New York Marriage Laws

Any state that boasts the magistry of Niagara Falls, the ritz of the Hamptons and the kinetic energy of the Big Apple is obviously going to be a sought-after wedding destination. And yet, Frank Sinatra might as well have been speaking to a brick wall when he sang about doing it "His Way."

Prospective couples and ministers be aware – New York State has its own unique way, and it’s not exactly a cakewalk compared to marriage laws in other parts of the country. That's why the Universal Life Church has distilled the state’s layers of complicated legal code into this easy-to-follow guide, designed to help you navigate any bureaucratic snags on the path to a perfect and legally binding New York wedding.

Requirements for the Couple

Min. Age of Couple:
Age 18 or Age 17 with Guardian and Judicial Approval
Residency:
Not Required
Min. Distance of Kin Allowed:
First Cousins
Marriage Equality:
Yes

New York State forbids the marriage of any two persons under the age of 18, unless they are 17-year-olds who’ve secured the approval of both their parents or legal guardian and the court. Any clerk who knowingly issues a marriage license to minors under 17 may be fined up to $100 for the misdemeanor.

Same-sex couples and foreigners are more than welcome to tie the knot in New York. However, the state will not tolerate marriages between any two people deemed mentally incapable of consenting, who have been incurably mentally ill for over 5 years, or who’ve been forced into a fraudulent union, under duress.

Marriages between ancestors and descendants, siblings or any combination of aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews, whether legitimate or not, will be considered incestuous and therefore void. What’s more, couples and ministers who knowingly take part in any such incestuous unions could be fined between $50-100 and, in certain extreme cases in which the court deems it appropriate, spend up to six months in jail.

Marriage License Requirements

Min. Age of Witnesses:
None
Couple's Consent Required:
Yes
Pronouncement Required:
Yes

Couples applying for a marriage license in New York State must physically present themselves before a town or city clerk, who will require each to sign a statement or affidavit listing their full name, address, social security number, age, occupation, place of birth, as well as the name of each parent and their countries of birth. Age may be proven with either an original or certified copy of a birth record, a certification of birth issued by the state department of health, a baptismal record, a passport, a driver's license, any government or school-issued photo ID, or even a life insurance policy, employment certificate or immigration record.

All previous marriages and divorce decrees will also need to be disclosed in order to ensure there remains no legal impediment to the proposed marriage. Couples will also be reminded they can choose to preserve either of their original surnames after marriage, or join the two, provided it is clearly stated on the eventual marriage certificate. Any name change on the license will be considered legal.

Please note that New York State has enacted a virtual process for marriage license applications due to COVID-19. The cost of a license varies from county to county.

Marriage License Facts

ULC-Officiated Ceremony Type:
Religious
Mandatory Waiting Period:
24 Hours
License Valid For:
60 Days
License Must Be Submitted:
Within 5 Days of Ceremony

Once issued, it is up to the couple to ensure the marriage license gets to the authorized minister or magistrate within the 60-day period in which it will be valid.

No marriage can be solemnized within 24 hours of issuance or 60 days after expiration without court approval. It will be up to the marriage officiant to state the specific reason for the exception. Otherwise, to ensure there are no mixups or misunderstandings, the specific date and time of issuance will be noted on the license itself, and the minister will need to note the same once the marriage is solemnized. The license and certificate must be filled out, endorsed and returned within five days of the ceremony.

Any minister or magistrate who doesn’t follow this procedure shall be fined $50 and have their right to perform weddings suspended in the state for a period of 90 days.

Requirements for the Minister

Min. Age of Minister:
Age 18
Residency:
Not Required
Document(s) Required:
Varies by Town/City
Online Ordination Recognized:
Not Always
Relevant Office of Registration:
Town or City Clerk
Latest Document(s) Submission Date Allowed:
Before the Ceremony
Minister I.D. # Issued:
No

Marriages in the state of New York can be solemnized by either a clergyman or minister of any religion, a civil magistrate and any leader of The Society for Ethical Culture, provided they are at least 18 years or older.

Keep in mind that all ministers ordained online by the Universal Life Church are legally recognized as ‘religious’ actors, and are therefore allowed to solemnize weddings in the state without regard to their own place or country of residence, gender or personal beliefs. That being said, all ministers must first register with the relevant town or city clerk, providing their name and permanent address. Certain towns or cities in the state may also require ordination credentials to be presented.

If performing a wedding within the five boroughs of New York City, ULC officiants must go through a special registration process requiring specific documentation from the church. The New York City Wedding Package, available in our online catalog, contains all these necessary documents, as well as instructions for how to go about registering.

Wedding Ceremony Requirements

Marriage By Proxy Allowed:
No
Minister Required to be Present:
Yes

All marriages in New York State must be attended by both members of the couple, the minister and at least two competent witnesses, each of whom will be required to note the date and time of the ceremony when they fill out and sign the marriage contract.

While the state leaves it to couples and ministers to determine the ebb and flow of the ceremony, it legally requires that each individual solemnly declare to take the other as husband and wife before all present. Interestingly, the following requirements should not affect marriages between Quakers or other religions whose customs don’t demand this.

Final Steps

Officiant's Title on Marriage License:
Minister
Church/Ordaining Body:
Universal Life Church Ministries
Address of Church:
Minister's Home Address

Once the ceremony is done, it is the minister’s job to make sure to include their own name, title, ordaining body (Universal Life Church) and personal address on the marriage license, as well as ensure that the couple and witnesses have filled in their parts.

Any minister or officer who marries a couple without a license, or who fails to return such license and marriage certificate, completed and endorsed, to the state or town clerk where it was issued within five days of the completed ceremony may be found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and fined $200.