New York’s Domestic Relations Law §25, enacted in 1907, provides that a marriage is valid, even in the absence of a marriage license, if it was properly solemnized. However, New York County Supreme Court Justice Matthew F. Cooper, in his May 29, 2014 decision in Ponorovskaya v. Stecklow held that D.R.L. §25 could not be used to validate a marriage ceremony that failed to meet the  legal requirements of Mexico where the ceremony was performed. While so holding, Justice Cooper called for the statute to be amended or repealed, and joined the debate on whether Universal Life Church “ministers” could “properly solemnize” marriages.

Justice Cooper’s recitation of the facts merits quotation:

[Ms. Ponorovskaya], who is a clothing designer and business owner in Manhattan, and [Mr. Stecklow], a lawyer, began their relationship in 2004. While in Mexico for a 2009 New Year’s celebration, [Mr. Stecklow] proposed to [Ms. Ponorovskaya] overlooking the Mayan ruins in Tulum. The parties subsequently planned a Mexican destination wedding at the Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa. . . . On February 18th, the couple had a wedding ceremony on the resort’s beach. The ceremony was performed under a chuppah, a canopy under which a couple stands during a Jewish wedding. Certain Hebrew prayers were recited, vows were exchanged, and there was a glass-breaking ritual, as is customary at Jewish weddings.

Despite these traditions, the ceremony was not performed by a rabbi. Instead it was conducted by [Mr. Stecklow]’s cousin, Dr. Keith Arbeitman, a dentist who lives in New York. In 2003, in order to perform a marriage for friends, he became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church (“ULC”), a distinction easily achieved by paying a fee on the ULC’s website. . . . [A]t oral argument on the motion, [Ms. Ponorovskaya]’s counsel produced a certificate that he printed off the internet certifying that Dr. Arbeitman is indeed a minister in good standing with the ULC. Likewise, during the ceremony Dr. Arbeitman told the audience, “I am an ordained minister — this will be a legal union.”

Continue Reading Invalidity of Licenseless Mexican Marriage Calls For Dismissal of New York Divorce Action

A wife’s right to reside in what has been her marital residence for four years, and whose right to do so stemmed not merely from the home-owner’s  permission, but from a true family relationship, cannot be summarily evicted as a mere licensee.  Such was the holding of Nassau County District Court Judge Eric Bjorneby in his June 20, 2013 decision in Kakwani v. Kakwani.

Ms. Anjili Kakwani (the “petitioner”), her brother (Amit Kakwani [the “husband”]) and their parents moved into a one family residence in Carle Place in 2004. The petitioner’s mother, as trustee of a family trust, conveyed the home to the petitioner on December 8, 2006.

In March, 2008 Amit Kakwani traveled to India where, for the first time, he met his arranged bride-to-be, the respondent Nisha Kakwani (the “wife”). In September, 2008, the petitioner and Amit traveled to India where the petitioner met her future sister-in-law for the first time. In November, 2008 the respondent moved by herself to the United States and into the Kakwani family home. On December 22, 2008 respondent and Amit Kakwani were married.

Amit and Nisha resided in the master bedroom of the family home, as husband and wife, until sometime in 2012 or early 2013 when Amit moved out of the master bedroom and into another room in the house.
In September, 2013, the petitioner had respondent served with a 10-Day Notice to Quit.

The petitioner brought this summary proceeding pursuant to RPAPL §713(7) to evict the respondent (the petitioner’s sister-in-law) on the ground that respondent was a licensee whose license to reside at the premises had been revoked. (The husband, Amit, was not named as a respondent in this proceeding, nor had rent ever been sought from or paid by Amit [or by his wife, for that matter].)

The wife sought dismissal of the proceeding, claiming that she is a family member not subject to eviction in a summary proceeding brought pursuant to RPAPL §713(7).

Continue Reading Summary Proceedings Are Not Available to Evict Wife (Sister-in-Law of Owner)

Update: In a decision issued December 6, 2012, the Appellate Division, Third Department, disbarred Mr. Melendez for his failure to disclose to the Committee on Professional Standards his child support arrears and other related misconduct:

Respondent is guilty of very serious professional misconduct. He exhibited a lack of candor on his application for admission. As we recently stated, candor and the voluntary disclosure of negative information by an applicant are the cornerstones upon which is built the character and fitness investigation of an applicant for admission to the New York State bar.

Original July 17, 2012 entry:

Attorney drawing.jpgWilliam Eric Melendez was admitted to the practice of law in New York in 2009. Although he resides in Puerto Rico, he maintains an office for the practice of law in New York.

On January 26, 2011, the Superior Court of Puerto Rico issued an order finding Mr. Meledez had failed to make child support payments for over 36 months and was $90,897.84 in arrears.

In Matter of Melendez, the First Department suspended Mr. Melendez immediately, and until his arrears were paid.

New York Domestic Relations Law §244–c provides for the suspension of a professional license if the bearer of such license has arrears in child support obligations amounting to four months or more. Section 244-c(a) provides:

In any proceeding for enforcement of a direction or agreement, incorporated in a judgement or order, to pay any sum of money as child support or combined child and spousal support, if the court is satisfied by competent proof that the respondent has accumulated support arrears equivalent to or greater than the amount of support due pursuant to such judgment or order for a period of four months and that the respondent is licensed, permitted or registered by or with a board, department, authority or office of this state to conduct a trade, business, profession or occupation, the court may order such board, department, authority or office to commence proceedings as required by law regarding the suspension of such license, permit, registration, or authority to practice and to inform the court of the actions it has taken pursuant to such proceedings. . . .

Based on its findings of non-support, the Superior Court of Puerto Rico referred the matter to the Appellate Division. That court presides over attorney discipline. The First Department, in turn, referred the matter to the Departmental Disciplinary Committee. A Hearing Panel of that committee reported and recommended the suspension of Mr. Melendez.

Here, the procedural requirements under Judiciary Law §90(2-a)(b) were satisfied and respondent failed to appear and assert the only applicable defense, proof of full satisfaction of arrears. Under the circumstances, respondent’s immediate suspension is warranted.

The suspension will continue until the Court has been notified by the Superior Court of Puerto Rico, or its designate support collection unit, that all child support arrears have been satisfied in full, and until further order of the Court.

The ruling is not unique. In Berger-Carniol v Carniol, 273 A.D.2d 427, 710 N.Y.S.2d 114, the Second Department in 2000 held that it was proper to direct the commencement of proceedings to suspend Mr. Carniol’s licenses to practice law and to act as a mortgage broker, mortgage banker, insurance broker, and real estate broker, based on evidence that he had accumulated support arrears equivalent to or greater than the amount of current support due for four months.

Attorney discipline may be imposed without resort to D.R.L. §244-c. Also in 2000, in Matter of Klagsbrun, 279 A.D.2d 192, 717 N.Y.S.2d 297, the Second Department disbarred an attorney who was found to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Code of Professional Responsibility DR 1–102(a)(5) (22 NYCRR 1200.3[a][5]). In 1995, the Supreme Court, New York County, had directed the Mr. Klagsbrun to make the following payments in a matrimonial action: (a) $1,812,758.75 to his former wife, Shulamith Klagsbrun, (b) $60,000 to Shulamith Klagsbrun, and (c) $296,075 to Elaine Rudnick Sheps, Esq. Although Mr. Klagsbrun had actual notice of the provisions of the order and judgment, he failed to comply with them.

Whether to suspend a license, absolutely or conditionally, may require balancing discipline with the need to continue the ability of the support provider to earn a living. Where that balance is struck may well reflect the good faith efforts of the support payor to partially comply with the support obligations. In all events, license suspension remains an extraordinarily powerful weapon available to enforce support.