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Case Digests

Jackson K. v. Parisa G., 2016 NY Slip Op 50660(U)

April 2016

Facts

Plaintiff, Jackson K., and defendant, Parisa G. knew each other since childhood and entered a romantic relationship in 2006. On July 11, 2009, plaintiff asked defendant's parents for permission to marry her. Plaintiff proposed to defendant on July 29, 2009 with an engagement ring purchased by plaintiff and the defendant's mother. Defendant said yes, and the couple planned a wedding ceremony for September 4, 2010.

Approximately 200 guests attended the “wedding,” during which programs were distributed to guests stating it was the “Wedding of Parisa and Jackson.” The wedding proceeded as a traditional Iranian Islamic wedding.  

A ceremony was performed by Ms. Sholeh Shams, who was flown in from California to be the “Ceremony Officiant” as listed in the wedding program.

Plaintiff and defendant never obtained a New York or civil marriage license. Plaintiff claims that the parties signed a marriage contract written in Farsi at the end of the ceremony, however defendant holds that it was merely a symbolic document created by Ms. Shams.

In an affidavit from Ms. Shams provided by defendant, Ms. Shams asserts that she is not authorized to officiate a wedding in the state of New York and that she had advised both parties that the ceremony had no legal status in the United States or Iran. Plaintiff denies being made of aware of Ms. Shams's lack of authority, citing that Ms. Shams is listed as a “solemnizer” and “clergy” online.

In order to marry defendant, plaintiff claimed that he converted to Islam before the ceremony. However, defendant argues that he did not convert to Islam because his non-Muslim brother served as one of the witnesses, thus invalidating the conversion.

Following the “wedding” the parties lived together and did not file joint tax returns. A year after the ceremony, defendant asked plaintiff to sign a Domestic Partnership Form “to enable her to obtain health insurance for the Plaintiff since they were not married.” Plaintiff claims that he did not understand the document to imply the parties were not married.

Issue

Whether the marriage is valid in the state of New York when the ceremony was performed by an unauthorized official, whether the defendant's actions constitute as fraud, and, if so, whether the plaintiff is entitled to damages.

Ruling

Defendant's claim that the marriage is invalid because Ms. Sham is not clergy and the plaintiff was not Muslim was denied.

In accordance to the Ja'fari Shi'ite school, clergy are not required to perform a marriage. This claim was supported by an affidavit of Islamic Law Expert and attorney, Abed Awad, who opined that “all of the requirements for a valid marriage ceremony according to Islamic law were satisfied during the September 4, 2010 Ceremony and that the conversion ceremony, as described by the Plaintiff, was sufficient.”

According to New York law, an officiant at a wedding ceremony is not limited to a traditional concept of a clergy member. Therefore, since the plaintiff has shown that clergy is not needed in the defendant's denomination, the marriage is valid.

Plaintiff's complaint for fraud was verified by the court on the basis that defendant proceeded with all motions of marriage, including accepting the proposal, holding a ceremony, and calling the ceremony a wedding on the programs as well as having plaintiff convert to Islam.

Plaintiff's request for damages is limited to pecuniary damages incurred as a result of the “marriage” and not to any losses plaintiff suffered as a result of converting to Islam, being in a marriage that prevented him from seeking relationships with others, and delaying the plaintiff's prospect of having children.

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