Converting from Atheism after Marriage

I am new to the Catholic faith and I have a few questions.

Relevant details:

  • I was baptised Anglican but never confirmed.
  • Considered my self an atheist until last year but now, I suppose, I am agnostic.
  • Seriously considering converting to Catholicism.
  • Still have much studying and soul searching to do.
  • Engaged to atheist partner who is fairly hostile to organised religion but I believe she would tolerate it in me.
  • It would be a hard sell trying to convince her to raise children Catholic.
  • Neither of us have ever been married.
  1. If I converted to Catholicism after I got married would I be permanently living in sin since the marriage would not be sacramental? Would I have to get the marriage convalidated (not sure if that’s the right word, sorry) before we could sleep together without committing mortal sin?

  2. How would that change if I converted before getting married and the marriage took place outside of the Church?

  3. Would I be morally obliged to raise children in the faith? I would do my best to gentilly convey the wisdom of the church but her entire family are committed atheist/liberals and I’d have to be very smart about it.

  4. If we divorced would I need an anullment to re-marry?

  5. What are the best sources for detailed information on irregular marriages in the RCC?

I realise these are very strange/awkward questions but I just find the rules about marriage very confusing and I’m just trying to understand exactly what the deal is.

Any help with this would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Questions one and two seem to stand out to me. It’s really over my head to be able to answer them because I don’t know what takes precedence in your situation. Is it your engagement and marriage, or your acceptance into the Catholic Church after RCIA if you so choose. I would recommend making an appointment to see the pastor of the nearest parish where you live. He will be able to answer these questions and could help with your discernment of this situation.

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  1. No, you would not be living in sin. The Church only requires that those who are Catholic at the time of the marriage be married in the Church or receive dispensation to marry outside the Church. Otherwise, the Church recognizes the marriages of those of all faiths and those of no faith. If one or both parties are not baptized, the marriage is a natural marriage. If both parties are baptized (valid Baptism recognized by the Church, regardless of the faith in which one is baptized) the marriage is a sacramental marriage. No convalidation would be necessary.

  2. If you converted before getting married, you could request dispensation to marry outside the Church.

  3. Yes, you would be morally obligated to raise your children in the faith.

  4. Yes, if you divorced you would need a declaration of nullity to remarry. This is the case even for divorced non-Catholics who wish to marry Catholics, and for divorced and remarried people who wish to become Catholic.

  5. I’m not sure this even applies here because based on what you have stated here you would not be in an irregular marriage.

I would STRONGLY suggest that you carefully consider the ramifications of marrying your fiancee should you become Catholic. If she is that strongly opposed to organized religion, it may be very difficult to get her on board with your obligation to raise your children Catholic. At the very least, this would be something that should be addressed extensively in your premarital counselling. (If you become Catholic before you marry, most parishes will require premarital preparation, sometimes called Pre-Cana.)



Sacramentality is a function of baptism. If both parties are in a valid marriage and baptized, it is by its nature a sacrament. If one or both parties in a valid marriage are unbaptized, the marriage is called a natural marriage.

No. Non-Catholics marry validly when the marry each other civilly, provided there are no impediments (such as prior marriage, degree of kinship, defect in consent, etc). You’ve already established there is no prior bond impediment.

No. If she is unbaptized the marriage would be a valid natural marriage.

That isn’t exactly what the Church asks. The Church asks a Catholic in a mixed marriage to do all in their power to raise children Catholic, and the non Cathilic is informed of the promise during premarital preparation.

If you are already married, you make no promise but still yes you have an obligation in Christian witness to impart the faith as best you can to your children.

Look to the example of many early Christians in mixed marriages who could not raise their children in the faith, they were still examples and certainly imparted what they could if the faith.

I’ll be honest with you, marrying someone hostile to the faith is a difficult path to set yourself on. Having dated atheists in my early 20s I can only say how thankful I am I didn’t try to force my square peg self into the round hole of marriage to a non believer. It wore on me even when dating, I know it would have destroyed me in marriage. Sharing my faith with my husband is SO integral to our marriage. Only you can ultimately choose, but most mixed marriages that “work” are based on one of the pair being indifferent or non-practing. One devout Catholic and one hostile to religion atheist is a tough sell in my book.

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Yes, generally speaking. unless she remained unbaptized and you applied for a dissolution of the natural bond via the Petrine Privilege.

The fact you aren’t even married and are asking about divorce is a little troubling. I understand it may be just hypothetical trying to understand how the Church views non Catholic marriages. She views them as valid.

I can recommend The Wedding Thst Was by Michael Smith Foster. For a full view of valid nd invalid marriage, annulment, etc.

But an “irregular marriage” is what people call a civil marriage not viewed as valid by the Church. Two non Catholics who marry each other don’t have an irregular marriage. They have a valid marriage.


If you marry after you become catholic, you will need to do the following:

Both attend Catholic marriage preparation and premarital investigation with the priest.

You would need a dispensation from disparity of cult (you priest obtains this for you with the bishop) if she isn’t baptized or if she is baptized permission for mixed marriage.

You would need to marry in Catholic form or be dispensed from form to marry civilly.

Something to think about: intimacy in marriage according to Catholic moral teaching such as contraception, sexual gratification outside of intercourse, pornography, etc. I’ve found non-believers, particularly those hostile to the faith, to not be on board with living a holy lifestyle as it pertains to sexuality.


Would you consider asking your fiance to go through RCIA (the rite of Christian initiation) with you? It’s a several months long course, usually meeting weekly, that prepares people for joining the church and/or helps people understand the church’s teachings. Of course they vary in value, some are touchy feely and some more substantial, but the church is not perfect.

If you did attend together, it would give you some topics to discuss, and help both of you understand better what the church is about.

It might help you to discern whether you would be able to handle married life together. Being a Catholic, for many of us, is the most important thing in our lives. If our spouse is not on board with that, it can be distressing and make life very difficult.

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Hi Viki63,

Thank you for your response.

Yes, I have had that thought regarding the RCIA. It would be wonderful if I could convince her to do that, and I do intent to broach the subject with her, but I think part of the problem is I still need to convince myself, too. I have much to think about and it will take time. Right now I’m just trying to get as much information as I can so that I’m as well-informed as possible be before I make any life changing decisions.

Thanks for this. I will

Yes, you are right, it is troubling to be asking about divorce when we aren’t even married yet. I’m very confused right now about a lot of things but the one thing I am 100% certain of is that I want to marry her and spend the rest of my life fully committed to her. I felt guilty even typing that question out but, as you said, I’m just trying to get as complete an understanding of the Church’s teaching on marriage as I possibly can. I want to be thoroughly well-informed so that I can answer any questions my fiancée may have when I bring this up again.

Yes, you are wise to take it slowly. Although this is the time of year when RCIA classes start, and they run until Easter next year.
Jesus said to count the cost before signing up for the long haul, so it’s good to realize what commitment to him and the church would mean.
Christians are despised in many areas of the world, they are the most persecuted religion, and many governments consider us a threat. It’s because we owe allegiance to God before the government.
But joining the Catholic church is the best thing I ever did, and I would not leave it for anything.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask on the forums. We are all (except for the occasional troll)l happy to give you what info we have. Although you might want to talk to your local priest too. Of course priests differ, in case you run into one whose personality conflicts with yours, keep looking.

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