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Want to Get Married during the Coronavirus Pandemic?  Congratulations!  No need to go to the chapel or the clerk’s office.

With public access to many town and city offices having been restricted due to the pandemic, couples seeking to get married this spring have had issues getting marriage licenses.  Those who have them have had even more difficulty holding marriage ceremonies, due to the prohibition on public gatherings.

To address those issues, Governor Cuomo issued two Executive Orders (EOs) on April 18th and 19th.

EO 202.20 was issues on April 18th.  It allows city and town clerks to issue a marriage license when the couple to be married applies electronically and appears  before the clerk by videoconference, transmit the marriage license to the couple and, once the wedding has been held, receive the signed and witnessed document electronically in order record it and issue the standard certificate of marriage.

EO 202.21, issued April 19th, clarifies that public and private officials are authorized to officiate over a marriage ceremony conducted by video.

Importantly, neither EO changes or modifies the requirements that must be met for the clerk to issue a marriage license or certificate of marriage.  However, EO 202.20 authorizes city or town clerks to issue guidance on the procedures that the clerk’s office will follow in satisfying those requirements when the application is made or the wedding is performed by videoconference.

Couples seeking a marriage license will need to give their town or city clerk some time to establish procedures before making application.  These documents will become an official public record, so clerks will use that time to be sure they are ready and adapt their application forms to the videoconferencing format.   They will likely provide guidance on how applicants will submit required documentation and the details of how to schedule videoconference appearances.

With their license in hand, couples can make arrangement for their marriage to be solemnized by a public or private officiant by videoconference.  Be sure to agree on the details of how and when the person presiding over the ceremony and witnesses will sign the license and transmit the fully executed document to the couple for filing.

These Executive Orders do not change any of the social distancing requirements and the prohibition on in-person gatherings previously issued, so couples will need to coordinate the procedure with the person presiding over the ceremony and their witnesses.  Couples who want the ceremony to take place in a house of worship will need to consult with the appropriate religious authority on whether and how the ceremony can comply with the restrictions on public gatherings.

Once the marriage ceremony is concluded, couples have fifteen days to file the signed license with the town or city clerk.  We anticipate the clerk will provide guidance on how to transmit the document to the clerk’s office for recording.

While there is no specific direction about the implementation of videoconferencing, EO 202.20 requires that all parties maintain the confidentiality of the process.  While the Governor is reported to have said couples will now be able to be married by Zoom, local governments have concerns about the reported privacy issues of Zoom, as well as instances where a Zoom proceeding was hijacked.

Note that while the main focus of those orders is implementing the videoconference procedures, EO 202.20 suspends the 60 day period in which the marriage license must be used and authorizes clerks to waive an additional fee if a license expired since the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency.  If couples already have a marriage license that was issued more than 60 days before the date of their anticipated marriage ceremony, they should contact their town or city clerk to determine whether a new license may need to be issued.

For ease of reference, the videoconference procedure required by EO 202.20 is excerpted below.

While we have added emphasis, please note the language in the excerpt is taken verbatim from Executive Order 202.20.

  • Any issuance of a marriage license application, marriage license, or witnessing or solemnizing of the marriage ceremony, that is required under New York State law is authorized to be performed utilizing audio-video technology provided that the following conditions are met;
    • The couple seeking the marriage services, must present valid photo ID to verify identity whenever required by law the during the video conference, not merely transmit it prior to or after;
    • the video conference must allow for direct interaction between the couple and the town or city clerk, the witness or the person to solemnize the marriage (e.g. no pre-recorded videos of the person signing or engaged in the marriage ceremony);
    • the couple must affirmatively represent that he or she is physically situated in the jurisdiction where the marriage is legally allowed to occur, within the State of New York;
    • the couple must transmit by fax or electronic means a legible copy of the signed document directly to the town or city clerk, the witnesses, the person to solemnize the marriage on the same date it was signed;
    • the town or city clerk, witness or person who solemnizes the marriage may sign the transmitted copy of the document and transmit the same back to the person responsible for the document by law;
    • to the extent practicable, all parties will use their best efforts to ensure the document is transmitted in the most confidential manner and information will not be released to any third party not associated with the marriage license and marriage ceremony;and
    • the electronic signed copy of the marriage license application or marriage license will become the official document for purposes of Domestic Relations Law.

Please feel free to contact us if you have questions.

If you are getting married and think a prenuptial agreement may be beneficial, we can help with that as well.

This is not intended to be legal advice.  You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your specific situation.

Martin S. Butcher, Esq.
Martin S. Butcher, Senior Counsel

Martin Butcher is senior counsel with the firm and practices Matrimonial and Family Law, and Bankruptcy.

He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.

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