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Couples Married by a Friend or Family Member May Not Have a Valid Marriage

A trend that has risen in popularity along with that of the Internet is for a couple to be married by a friend or family member rather than an official clergyman. These friends or family members obtain the qualification to marry a couple by applying online. Most of the time, the free process takes less than five minutes and allows that person to begin performing marriages immediately. The appeal that draw couples toward the decision of having a family member or friend officiate the marriage is that it allows for a more intimate, personal, and religiously-neutral ceremony.

These marriages have been legal for the most part, however, many people are realizing years later that their marriage is actually null and void. In some states, these online ordainment websites are considered valid ways to become an ordained minister, with the full capability to officiate a valid marriage. However, in New York, the validity of these marriages comes into question when major events happen such as divorce, the need to file for custody, or the passing of a loved one whose inheritance distribution is dictated by a marriage. In some cases in New York, these marriages have been upheld as valid by the court, but others have not been recognized.

New York law does not have clear guidelines as to whether or not these marriages can be legally upheld during divorce or inheritance disputes, causing many issues when it comes to marriages conducted by online ordained ministers. However, a New York senator, Patty Ritchie has recently introduced legislation that would offer clarity on the matter and would provide people the legal power to perform a marriage through a one-day, one-couple specific wedding. This legislation places regulations on those who are allowed to perform marriages, requiring the officiant applicant to:

  • be at least 18 years old;
  • apply and pay a fee at least 30 days before the wedding to receive permission from the New York Department of State;
  • exclusively officiate the wedding they applied for.

This legislation will require that one must apply for each individual wedding he or she wishes to officiate. While the proposed legislation does not speak to the issue of whether or not past marriages officiated by online ordained ministers are valid, completing the state process would ensure that a marriage is not deemed null and void. These marriages will be recognized as legal and valid by the courts and will prevent legal issues and disputes in the future.

Not all marriages that were conducted by an online ordained minister will be considered null and void by the court because each situation is unique. It is important that you have an experienced family law attorney on your side should your marriage be called into question. The attorneys at Fig Law, P.L.L.C. have handled many marital and divorce implications and may be able to help you achieve your desired outcome and avoid legal problems. For more information or to schedule a free consultation, call office.

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