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Marriage a Civil Contract

While people typically get married because they love each other, marriage is a legal institution. When you get married in New York, you are entering into a civil contract. Under the law, in order to enter into a contract you must be competent to do so. In general terms, this means that you must have reached the age of majority, you must be mentally competent, and you must not be under duress. If you are not competent to contract to marry and you get married anyway, the marriage will be voidable. If you have concerns about the validity of your marriage or the marriage of a loved one, contact an experienced New York divorce lawyer who has the knowledge and skill to protect the legal rights of you or your loved one.

Voidable Marriages

According to NY Dom. Rel. Law §10, marriage is a civil contract. To enter marriage, both parties must be competent to do so. Those who are not competent to do are generally not permitted to do so, and the marriage is voidable upon petitioning the court and upon the discretion of the judge. For example, you must be at least 18 years old to get married, as 18 is the age of majority in New York. Those under the age of 18 are not competent to make contracts. While a contract entered into by a minor is not always immediately invalid, it is voidable if the minor choses to void it. Similarly, if a person who is under the age of 18 marries, according to NY Dom. Rel. Law §7, the marriage is voidable. This means that upon petitioning the court, a judge has the discretion to annul the marriage. The judge will consider all facts and circumstances in making the decision whether to annul the marriage.

A person who is mentally ill lacks the competence to enter into a marriage contract. NY Dom. Rel. Law §7 provides that if a person has been incurably mentally ill for a period of at least five years, a marriage to that person is voidable. An action to annul the marriage can be commenced by the spouse of the mentally ill person or by a relative of the mentally ill person. If the mentally ill person does recover, then he or she can commence an annulment action.

If a person enters a marriage based on force or duress, then he or she would not have done so out of his or her own free will. In Kaye v. Levine Prospect, LLC, 2019 NY Slip Op. 31299(U), the court explained that a civil contract is “voidable on the ground of duress when it is established that the party making the claim was forced to agree to it by means of a wrongful threat precluding the exercise of that party's free will.” Similarly, if a party to a marriage entered into the marriage contact because of a threat that precluded the exercise of his or her free will, then the marriage is voidable. As a result, an action to annul a marriage on the ground of force or duress may be maintained at any time by the party whose consent was so obtained.

Related Statutory Provisions
  1. Parties to a marriage: New York Domestic Relations Law, section 10-a
  2. Religious exception: New York Domestic Relations Law, section 10-b
  3. Marriage a civil contract: New York Domestic Relations Law, section 11
Domestic Relations Law, Section 10: Marriage a Civil Contract

Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, continues to be a civil contract, to which the consent of parties capable in law of making a contract is essential.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

The New York divorce lawyers at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have over 20 years of experience representing clients in complex matters including divorce, child custody, spousal maintenance, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, and other sensitive family matters. 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: Nassau County, Queens, Suffolk County, Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Westchester County.

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