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NY Penal Law § 255.00: Unlawfully solemnizing a marriage

Under New York law not just anybody can perform a marriage ceremony. You must be licensed to do so. If you perform a marriage ceremony without the proper credentials or if you knowingly perform a marriage ceremony that involves people who cannot lawfully marry, you could be charged with a crime. Under New York Penal Law § 255.00 you could be charged with unlawfully solemnizing a marriage if you:

  1. Solemnize a marriage, knowing that you are not authorized to do so in the State of New York, or
  2. Solemnize a marriage knowing that the union is unlawful.

It is a misdemeanor. New York Domestic Relations Law § 11 specifies who is legally authorized to perform a marriage ceremony. Those authorized include clergymen, mayors, and judges.


Joe, an ordained minister, officiated over a marriage of 21 year old Ryan and 15 year old Paula. If Joe was aware that Paula was only 15 years old, he could be prosecuted for unlawfully solemnizing a marriage. However, if he did not know, then he would have a defense to that charge.

Related Offenses
  1. Unlawfully procuring a marriage license: New York Penal Law § 255.05

In order to be convicted of unlawfully solemnizing a marriage based on their being a legal impediment to the marriage, you must have known that the legal impediment existed. If you did not know, then you have a defense to the charge. Similarly, if the charge is based on knowing that you are not authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in New York State, the prosecutor must prove that you did in fact know.


Unlawfully solemnizing a marriage is a class A misdemeanor. You sentence may include:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • 3 years of probation
  • Fine
New York Penal Law § 255.00: Unlawfully solemnizing a marriage

A person is guilty of unlawfully solemnizing a marriage when:

  1. Knowing that he is not authorized by the laws of this state to do so, he performs a marriage ceremony or presumes to solemnize a marriage; or

  2. Being authorized by the laws of this state to perform marriage ceremonies and to solemnize marriages, he performs a marriage ceremony or solemnizes a marriage knowing that a legal impediment to such marriage exists.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Even though unlawful solemnizing a marriage is a misdemeanor and not a felony, if you are convicted you could still end up in jail and you will have a criminal record. In order to ensure that your case has the best outcome possible given the facts of your case, it is important that you have experienced representation. The staff at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates has years of experience successfully defending clients in New York criminal courts who have been charged with felonies and misdemeanors. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We serve those accused of larceny in the following locations: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Nassau County, Queens, Staten Island, Suffolk County and Westchester County.

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