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Palm Readers, Proxies, and Pranks: How Other States’ Supposedly “Strange” Laws Play Out in New York


If you Google the term “weird marriage laws,” you will be hit with a barrage of strange and quirky domestic relations statutes from around the country. Many of them are repeated so often in these listicles that they have taken on legendary status. But are they true?

Some of them are. For example, it is true that Montana allows “double proxy” weddings, meaning that neither the bride nor the groom need be in the room on the day of the marriage. It is also true that in Georgia, if you are dating a married person, his or her spouse can sue you for damages. In New York, neither of these options are available to you.

There are other “weird” laws, however, that could affect your marriage and divorce here.

Prank marriages are real marriages

For example, in Delaware, a marriage where “one or both parties entered into the marriage as a jest or dare” can be annulled, or if one party was committing an act of fraud. New York also allows fraud as grounds for annulment, with this caveat: “But a marriage shall not be annulled… on the ground of fraud, if it appears that, at any time before the commencement thereof, the parties voluntarily cohabited as husband and wife, with a full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud.” As such, even a prank marriage can become a legal marriage in New York.

The wrong officiant can void your marriage

In New Orleans, you cannot be married by a fortune teller, psychic, or palm reader. This is a specific rule, but the overall concept – that marriage cannot be solemnized by just anyone – is true in most states, including New York. Under the law, your officiant may be:

  • A member of the clergy, or a minister of any religion
  • The governor (current or former)
  • The mayor (current or former)
  • A county executive
  • A county recorder
  • A city magistrate
  • A police justice
  • A police magistrate
  • A city clerk
  • A member of the State legislature
  • A State, federal, or tribal judge

If your officiant is not on the list, your marriage could be deemed invalid. In some circumstances, your marriage could be invalidated even if you are married by a “minister” – i.e., if you have been married by someone ordained online in the Universal Life Church (ULC), or other similar organization.

In Ranieri v. Ranieri (1989) the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court’s Second Department found that both the marriage and the postnuptial agreement signed by the couple were void because the officiant, who had been ordained by the ULC, was illegitimate. In Oswald v. Oswald (2013), the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court’s Third Department heard a similar case but sent it back to the lower court for a “fact finding hearing,” essentially neither accepting nor denying the validity of the case. (Per the Times Union, it is unclear whether that hearing was held, as no information has been made public.)

Familial mistreatment as grounds for divorce

There is a myth that mistreating your mother-in-law can be used as grounds for divorce in Kansas. This is untrue there and it is untrue here, though domestic abuse could be a potential ground for divorce. Under New York DRL § 170 (2019), a spouse who is abused can cite “cruel and inhumane treatment” as a ground for divorce, although in practice almost no divorces proceed in New York based on fault. However, if you are a victim of domestic abuse by your spouse, a new law means that you may be entitled to a greater share of the assets.

There are a lot of strange laws regarding marriage and divorce out there. The best idea is to talk to a NYC matrimonial attorney about the questions you have, to ensure that you get the answers you need. Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP can help you through every stage of divorce. To schedule a consultation. please call us at (212) 466-6015, or reach out to us through our contact form today. We maintain offices on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, in Westchester, and in Bergen County, NJ.