Sometimes, albeit rarely, a family law dispute in New York does not center on the dissolution of a marriage but on a disagreement over whether a marriage exists at all. A Manhattan court recently considered a plaintiff’s request for a declaration that his marriage was valid. Alternatively, he asserted several fraud-based claims against the woman he claimed he had married, who denied being his wife. In a ruling earlier this year in Jackson K. v. Parisa G., the court denied the alleged wife’s motion to dismiss, allowing the case to move toward trial.
Some states, not including New York, allow people to get married without a marriage license, commonly known as “common-law marriage.” Under New York’s Domestic Relations Law, a couple must obtain a marriage license from a town or city clerk and provide it to the “clergyman or magistrate” who will perform the marriage ceremony. A marriage without a license is valid, however, if it was “solemnized between persons of full age.” A “clergyman or minister,” as defined by state law, may solemnize a marriage, as may a judge or various other public officials. The marriage ceremony is not required to follow any particular form, as long as the spouses-to-be “solemnly declare” their intention to marry in front of the officiant and witnesses.
The Jackson K. case, as presented by the court, shows numerous features commonly associated with a wedding but fewer features of a marriage. The plaintiff and the defendant “entered into a romantic relationship” in 2006, having known each other since they were children. They moved in together in 2007, and in 2009 the plaintiff asked her parents’ permission to marry her. He purchased a $25,000 engagement ring with the help of the defendant’s mother.
After the defendant accepted the proposal, they spent over a year planning a traditional “Iranian Islamic” wedding, which took place in September 2010 at a mansion on Long Island. They signed a prenuptial agreement shortly before the wedding. The couple never obtained a marriage license or a marriage certificate, however, and although they lived together after the wedding, they never filed taxes jointly. A year after the wedding, the plaintiff signed a “Declaration of Domestic Partnership” at the defendant’s request. She claimed that this indicated that they were not married.
The plaintiff filed a lawsuit asserting two causes of action to establish the validity of the marriage. First, he alleged that the marriage took place “in a properly witnessed ceremony performed before a ‘clergyman or magistrate.’” Second, he claimed that the marriage “was solemnized in the manner used and practiced in the Islamic faith.” In her motion to dismiss, the defendant claimed that the officiant, who had flown in from California for the wedding, was not a “minister” authorized to solemnize a marriage.
The court rejected the defendant’s arguments and found that the plaintiff had provided enough evidence to allow both marriage validity claims to proceed. It also denied the motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims of “fraud, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent omission, and conversion of the engagement ring.” It made no ruling on the merits of these claims but instead simply allowed the case to proceed.
A knowledgeable and experienced divorce lawyer with knowledge of the New York City family court system can guide you through your family law dispute, help you understand your rights and obligations, and advocate for you both in and out of court. For more than 30 years, Ingrid Gherman has practiced family law in New York City. Contact us online or at (212) 941-0767 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.
More Blog Posts:
New York Lawsuit Accuses Parent of Obtaining Information to Use In Child Support Modification Case by Hacking, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, October 22, 2015
Setting Aside a New York Marital or Separation Agreement, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, August 28, 2015
Prenuptial Agreement Requires Couple to Litigate Divorce in Israel, not New York, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, January 16, 2015