Annulments - How does the Church establish the occurrence of civil European marriages?

I apologize that my first post here is a heavy one, rather than one of introduction, but I have enjoyed this website, your dialogue, and the postings from the apologists, as well as learned a great deal about my wonderful faith, and perhaps I will formally introduce myself at a later date. It seems like this is a hot topic, and the more I read, the more complex I understand the issue of marriage to be. I had no idea about some of the issues covered here, and I now see clearly how truly prepared people need to be when entering into holy matrimony . . . not that I took it lightly before, but there is just so much to know, that I think most people don’t. Thanks for all of your enlightening contributions!

I am a Catholic man, near the end of the annulment process. While the tribunal and it’s representatives obviously can’t give me a definitive indication of the proceedings until those responsible render their decision, I have been told that I have a strong case for a decree of nullify to be issued in my favour.

Though my wife left me almost five years ago, I haven’t been actively dating and am compelled to the chaste life while my annulment is being considered. Having said that, quite innocuously, I’ve met a gal (Catholic, but practices infrequently) and over time, we’ve developed a platonic relationship, though the topic of potential of long-term commitment and marriage have come up.

The problem I currently have, is that I just discovered that she has been married three times, but only civilly. I realize that the Church still recognizes those marriages as valid, and that a decree of nullity would be required for each marriage (except for one, where a husband died). I thought that if our fledgling relationship developed further that I would only be having to deal with one annulment, and now it looks like I may have two to deal with, if I wish to stay with this woman and hope to marry her. Again, I realize that I am putting the cart way before the horse here, but I’m the type of person who likes to have a plan and to even worry about the future well before it happens. I’m a teacher, so the adage of those failing to plan, plan to fail comes to mind.

I did bring up my staunch Catholicism with my lady friend, and the requirement of each of us to have our marriages annulled if we ever desired to go further. She understands my position, but it is somewhat exacerbated because she is Eastern European and traditionally many marriages there are only performed at the government offices and not at a church, after the actual legal marriage takes place. In a secular way, her logic makes sense, and I’m certainly not one to judge her, but she explains that while many women will have a number of sexual relationships with men and quite likely live together in sin with them, she has only been interested in committed men, and though she has had three marriages, she has only ever sexually been with those three men in her life. She refrained from getting married in the Church, because she wanted to save that for the one and only man she was certain about in her life, as she would be making her commitment before God. In my experience, it seems that the mindset of Eastern European women is that the common civil marriage, while technically “marriage”, is more of a common-law arrangement and legal commitment, moreso than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, and that a number of these women steer away from the religious service, deeming it as either not necessary (as religious devotion and regular practice took a bit of hit during the days of the World Wars and the former Soviet Union), or it is only to be had when a woman is sure she has met her one and only man. I realize that I’m meandering a bit here, but I’m also trying to help establish a bit of context. This Eastern European mindset complicates her understanding of my situation, because she has suggested that the Church has no way of knowing that she has been civilly married at all, because no record has been kept in her passport (which is a convention of some Eastern European passports) and that no record of civil divorce will exist with the government.

I’m definitely not comfortable lying to the Catholic Church just for the sake of getting married, because, to me, it’s more about thinking that I could get away with lying to God, which is absurd, and beyond the definition of hubris. However, is my lady friend correct? Is there any way for the Church to establish that she has been married civilly, if it is not contained in her passport? Could she effectively lie (not that I would allow or want her to) if it came time for us to ask a priest to marry us, and I present my decree of nullity for my marriage and she state that she has never been married? I find this all troubling and can’t believe that it is this easy to “fool” the Church. I further realize that my lady friend and I need to have a very frank discussion about my lack of comfort with her position, and that if she holds true to her opinion, then we are quite likely never to go beyond being friends . . . not that getting two annulments is an easy task either. I would like to be able to provide her with better direction though, on obtaining annulments, as well as how and why they are necessary, whether or not we ever become a couple. I care for her soul as much as I do mine, and I have much praying to do, but I am curious how the Church establishes if a person has been married or not when it hasn’t happened in a church.

Can anyone help with a response, please? Thanks! And, as an aside, in the case of valid remarriage after the death of a spouse, what does the Church require, just a death certificate?

If she is Latin Rite Catholic, then they may not be valid marriages unless she got dispensation to marry outside the Church or if it appears she ever stopped being Catholic. There would be a lack of form.

Review would still be required, but it may be shorter and less costly. But no doubt this would have to be discussed with a priest.

Lying in this would be grave matter, in my opinion.

Your friend needs to speak to a priest about her marriage situation. He will be in the best position to help her and start the paperwork moving for the annulment process, if need. Since you know of her pervious marriages, withholding that information from the priest would make you just as guilty in the lie.

You could absolutely get away with lying.

But I think any marriage that begins with a lie (followed by, ahem, vows) is at odds with itself.

If it is true that the woman you are dating has only had what we call “civil-law marriages” and she is Catholic, then it is a very simple process for her to provide documentation of those civil-law marriages to the Church and receive a declaration of freedom to marry. In the USA, the typical turn around time is within a couple of weeks but it might take longer to communicate with her place of baptism… This is considered a documentary proof kind of case and does not require a trial to determine nullity of marriage. In other words, because having a merely civil-law marriage without dispensation for a Catholic is automaticly considered null, the only paperwork required is that to establish that those civil-law unions took place and are not obstacles to marriage. Of course her situation could be more complicated, but that’s why it’s best if she lays things out now to her local tribunal.

Thanks everyone for the input! :slight_smile:

My friend is Lithuanian, so if I am correct, the same rite as we follow.

I agree, David and Catholic1954; I would never build any potential relationship on a lie, or a sin of omission. It is pure folly and as stable as a house of cards. Besides, lying isn’t my style. It didn’t feel so good when my ex-wife did it to me, and I’m certainly not about to pay it forward.

SerraSemper, I want to be sure that I understand what you’re saying, as this is all foreign territory for me (no pun intended). Am I correct in understanding that the process for a Catholic to receive a decree of nullity for a civil marriage is less intense and more a matter of paperwork to establish that the previous marriages have been legally terminated (documentary proof of case)? I just assumed it would be slightly more rigorous. Is this what Wesrock refers to above, as a “lack of form” because the marriages occurred outside of the Church? If so, is it fair to assume that this type of decree of nullity is not only quicker, perhaps, but also cheaper?

It isn’t a decree of nullity. There is no presumption of validity in a lack of form situation. In the USA and some other place, documentation must be provided to the diocese. In others, the local parish priest reviews the documentation and that is it.

IF her cases are “lack of form” cases, they are very quick and easy to handle. Usually less than $100 filing fee and a couple week’s turn around time. However, you have to realize that because you are talking about overseas records, it is BEST if her local Tribunal is consulted and handles it because rules for lack of form don’t necessarily apply in places and times of persecution. That’s why it’s important to consult with the experts. There is nothing wrong in her picking up the phone and talking to the canonist on duty at the Tribunal.

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