the peace residing on such island, and such justice, in respect to powers and duties relating to marriage licenses, shall be subject to the provisions of this article governing town clerks and shall file all statements or affidavits received by him while acting under the provisions of this section with the town clerk of such town. No application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same, or a different, sex.
N.Y. Dom. Law § 13-B A marriage shall not be solemnized within twenty-four hours after the issuance of the marriage license, unless authorized by an order of a court of record as hereinafter provided, nor shall it be solemnized after sixty days from the date of the issuance of the marriage license unless authorized pursuant to section three hundred fifty-four-d of the executive law. Every license to marry hereafter issued by a town or city clerk, in addition to other requirements specified by this chapter, must contain a statement of the day and the hour the license is issued and the period during which the marriage may be solemnized. It shall be the duty of the clergyman or magistrate performing the marriage ceremony, or if the marriage is solemnized by written contract, of the judge before whom the contract is acknowledged, to annex to or endorse upon the marriage license the date and hour the marriage is solemnized. A judge or justice of the supreme court of this state or the county judge of the county in which either party to be married resides, or if such party is at least seventeen years of age, the judge of the family court of such county, if it shall appear from an examination of the license and any other proofs submitted by the parties that one of the parties is in danger of imminent death, or by reason of other emergency public interest will be promoted thereby, or that such delay will work irreparable injury or great hardship upon the contracting parties, or one of them, may, upon making written affirmative findings under subdivision three of section fifteen of this article, make an order authorizing the immediate solemnization of the marriage and upon filing such order with the clergyman or magistrate performing the marriage ceremony, or if the marriage is to be solemnized by written contract, with the judge before whom the contract is acknowledged, such clergyman or magistrate may solemnize such marriage, or such judge may take such acknowledgment as the case may be, without waiting for such three day period and twenty-four hour period to elapse. The clergyman, magistrate or judge must file such order with the town or city clerk who issued the license within five days after the marriage is solemnized. Such town or city clerk must record and index the order in the book required to be kept by him or her for recording affidavits, statements, consents and licenses, and when so recorded the order shall become a public record and available in any prosecution under this section. A person who shall solemnize a marriage in violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of fifty dollars for each offense, and in addition thereto, his or her right to solemnize a marriage shall be suspended for ninety days.
New York Marriage Requirements
There are no restrictions on same-sex unions or requirements to be a United States citizen or resident. However, there are a few qualifications prospective couples must have to legally tie the knot in New York:
- Both people must be deemed mentally capable of consenting.
- Neither party can have been incurably mentally ill for more than five years.
- Both people must be 18 years of age or older, or at least 17 and have the permission of both parents or legal guardian and the court.
- Neither person can have been forced into marriage under duress or by fraudulent means.
Issuing a marriage license to persons under the age of 17 is a misdemeanor in the state of New York. Clerks who violate the age law may be fined up to $100.
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N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 5 Incestuous and void marriages
A marriage is incestuous and void whether the relatives are legitimate or illegitimate between either:
An ancestor and a descendant;
A brother and sister of either the whole or the half blood;
An uncle and niece or an aunt and nephew.
If a marriage prohibited by the foregoing provisions of this section be solemnized it shall be void, and the parties thereto shall each be fined not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars and may, in the discretion of the court in addition to said fine, be imprisoned for a term not exceeding six months. Any person who shall knowingly and wilfully solemnize such marriage, or procure or aid in the solemnization of the same, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined or imprisoned in like manner.
N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 7 Voidable marriages
A marriage is void from the time its nullity is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction if either party thereto:
Is under the age of legal consent, which is eighteen years, provided that such nonage shall not of itself constitute an absolute right to the annulment of such marriage, but such annulment shall be in the discretion of the court which shall take into consideration all the facts and circumstances surrounding such marriage;
Is incapable of consenting to a marriage for want of understanding;
Is incapable of entering into the married state from physical cause;
Consent to such marriage by reason of force, duress or fraud;
Has been incurably mentally ill for a period of five years or more.
N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 15-A Marriages of minors under seventeen years of age
Any marriage in which either party is under the age of seventeen years is hereby prohibited. Any town or city clerk who shall knowingly issue a marriage license to any persons, one or both of whom shall be at the time of their contemplated marriage actually under the age of seventeen years, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be fined in the sum of one hundred dollars.
Finalizing the Union
After the conclusion of the ceremony, the minister, clergyperson, or magistrate must make sure that the wedded couple and their witnesses have completed their portions of the marriage license. The minister must also fill in his or her own name, ordaining body (such as the Universal Life Church), and home address.
Anyone who conducts a wedding ceremony in the State of New York for a couple with no marriage license, or does not return the license along with the completed and endorsed marriage certificate to the town or state clerk where the license was issued within five days of the ceremony, may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor and required to pay a $200 fine.