What constitutes a valid marriage in the Church?

My boyfriend and I are both Catholics and considering the prospect of marriage in the future. He has, however, been married before and there is some question over whether he would need an annulment before we could get married.

As far as I can make out, for a Catholic to have a sacramentally valid marriage they need to be married in front of a priest or have a special dispensation from a bishop. My boyfriend had a civil ceremony with a registrar and this marriage was never blessed by a priest. We have discussed it and he certainly has grounds for applying for an annulment (was very young, pressured into marriage by family as his girlfriend was pregnant after a couple of weeks, never wanted to go through with it etc.) but I am not sure that that is necessary based on the above logic.

I am very keen that we take marriage seriously as a sacrament and value highly getting married in the Church in a state of grace. I would be therefore very grateful for any help with this.

You are correct. He needs an annulment, but in the particulars of his case its merely a paperwork matter and has no need of interviews or in depth investigations. You are right that as a Catholic he was obligated by canon law to be married in the Church or receive a dispensation to be married elsewhere. Since he was married outside the Church without a dispensation, his marriage is considered invalid. He simply needs to provide the following:

  1. Baptismal certificate that shows he’s a Catholic (the back side of the certificate will show he’s never been married in the Church).

  2. A copy of the civil marriage that shows it was done outside the Church.

  3. A copy of the divorce judgment so the Church knows he’s legally free to marry.

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