Marriage outside the church


I am a non-practicing Catholic and engaged to a wonderful man. Though not practicing for quite some time, I consider myself Catholic and have no intention to be anything else. We are going to be married this coming summer at his family’s Protestant church. My fiancé has been married three times. His first marriage was a civil ceremony and ended in divorce after a year. He has been married twice after the divorce and widowed. My question is, even though we are not being married in the church, will this marriage be considered valid? I have never been married. At some point I would like to have our marriage blessed in the church.


I will not be valid for a baptised Catholic unless it is with the approval of the Catholic Church. It is entirely possible that you could not have it convalidated later because of an impediment that could not be removed, such as freedom to marry. A tribunal would have to determine if he had an existing valid marriage and has to consider all his previous marriages in order of occurrence. There could also be a different understanding of the marriage contract also which would make it impossible. Of course the Catholic must agree to raise the children in the Catholic faith.


Does the Catholic Church really require an annulment for a previous marriage where the spouse is deceased. The OP mention the potential spouse being widowed twice.
I thought a widowed person was free to marry without an annulment.



Your marriage cannot be “blessed,” because under the circumstances you described the “marriage” is invalid. A marriage that does not exist cannot be blessed.

Your post is not clear on some points. Unless ALL prior spouses of this man are deceased, he is not free to marry. Any prior marriages involving a prior living spouse has to be investigated for validity. If ALL prior marriages are declared null (or simply not valid due to lack of form), then he would be free to marry. This will be a requirement if you marry outside of the Church and wish to marry in the Catholic Church at a later date. You will also be required to go through all of the pre-marital preparation.

Many people, including many Catholics (especially non-practicing ones, like my former self) do not understand how seriously the Catholic Church takes marriage. The Catholic Church is not like the vast majority of other Christian, non-Christian, or secular entities that allow divorce and remarriage. I recommend doing it right the first time.


A Tribunal would look at the earliest that ended in divorce first. If that was cleared, then move the the other two. If widowed, then those are not blocking. I think they need to see the marriage licenses and the divorce decree and the death certificates. Since she said Protestant, I assumed he had valid baptism, but that may not be true depending on what Protestant church it is. Tribunal has to consider natural marriage vs marriage of those baptised.


If you follow through with your plans as outlined your marriage would not be valid in the eyes of the Church 1. due to lack of form ( as a Catholic you are required to marry in the Church or have a dispensation of that requirement before you marry) and 2. because your fiancé is not free to marry you due to prior bond.

You really should work this out before marrying. Which means meeting with a priest and having his previous marriages investigated by the marriage tribunal. If he ends up being free to marry you, you could at that time request a dispensation to be married in another Church if you still want to.


For your marriage in a Protestant church to be considered valid by the Catholic Church, you need a ‘dispensation from form’ from your bishop. If your potential husband’s first wife is still living, that marriage needs to be declared null by the diocesan marriage tribunal.

Please meet with a priest and discuss this. Please do not push yourself farther away from God by entering into an invalid marriage.



He is not free to marry.

You are not free to marry outside the Catholic Church without dispensation.

I suggest doing things the right way in the first place by making an appointment with your pastor. Discuss this situation with him and follow his guidance. His prior marriages must all be reviewed for a determination of validity. This does not change whether you seek valid marriage in the Church from the outset or approach the Church later for convalidation.

His prior marriages are an impediment to valid marriage and will have to be dealt with. What if one of them is valid? Would you rather find out after you marry him that he is already validly married to someone else and therefore can never be validly married to you, or after? After is bad news.



The OP mentioned 3 marriages. The OP mentions divorced and widowed. We do not have enough details to know precisely the situation, but unless all three former spouses are deceased, there are some marriages that must be investigated.


In the eys of the Church your marriage would not be valid, for you that means that when you decide to come back to the church you could not recieve the sacraments and only the sacrament of reconcilation if you were close to death.
The marraige could be validated in the Church, but the marriage of your fiance, where his ex wife are still alive, would first have to be annuled. The same is true if you wanted to get a dispensation to marry outside the church with a priest or deacon as a witness.
The marriages that ended with the death of the spouse, are not required to be annuled.

Deacon Frank


Thanks for the responses. My fiance’s was married in his 20s and his wife is still living to the best of his knowledge. He said they were married outside by an officiant (?sp). No children. He and his second wife were married 22 years when she died. His third wife died very sudden and unexpected after less than 2 years of marriage. I have never been married. What I want to know, is a marriage union by a civil ceremony considered a valid marriage in the Catholic Church?


For a marriage attempt involving a Catholic, a civil ceremony is not acceptable. The marriage does not exist.

For a civil marriage between one or two that are not baptized, it is a natural marriage, but can be dissolved. (This would be non-Catholic because it is civil.)

Between Christians, it could be valid if their Christian church accepts it. I don’t know their rules.


This. Please call your diocese or go to your local parish and speak to the priest. It will be best and esiest in the end if you follow the correct procedure from the start.

Please be assured of my prayers and best wishes for your future marriage.


To answer the bolded question, only Catholics are required to get married in the Catholic church. Other Christians and non Christians have valid marriages according to the Church. Doesn’t matter if it a civil or religious ceremony if the parties were not Catholic at the time. His first wife wasn’t Catholic, right?

Length of marriage and number of children don’t matter. Either his marriage was valid when it was entered into or it wasn’t. He isn’t Catholic, correct? If he isn’t Catholic then he was not obligated to get married in the Catholic Church. His first marriage would be assumed to be a valid marriage unless there was some impediment, which would have to be determined by the marriage tribunal. The easiest one would be if his first wife was previously married and so not free to marry him due to prior bond, but there are other possibilities such as if she was Catholic and never got a dispensation to marry outside the Church. His second and third wives are dead, so his marriages to them them don’t need to be addressed.


Neither he nor his first wife are Catholic. I am thinking back about previous conversations, and I am quite certain that his first wife had been married and divorced. I will investigate further when we visit this weekend.


If his first wife was previously married and it was a first marriage for both her and her first husband and neither was Catholic and both are still alive, then their marriage is presumably valid which would make her second marriage invalid. However, if her first husband has since died, then the prior bond issue on longer applies and her marriage to your fiancé would presumably be valid.


Not when one of the parties is a Catholic who has not received a dispensation to be married in a non-Catholic venue.

Not when either of the parties has a prior marriage, unless the prior marriages have already been examined by the Catholic Church and that person is found free to marry.

So, you have both of these issues-- you as a Catholic cannot validly marry in a civil ceremony unless you have a dispensation from your bishop and you cannot marry a man already married to someone else.


I have a little more information. My fiance’s first wife was previously married and divorced. She was not Catholic. He has not seen or talked to her in over 35 years, does not know where she is at or if she is even still alive. No family connections whatsoever. He did say that she remarried after their divorce. So, if statements are needed from a former spouse and they cannot be found, what happens? Is any chance that we can have a valid marriage lost?


I really encourage you to make an appointment with your pastor and start the process of determining freedom to marry. If his wife was previously married/divorced, he has a case for Ligamen. But he would have to be able to prove it. Court records would suffice if he could locate them.

It is pointless to speculate and we here cannot answer any specific questions. Go talk to your pastor and start working through the process. You will not know if you can marry this man until the process is complete. So do not make any wedding plans until then.


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