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Clergyman or Officer, When Protected

In addition to being an act of love, getting marriage also has broad legal implications. Under New York law, marriage is considered a contract. Like any other contract, to marry, both parties must be competent to do so. Otherwise the validity of the marriage is questionable. In fact, clergymen and others who are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies are prohibited from marrying couples where one or both parties is not competent to marry. Whether it is related to your marriage or the marriage of a loved one, if you have concerns related to competence, it is important that you immediately contact an experienced New York family lawyer. We at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have years of experience successfully representing clients in complicated family law matters. We have the skill and resources to help.

Competency of Parties

In order to get married, both parties must be legally competent. If either party is not, the marriage is voidable. Getting married involves commitment. There are emotional, physical, and financial obligations that go along with marriage that parties entering marriage must have the capacity to understand.

  • Age. Generally, minors are incompetent to contract. New York Domestic Relations Law makes it clear that minors generally do not have the maturity to marry. You must be at least 18 years to marry in New York. NY Dom Rel Law § 7. If you are at least 17, with parental and judicial permission, you can marry. While marriages involving minors are not void, they are voidable by petitioning the court for an annulment.
  • Mentally ill. If a person is mentally ill, he or she may not understand what it means to get married. Thus, a marriage involving a mentally ill person is voidable.
  • Duress or force. If you were forced to get married, the marriage would be voidable. If you do not enter a marriage based on your own free will, you would not have been considered competent to enter the marriage contract.
Responsibility of Marriage Officiant

For a marriage to be legal, it must be solemnized by a person who has the authority to do so. For example, clergy have the authority to solemnized marriages as do certain judges, justices of the peace, town or city marriage officers, and mayors. An officiant is only permitted to solemnize marriages of those who have received marriage licenses. Further, even with a marriage license, if one or both of the parties is incompetent, the officiant must not perform the marriage ceremony. Otherwise, according to NY Dom Rel Law § 17, the officiant would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

However, the law also protects officiants in instances where they officiated marriages where one or both of the parties was incompetent, as long as the officiant did not have personal knowledge of the incompetency of either party. In such cases the officiant would not be legally liable. NY Dom Rel Law § 18. The marriage would still be voidable.

Related Statutory Provision
  1. Marriages of minors under seventeen years of age: New York Domestic Relations Law, section 15-a
  2. False statements and affidavits: New York Domestic Relations Law, section 16
  3. Clergyman or officer violating article; penalty: New York Domestic Relations Law, section 17
Domestic Relations Law, section 18: Clergyman or officer, when protected

Any such clergymen or officer as aforesaid to whom any such license duly issued may come and not having personal knowledge of the incompetency of either party therein named to contract matrimony, may lawfully solemnize matrimony between them.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Whether you have concerns about the legitimacy of your marriage or that of a loved one, or you have concerns about another complex family matter, an experienced New York family lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates can help. We have years of experience advocating for our clients on issues related to marriage, contested divorce, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, child support, spousal maintenance, asset division, and child custody. Contact us at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW (1-800-696-9529) to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Westchester County, Suffolk County, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Nassau County.

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