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Litigation. Collaborative Law. Mediation.

Are Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder Married Under New York Law?


Winona Ryder dropped a reality bomb on us all this week when she claimed that she and Keanu Reeves might have accidentally married each other 25 years ago, on the set of their cult classic movie Dracula. Her evidence: they hired a real Romanian priest to perform their characters’ nuptials. (Keanu, for his part, doesn’t even remember the scene, which is perfect.) So let’s do this: are they married under New York law?

Maybe! First off, New York of course does recognize most foreign marriages, provided those marriages were entered into in keeping with the law of the place in which they occurred. There are some exceptions to this: if the marriage deeply offends the public policy of New York State, it will not be recognized. For example, incestuous and/or polygamous marriages are not recognized in New York. This was put to the test in the late 2000s, when a spate of litigants came forth asking New York to recognize their same-sex marriages obtained abroad. New York did so, even though same-sex marriage was not yet legal in New York State. But yes, if Keanu and Winona followed proper Romanian law, they could very well be married in New York.

So let’s take a look at Romanian law and see whether or not Mr. and Mrs. Reeves-Ryder successfully sealed the deal. According to this extremely helpful blog post titled How To Get Married in Romania, marriage in Romania cannot be undertaken lightly: not only is a license required, but at least one of the spouses needs to be a Romanian citizen. And it isn’t easy to get the license: both spouses have to submit a ton of paperwork, and they even have to be domiciled in the same “administrative unit” where they apply for the license. So no last minute eloping to the Romanian version of Vegas.

(New York, by the way, does not require a license to marry, unlike most states. In fact, our firm has handled cases in which people thought they were only getting “pretend” married, with a ceremony, because they never obtained a license. They are inevitably shocked to hear that they are now being sued for divorce, for a marriage they thought they never actually had.)

There are other problems with Winona’s thesis. For example, if you watch the wedding scene in question, Keanu and Winona don’t say any vows to one another, they just drink from a goblet and kiss. Also, a woman is viciously torn apart by a wolf while the ceremony is happening.

Because their ceremony didn’t create a marriage in Romania, it’s a pretty safe bet that Keanu and Winona are not married here in New York, either, which is unfortunate for us. But it’s a nice thing to think about.