Criminal Offenses Affecting Marital Family Relations in New York
What places you at risk?
In regards to marital laws, it is clearly stated who cannot perform ceremonies. In order to perform a marriage ceremony, you must be authorized by the state. The clerk’s office maintains registrations of those that are permitted to perform the ceremonies. In order to apply or register, you must be a member of certain groups such as clergy, ethnic, cultural leaders, judges, and justices. There is a fee to register to allow you to perform the rituals.
Should you perform the ceremonies, dissolve marriage licenses, or obtain a marriage license without involving the proper registrations, you place yourself at risk for being charged. The charges under Article 255 of the NY Penal Code involve solemnizing, dissolving and illegal obtainment of a marriage license. Any individual that attempts to gain a marriage license through any other means, performs or dissolves a marriage without proper authority can be held accountable.
It is critical that if you wish to perform a marriage ceremony, for example, if you have relations with the bride or groom, that you go through the proper channels. There are routes to allow you to obtain the necessary credentials, and paperwork so that the marriage is legal for the couple, and so that you are not performing illegal ceremonies.
Charges under Article 240.75
Article 240.75 also details offenses within a family that can be charged and investigated. Charges include assault, menacing, stalking, criminal obstruction of blood or breath, strangulation, reckless endangerment, manslaughter, murder, sexual abuse (all types such as predatory and statutory), sexual assault, unlawful imprisonment, coercion, burglary, criminal mischief, criminal tampering, harassment, and criminal contempt.
Each of these charges come in varying degrees based on the situation at hand. The law is not limited in these charges and lists many so that the offender can be properly charged.
Committing any of these crimes can be misdemeanors or felonies depending on the circumstances. It is critical to have proper legal representation to detail your situation.
Preparing a defense for your individual case is critical in assuring success and preventing large fines and imprisonment.
In the state of New York, there are two articles that detail the crimes committed within family relationships and in relation to marriages. Article 255 list out the offenses in relation to marriage licenses. These are exclusively listed out by the state and must be performed by a registered individual. To deviate from this places you at risk for charges.
There can also be charges if a marriage license is attempted to be dissolved by anyone other than the judiciary of the area. With the commission of any of the crimes in relation to family relations, it falls under the category of an aggravated family offense.
These laws are meant to be applied to family members, those that live in the same household, those that share relations with a child, or marriage (current or past) within the group. These allow for specific prosecution against those that target their family or those with a common relation to them.
Legal Definition with Elements
- The first section of the law pertains to solemnizing a marriage. This means conducting a ceremony even though you are not registered or permitted to do so.
- The second section of this first Article 255.00 involves performing a marriage that you know is illegal. This pertains to performing a ceremony in those that do not meet criteria for a marriage license, for example, with minors or family members. This offense is considered a class A misdemeanor.
The second section of the law, Article 255.05 relates to dissolving a marriage license without approval: lawyers, separation agreements, divorce agreements, and divorce decrees-are required for a marriage to be ended.
This allows for the separation of the assets, a fair dividing of the property, allocation of funds, rights to children, and other important factors are taken into consideration with the ending of a marriage. For this reason, it is required for a designated official to file the proper papers and end the marriage in a fair and legal manner.
- The third section of this law involves those that obtain a marriage license when one of the parties is still legally married. An individual can only be married to 1 other in the state of New York. In order to obtain a marriage license, there must be proof that the first marriage has ended and you are eligible for a second marriage.
Finally found in Article 240.75 is an extensive list of offenses that are committed against a member of the same family or household. These are designed to be charged to protect families in which members commit crimes against others. This charge encompasses many different crimes that can be committed within a household/family.
Element # 1: Knowingly
The first element that must be proved by the prosecution is that you knowingly committed this crime. Whether you knowingly performed a ceremony without the proper credentials, declared a marriage over without authority or obtained a marriage license that didn’t meet the criteria, the prosecution is responsible for proving that you knew that you were doing these crimes.
Element # 2: Intentionally
The second element of all of these crimes is the intention. It isn’t likely that you ‘accidentally’ performed a marriage ceremony. When you perform the ceremony or annulment, the intention to legalize or dissolve the marriage is done without you have the authority to do so. This means that the marriage isn’t legal and he divorce isn’t final in addition to the fines and penalties you face.
Elements of Aggravated Family Offense
For this crime to be charged, there are three components that have to be met. The first element is that there was a previous crime committed within the past five years. This doesn’t count any time that you spent in jail but starts the clock when you got out from serving that punishment.
The second is that you commit one of the many offenses that are listed out.
These crimes include assaults, sexual abuse, stalking, menacing, strangulation, murder, manslaughter, burglary, unlawful imprisonment, and criminal mischief. All of these have varying degrees as well that can be tried in conjunction.
Finally, the crime can be committed against the same or different members of the household. However, it doesn’t have to be of a family member. Any repeat offenses would qualify for this charge as well. This would intensify any punishment that was possibly being served.
In the US Code, there are no specific statutes related to performing a marriage without being registered, dissolution of a marriage by an unauthorized individual or obtainment of a marriage certificate when outside of parameters. The federal laws have a heavy focus on using marriage to circumvent immigration paperwork and obtaining citizenship under false pretenses.
When performing a marriage, if you do not have the proper credentials, you could be accused of impersonation, filing a false instrument, or even fraud. All of these are serious offenses which include their own punishments. These crimes would also pertain to an illegal dissolution of a marriage and obtaining a marriage certificate under false pretenses or without meeting qualifications.
With these charges, they are more focused on the fraud and the incorrect filing of the documentation that has been performed. If marriage was dissolved illegally, and the person attempted to remarry, it would make their current marriage null as it was performed on a married individual. It can open a Pandora’s box and allow many other charges to come into play.
The following are two examples from two very different cases involving obtaining marriage licenses. The first story comes from a VA woman who married quickly to an illegal immigrant. She did not know his status, as he was using a stolen Social Security number for all of his documentation, including his marriage license. He is being held in federal prison for other charges as well including murder and drug charges.
The second case is a little more complicated. It involves two couples traveling to Colorado to obtain marriage licenses. In Colorado, it is legal to marry a first cousin, and even for children to obtain licenses. The first is a story told by a woman who was forced to marry her first cousin when she was sixteen years of age. Her father signed as the witness for the marriage license.
She claims she did not willingly commit to the marriage and was forced by her family. The second couple faced the opposite dilemma. The pair of first cousins wanted to marry. However, their families saw this as taboo and kept the couple apart until they became adults. The pair retreated to Colorado where they married before returning to their home state of Utah. Both of these are examples of obtaining marriage licenses for different purposes.
Investigating marriages that are done illegally, impersonators, and those that commit aggravated family offenses are mainly handled by local law enforcement and the judiciaries. The primary time of marriage licenses being obtained without meeting criteria involves marriage frauds. These are committed mainly to obtain citizenship under false pretenses.
These are investigated by the Immigration Service. Investigating marriages that are falsy done are mainly investigated for these reasons. There is no set organization for verifying the marriage licenses and investigating the ones that are issued. Frauds can be reported to one of many tip lines or through local law enforcement.
Police investigate the aggravated family as they are considered criminal offenses such as assaults. They investigate and gather evidence to help the local or state prosecutor build a case against the individual. Again, there is not set agency that investigates who performs marriage ceremonies, who obtains the licenses and dissolutions. These are managed by local courts and can be investigated when complaints or suspicions of fraud are presented.
The charges of solemnizing a marriage, dissolution of a marriage and obtaining a marriage license when done under false pretenses or illegally are all three considered class A misdemeanors. These offenses can lead to fines up to $1000 and up to 1 year in prison. These can be done separately or together.
For Aggravated Family Offenses, this is considered a class E felony. The punishments can include fines associated with the offense and up to 4 years in prison. The fines can be served with jail time or without, depending on the circumstances and the judge.
For repeat offenders of those that perform false ceremonies, false dissolutions or obtaining licenses, the punishments can be steeper. A judge can choose to escalate the charges to a felony charge. This can be done through fraud charges or any other means at the judge’s disposal. The fines can be increased along with the prison sentences depending on your individual circumstances and history.
If charged with a felony, there are life-altering implications that occur, such as loss of the right to vote, gun ownership, and even travel restrictions. These are lifelong effects that can change how you live your life. With any charges, they will remain on your record. This causes difficulty in obtaining employment and the charges remaining on your criminal record.
If charged with aggravated family offenses, you will be charged for the crime that is committed as well. This felony can carry jail time for its own offenses, including the charges for assault, murder, or mischief as well. These times can be served all at one time (in conjunction) or individually in order (in consecutively). Fines can be added based on the offense from a criminal standpoint as well.
Finally, civil suits can arise from these charges. The couple can hold you accountable for losses, legal fees, or other harms that occurred as a result of the false marriage or divorce. It is critical to consult legal representation to discuss your circumstances.
When obtaining a marriage license or performing the ceremony, it is critical to ensure that the proper credentials and paperwork have been filed. The most common defense to marriage law violations involves bigamy. This occurs when one spouse believes that divorce was finalized when it had not.
This would mean they did not qualify for the marriage certificate and could be held accountable. This makes the marriage invalid and null. This can also be the case when incest is involved, or the marriage is a sham (for immigration purposes).
Each defense to these cases whether you are the officiant or the couple involve complex defenses, criminal and civil cases that need to be reviewed.
Call a Lawyer
With all of these offenses, the civil and criminal cases that evolve can have life-changing effects. Whether you are left with a felony or misdemeanor charge, this stays with you and can fundamentally alter your life.
If you were the couple involved with this, you do not want to face charges for obtaining a marriage license without meeting the credentials (in that you had the ceremony performed by an unauthorized party or a divorce isn’t finalized) as this opens you up for charges as well.
It is critical to discuss your case with an attorney to determine the best offense and defense to the upcoming trial. The sooner you call, the better. This allows for the most time and discussion to prepare your case.