Can You Be Married In NY Without A Marriage LIcense?

Man asking woman to marry him


Marriage is a legally recognized union between two individuals that grants them certain rights, benefits, and responsibilities. In the state of New York, couples seeking to be considered legally married must, according to several statutes, fulfill specific requirements, including obtaining a marriage license from the City Clerk’s office.

However, New York courts may recognize a marriage as valid even in situations where no marriage license was issued. This article will explore the legal requirements for marriage under New York law and discuss scenarios where marriages can be deemed valid without a marriage license, as well as discuss a law which went into effect in 2023 allowing ordinary people become wedding ceremony officiants for one day. There have benn several New York cases where a divorce was filed, but one spouse then claimed that the parties were never legally married.

Obtaining a Marriage License

Application Process

  1. Couples must visit the office of the City Clerk in person to obtain a marriage license.
  2. Both parties must provide identification documents, such as a birth certificate, passport, or driver’s license.
  3. Each applicant must provide information about their previous marriages, including divorce decrees or death certificates if applicable.
  4. The couple is required to pay a fee for the marriage license, which can vary depending on the city or town.

B. Waiting Period and Expiration

  1. There is a 24-hour waiting period from the time the marriage license is issued before the couple can legally marry.
  2. The marriage license is valid for 60 days from the date of issuance, after which it expires.

C. Marriage Ceremony

  1. The marriage ceremony must be performed by an authorized officiant, such as a religious leader a judge, or a justice of the peace.
  2. The ceremony should include the exchange of vows, but no specific wording is required. There is no requirement that the couple exchange wedding rings.
  3. At least one witness is required to be present during the marriage ceremony in addition to the officiant.

Common Law Marriages in New York

A. Definition and Recognition

  1. Common law marriage refers to a marriage that is established by the parties’ mutual agreement and without a formal ceremony or marriage license.
  2. New York does not recognize common law marriages formed within the state. However, it does recognize valid common law marriages established in other states where they are legally recognized.

Requirements for Valid Common Law Marriage

  1. The couple must have the capacity to marry, meaning they are of legal age (18 years or older) and mentally competent.
  2. The couple must present evidence of their intent to enter into a legally binding marital relationship.
  3. The couple must live together as spouses and hold themselves out as a married couple to the community.
  4. The couple must have mutual consent and agreement to be married.
  5. These are the most common requirements used by other states that recognize common law marriage. Each state may have slomewhat different requirements.

Religious Ceremony And Intention To Enter Into A Legal Marriage.

  1. In certain cases, New York courts may recognize a marriage as valid even if no marriage license or marriage certificate was issued.
  2. If the couple undergoes a religious ceremony and genuinely intends to enter into a legal marriage, their marriage may be recognized under New York law.

Validity of Religious Ceremonies

  1. The court will examine the circumstances surrounding the religious ceremony and the parties’ intent to determine if a valid marriage exists.
  2. Factors considered may include the couple’s conduct, public acknowledgment of their marital status, and the duration of their relationship. Obviously a full blown marriage ceremony which takes place in a church or synagogue, with the bride wearing a wedding dress and the groom a tuxedo, where there is a forma cutting of the wedding cake, with a reception attended by a large number of friends and relatives, along with a gift registry, will be considered convincing evidence that the parties fully intended to be legally married.

Challenges To The Marriage Based Upon The Officiant

In the past there have been occasional situations where the legality of a marriage has been challenged because the officiant was not a clergyman, priest, rabbi, etc. This issue came up as more and more couples, especially young couples, chose destination weddings, and/ or did not belong to any organized religions.

Some couples preferred to have a close friend be tthe officiant. Some religious organizations, the Universal Life Church in particular, allowed anyone become a religious leader by filling out a form online and paying a fee. This church has only one religious tenet, which was to believe that it was better to do good than do evil. In New York, marriages conducted by these types of officiants had been the subject of lawsuits where different counties had different results. in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester, they were considered invalid, while in other countis they were not.

In December of 2022 Governor Hochul signed a bill which allos anyone to become a wedding officiant for a day by paying a small fee. This bill took effect in march of 2023. It is unclear whether this bill will take effect retroactively.


Marriage is a significant and legally binding commitment that requires couples to fulfill certain requirements to be considered legally married in the state of New York. Obtaining a marriage license from the City Clerk’s office, undergoing a marriage ceremony conducted by an authorized officiant, and fulfilling the necessary documentation and identification processes are essential steps in the marriage process.

However, New York courts may also recognize marriages as valid even in situations where no marriage license was issued. This includes common law marriages established in states where they are legally recognized and religious ceremonies where the couple genuinely intended to enter into a legal marriage.

It is important for couples to understand the legal requirements for marriage and seek appropriate advice and guidance to ensure that their marriage is recognized under the law. Consulting an attorney who specializes in family law can provide valuable insight and assistance in navigating the complexities of marriage regulations and ensuring compliance with New York state laws.

By understanding the legal requirements and exploring various scenarios where marriages can be recognized as valid beyond marriage licenses, couples can enter into marriages with confidence, knowing that their union is legally recognized and protected by the state of New York.