Is there a way not to be legally married by the church?

Is it possible to get married in the eyes of the Church but remain unmarried civilly? If so, how does one go about doing this? Thanks in advance for your replies.

Unless the law of the land is patently against natural law (for example, no interracial marriages) and the Church agrees to perform a secret marriage, the Church normally follows the law of the land. If a Church marriage is not recognized, the Church will usually require proof of a civil marriage before performing the religious ceremony.

Other than cases when the law is unfair, why on earth would anyone want to marry religiously but not legally? The legal protection of property, etc, would not be there.

That’s not to say that I haven’t known a priest to deliberately marry someone when he knew they didn’t have a valid marriage licence with the deliberate intent to thwart the government. All it did was cause a major headache for the couple and for me and bring a reprimand from the gov’t.

Elderly couple with limited income who could stand to lose up to half of their social security benefits.

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In other words you would want the Church to be a party to fraud against the government. Don’t think the Church will go for that.

Actually, the government is encouraging immoral behavior. There would be nothing illegal or fraudulent if they moved in together but if they get married, their benefits could be cut. From a fairness perspective, why should immoral behavior be rewarded but moral behavior be punished?

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Actually in many countries (most countries, I think, but am not inclined to try and prove it) the church wedding and the civil marriage are separate - the business of the clergy standing in for the State is an American thing. And, frankly, one I think we would be well-advised to get un-involved in, before the State comes around and says “you have to marry anyone we say can legally marry.”

After all - we don’t recognize civil divorce, which means we consider people married when the State does not. I’m not sure I see a difference.

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I don’t consider it punishment. The government rules make sense to me. Social security is just that, security. Since getting married and moving in together cuts many expenses in 1/2 why should the government keep paying double? Are they worse off marrying than they were living a moral life apart? No. Immorality is their choice, based on finances.

I’ve seen the same argument by widows of military personnel who will opt to live with a new partner for the maximum time allowed before losing survivor benefits, then move out for a while and repeat. I don’t think the gov’t is sanctioning immorality. Heck, with that reasoning why shouldn’t people on social security go out and rob banks?

no not in the US. it may be possible in very rare cases in countries where there would be some kind of persecution or some extreme situation, which would be judged by the bishop, but ordinarily a marriage has to valid under civil law as well as canon law. In the US it would also be fraud and so objectively sinful on that basis alone.

They can go to a foreign country where a Church wedding is not recognized by the State and get married. Another option that’s less advisable but still possible is to go to any foreign country and not legalize the marriage in the US.

If the jurisdiction you are in allows for “Common Law Marriages”, then no. If not, if a marriage licence is required, then yes. With the consent of the bishop, the priest simply does not sign the marriage license.

That actually happend to my wife and I. She is Canadian and we were planning on getting married at her parish. Even though we applied 7 months before the Wedding, INS had not processed the paperwork to bring her in the the US.

Needless to say, I would have like to bring my wife back to our new house with me.

So we talked to the priest about not performing his civil obligations at the Nuptual Mass, he gave the circumstances to the bishops and the bishop approved.

So we went ahead with the wedding, so we were Sacramentally married (which is was most important), Father listed it as a Convalidation on our baptismal records. We went off on our honeymoon, and she came in to the States as a regular Canadian on a visit.

Paperwork came through about a month later and we did a Justice of the peace thing with two friends to keep INS happy.

This is also quite common in countries like France,or Poland under the Communists, where only civil marriages are recognized. A couple would get married in the Church, and then head down to city hall to be legally married.

Not exactly.

In countries where the clergy do not have civil authority to marry, the Church marriage must come AFTER the civil marriage has been contracted. Not the other way around.

Wow! A priest who will lie, falsify Sacramental records, and become complicit in defrauding the US government.

That’s a priest to hold up as an exemple of holiness-- NOT.

You’re making very good points, SirKnight.

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen too often.

Exactly where did the priest utter any falsehood, or falsify a Sacramental record. Is it your claim that we were actually NOT Sacramentally married? If so, what is your basis for that claim?

As to defrauding the US Government, at no point did any party claim to have been married in any way that would be recognized by US Law, so where, specifically, is the fraud?

phemie, from the perspective of the Catholic Church a Convalidation is to marry those who do not have an existing marriage. An invalid marriage is, but definition, non existant. Look through Canon Law on the subject, the term ‘convalidation’ doesn’t even show up. The same is true in any treaste on Marital Sacramental theology. It is simply a ‘bookeeping term’

The purpose of this ‘non legal’ marriage was to circumvent immigration rules. Now if the rules had been contrary to natural law, I could understand, but by what you wrote you simply got tired of waiting.

No, the purpose of this ‘non legal’ marriage was to Sacramentally marry my wife.

As to ‘tired of waiting’, not true. We had a marriage date agreed with the Church many months in advance. In the US (as in Canada) the Federal Government has no right to tell a Catholic under what terms they may recieve Sacraments. Do you feel that INS had a right to tell me I could not recieve a Sacrament under the terms provided by Church Canon Law?

You imply that there could never be such an unjust obstacle to marriage in the US. In fact, some states prohibit marriage for illegal immigrants.

This question recently came up with EWTN’s experts source]:

Marriage in the Church without civil contract
Question from on 06-08-2009:

I have read that it is possible to have a church wedding without a civil marriage license, however, that permission is “unlikely” to be granted. I assume the granting would have to come from the local bishop. Why is it that granting of such a wish is “unlikely” when we have separation of church and state by law in this country? Having lived in Europe for many years (and I lived in predominantly catholic countries), the process to get married is two separate, independent steps, one, a civil ceremony at the local courthouse or government office and one at the church. Generally the two separate ceremonies are conducted a day or week(s) apart with the civil ceremony being held first usually. In cases where a civil ceremony is not desired by a couple, for social, financial or family reasons, why can’t a church-only marriage be performed? What is the agreement between the Church and the State to act as civil servants? What are the rules by which the bishop would grant such a marriage? And what are the requirements that the couple has to meet in order to be granted permission?

Answer by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on 06-15-2009:

Canon law requires that marriages be recognized by both canon law and the local civil law. This is because the state has a responsibility to support the institution of marriage because the family based on marriage between a man and a woman is the basic building block of society.

You are confusing the manner of marriage with the perpetual status of being married.

It is true that in the United States, the priest or deacon (or rabbi, minister, etc.) who officiates at the marriage acts both on behalf of the religion and on behalf of the state. It is also true that in many other countries, there is a separate religious and civil marriage ceremony.

However, the canon law is the same for both situations. Canon law has as its goal that the couple be in a relationship that is recognized both by the Catholic Church and by the civil authority.

Ordinarily, in countries where couples marry in a separate civil ceremony, first they marry civilly and then they marry in the Catholic Church, often on the same day or nearly the same day. In countries like the United States, they secure a civil marriage license and then the priest or deacon acts as both a representative of the state and the Church. In both situations, canon law is fulfilled – the marriage is recognized as valid both civilly and canonically.

Are you certain? We were looking at a destination wedding and were told that we could get married in the foreign country then return to the US for a legal wedding afterwords.

Either way, if two people are married in a foreign country, let’s say in the Holy See at St. Peter’s, and they receive a marriage license from the Vatican, they’re not legally married in the US until they obtain the necessary legalization is the US (apostille, translation, presentation to US officials, and US marriage license issued). In such a case, a person could be theoretically married in the Church and in the Vatican, but if they fail to legalize that marriage license in the US, would not be legally married in the US.

Though, I could see the case for fraud under this circumstance, so an attorney should be consulted.

note: This is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Situations vary from case to case and your specific circumstances will be different from any theoretical discussion. Please contact an attorney before making any decisions.

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