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New York Penal Law 255.00: Unlawfully solemnizing a marriage

May 6, 2017 New York Penal Code

New York Penal Law 255.00 is the act of unlawfully solemnizing a marriage. What this means is a marriage is performed and signed off on by someone who is not legally capable of performing a wedding ceremony. All officiants must be legally certified with the proper credentials to perform a marriage, and anyone who fails to secure those credentials is not legally able to marry anyone. Unlawfully solemnizing a marriage also occurs when an officiant legal or not performs a marriage on any couple they know cannot legally wed in any capacity. It’s a serious crime, though it doesn’t often seem that way to many in comparison to the other crimes that are committed regularly in the United States and in New York.

Solemnizing a marriage in an unlawful manner is not a crime the state is willing to overlook. It’s a Class A misdemeanor in New York, which means it’s punishable by up to one year in prison, probation for up to 3 years, and it’s also subject to a fine determined at the time of sentencing. This is a crime that does not go unpunished, even if the guidelines surrounding the crime are often unclear to those who might commit the act of unlawfully solemnizing a marriage in New York.

Examples of Solemnizing a Marriage Unlawfully

If a minister is ordained and hired to officiate a wedding between two people, he or she will marry that couple provided the coupe is able to provide a marriage license. If the minister knows the man getting married is legally married to another woman in another state and still performs the marriage, he is aware he is performing an illegal marriage. If the man is married legally in another state and no one knows about it, the legalities of this fall onto the groom rather than the person performing the wedding in an official capacity.

Another instance of unlawful solemnizing of a wedding occurs when a minister or officiant is hired to perform a wedding by a couple who is not ordained and legally licensed to perform marriages. If the couple doesn’t know this, they have no idea their marriage is not valid or legal in any way. The minister and/or officiant of any wedding is required to carry specific certifications in the state in which the marriage is being performed before it is considered legal. If not and the minister knows this, it’s an unlawful solemnizing.


In New York, there are many defenses you can take by hiring a NYC criminal attorney to represent you court if you are accused of the unlawful solemnizing of a wedding. You might state you were unaware you were not legally permitted to marry any couples in New York if you didn’t know laws differ by state. If your certification expired without your knowledge, perhaps you can use that as a defense.

If you are a legally ordained person of the court able to perform weddings, you can use the defense you were unaware that the couple before you is not able to legally wed due to various circumstances. If they’re able to provide you with a marriage license they obtained at the local courthouse, it’s not surprising you might not realize that one or more of them is too young and hasn’t their parent’s permission, one is married already, one is not legally able to wed, or any other variety of issues. Your defense is only as good as your counsel if you are serious about avoiding jail time and spending the rest of your life legally performing your duties.



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