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 While so holding, Justice Cooper called for the statute to be amended or repealed, and joined the debate on whether Universal Life Church “ministers” could “properly solemnize” marriages.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.