Pinkhasov v. Petocz, Ky COA, Validity of Marriage without Marriage Certificate

Pinkhasov v. Petocz


Published:   Reversing and Remanding

County: Jefferson

Pinkhasov appealed FC’s Order holding that he entered a legally valid de facto marriage with Petocz, arguing that parties were never validly married because they did not meet requirement of Kentucky statutes for same and that “de facto” marriage is synonymous with “common law” marriage which is prohibited in Kentucky. 


The parties, both foreign citizens, due to their concerns with immigration and the future potential for gaining citizenship through marriage to American citizens, opted to marry each other but not obtain a marriage certificate.  Instead, they participated in a purely religious marriage ceremony celebrated by their rabbi before a gathering of family and friends. At their request, their rabbi solemnized the marriage ceremony solely in accordance with the laws of their Jewish faith, but with no reference to, witnessing, or certification of, a civil marriage.  Also at their direction, their rabbi did not sign or file certification or recording of any marriage ceremony with any civil authority.  They subsequently lived together as a family and Petocz gave birth to a son.   Prior to the demise of their relationship, they held themselves out to their community as husband and wife.

Based on these facts, FC determined the parties had established a valid “de facto marriage” under Kentucky law.


In Kentucky, a legally valid civil marriage unites one man and one woman in a particular state, condition, or relationship for life pursuant to all statutory requirements as interpreted and applied by relevant case law.  Kentucky law favors marriage, and where there is evidence of a marriage ceremony, the marriage is presumed to be valid.  However, if there is evidence of invalidity, the presumption disappears and the issues must be decided on the evidence.

KRS 402.080 requires that the parties intending to marry must first obtain a marriage license from the county clerk and then must be married by a person believed in good faith to be authorized to perform the marriage.  The parties entering marriage must strictly comply with these requirements in order to have a valid marriage. Here, though a purely religious marriage ceremony was solemnized by the parties’ rabbi, the uncontroverted proof established that no marriage license was ever obtained, and CA held that, on that basis alone, any presumption of a legally valid civil marriage is entirely negated.

CA held that a “de facto marriage” is synonymous with a common-law marriage.  Kentucky does not grant legal recognition to common-law marriages formed in Kentucky.  Thus, CA held that no legally valid civil marriage was ever established between the parties simply because of their religious expressions, public representations, and living arrangements. CA noted that Kentucky’s refusal to recognize common-law marriage may not be circumvented by simply appending to that relationship the alternative legal appellation of “de facto marriage.”  Reversed and remanded.

Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates