What is my Status from Civil Marriage?

When I was 20 yrs old I left the Roman Catholic Church and joined an evangelical church. I meet a Mormon girl then we were married in a civil ceremony by a justice of the peace. A few years later we divorced. I returned to the Church 14 years ago, went to confession and the priest didn’t say anything about my marriage and divorce even though we discussed it. Do I need to get my marriage annulled by the Catholic Church? I’m presently not seeking marriage, but I would like to know what my standing in the Church is.
PS I just was doing some reading on annulments since a gal told me she had her Catholic Marriage Annulled, but I never thought it applied to me since I married outside of the Church.


A civil ceremony is never recognized as a marriage in the church, especially when it involves a baptized Catholic. If you were still married, you would have to have your marriage convalidated or you would be in the same situation as a couple just cohabiting together. So it doesn’t seem that you can have a marriage annlled that was never recognized as one in the first place. But to be safe, go ahead and contact a priest just to be sure.

Did you, by any chance, formally inform your bishop in writing that you were leaving the Roman Catholic Church and renounce the Catholic Faith? If you did, you may have been in a valid marriage. If, like most people, you just simply stopped going to Mass and started going to the evangelical church then your marriage would not have been valid.

Should you decide to get married in the Church, you would have to provide documents regarding the civil marriage (usually documents that show were the marriage took place and who the officiant was - so marriage certificate may not be enough and it may require you to get the official registration of marriage that was sent to the State), your divorce decree and a recent certificate of baptism.

Then it’s just a matter of the paperwork being reviewed. Depending on the country and even the local bishop, that review might take place at the diocesan Marriage Tribunal level or at the parish level. It’s not an annulment process, which could be compared to a trial, it’s simply an administrative process.

Your “marriage” did not meet the standard of the Catholic Church so it is considered nil or non-existent.
You may marry in whatever way you want and call that “marriage”, even the homosexual ones. But the Church accepts only the Catholic Marriage, done according to the rules of the Catholic Churches.
Of course I do not know whether the Church accepts marriages done outside the Church but which meet the Catholic Church standards. It does not seem yours to me, but a priest will give all the cues.

If you did not have a dispensation to marry outside of the Church you will need to file for a Lack of Form decree. This is from my diocese website:

"All Catholics must marry in front of a priest, deacon and two witnesses in a sacred place (c.1108). If a Catholic does not secure permission from the proper authorities for a dispensation from this form, their marriage is considered null due to Lack of Canonical Form.

This is considered a Documentary Case and often takes two to four weeks to process. This case requires a petition, a recent certificate of Baptism of Catholic party(ies), marriage license and decree of civil divorce"

If you did have a dispensation then you would have to file for a decree in a Formal Case.

The bottom line is that any Catholic who has been married and divorced must obtain a decree of nullity before they can date and remarry unless the divorced spouse is now deceased. It doesn’t even matter if both parties were atheists at the time of the marriage. If ones joins the Church they still have to have a decree of nullity.

Please join the group Annulment and Divorce. forums.catholic.com/group.php?groupid=958 There is a canon lawyer who will answer questions for us.

Please speak to your priest.

Based on what you have said here, it appears that your prior marriage would be invalid due to lack of form (Catholics are bound to the form of the sacrament of Marriage as laid out in Canon Law, which includes getting married in a Church). If that’s the case, then your situation would be easier to resolve than a full-blown investigation into the validty of a marriage that did follow the proper form.

However (and this is the important part), you still need to contact your diocesan Tribunal office to get all of it sorted out. Even open-and-shut cases still need to fill out the right paperwork to ensure that they really are open-and-shut cases. Every Catholic diocese has a Tribunal office that handles these sorts of things. That contact info should be available on the diocesan website. If you have difficulty locating that information, you can always PM me the name of your diocese and I would be happy to look it up for you.

I really encourage people in your type of situation not to put off getting this taken care of. If you are already divorced and you feel the marriage was not valid, getting that confirmed by the Church can really help give that sense of closure and free a person to move forward. You don’t have to wait until you’re 100% positive you want to get married again to pursue this. Do it now. Do it today. :slight_smile:

God bless!

To clarify, the Church doesn’t “accepts only the Catholic Marriage.” The Church also recognizes as valid the marriages between non-Catholics wherever they take place. If both parites are baptized non-Catholics, those marriages are even sacramental.

And even Catholics can receive a dispensation to marry outside a Catholic Church building in certain circumstances (though I don’t know how many people actually bother to obtain such a dispensation or even realize that they have to).

That’s why it’s best, as you say, to talk to a priest. Or if not the priest, then one’s diocesan Tribunal office.

This is so true. When I joined the Church I knew I wanted to start mine immediately. I didn’t want it hanging over my head. I wasn’t dating anyone and wasn’t sure I would want to remarry. That’s in God’s hands. I was brought into the Church and got all of my documents together. I filed a couple of weeks later received my final decree. The sense of peace and freedom was amazing.

Do it for yourself. Now that you have started thinking about it, it will gnaw at you. A weight will be lifted off your shoulders once you see that paper.

I’m praying for you.

Hello KWR_1,

In all honesty, if I were looking for an answer that said my previous marriage wasnot valid I would ask the question in this section of the forum, because many traditional Catholics disagree with Vatican II.

In the real world, Canon 1055 says that all marriages, regardless of where they take place, are valid sacraments, thus permanent.

You had better have a pretty good reason for getting divorced from your first wife, because that was a valid sacrament under Vatican II. If you know a priest well enough to work out the problems and get you reinstated as a Roman Catholic, you will be blessed.

That makes absolutely no difference. A Catholic declaring in writing to the Church they do not consider themselves Catholic anymore and are leaving the Church means nothing. The Church simply considers such a person to be a Catholic in a state of mortal sin. Once a Catholic always a Catholic. There are two types of Catholic. Those in a state of grace and those in a state of mortal sin. There is no such thing as a former Catholic no matter what they think, do, say, and even if they walk away from the Church.
They can simply come back and go to Confession to be reconciled to Christ and his Church.

You say you had left the Catholic Church but one is a Catholic for life. You say you met a Mormon girl and were married, but was she baptised as a Christian with the proper form and intention? A Mormon baptism is not a Christian baptism, since Mormons do not believe in the Holy Trinity. If she was not baptised then the marriage would be considered a natural law marriage rather than a sacramental marriage, as I understand it.

(Also, this sort of post belongs in the Family Life forum, not the Traditional Catholic forum).


Thank you for the information which to me is great news! :slight_smile: I know many so-called Catholics or ‘former Catholics’ and to me they are just Catholics who are not practicing their faith. It is just what I experience as real. I also know many who have returned as to their home after years of exploration and rebellion and as if nothing happened because deep inside they were always Catholic. It’s the real life experience and it’s nice to read your post. Can you think of any official documents that backs this understanding?

I would think that if people do certain things and are in mortal sin they ex-communicate themselves.

p.s. What forum would be a nice general forum to post a similar question regarding the validity of a marriage?

Up until about 18 months ago it did make a difference as far as marriage was concerned. Then three canons on marriage were changed by the APOSTOLIC LETTER “MOTU PROPRIO” OMNIUM IN MENTEM

From 1983 until 2010, formally renouncing the faith meant you no longer had to observe the canons on marriage. A quote from Omnium in Mentem

The * Code of Canon Law* nonetheless prescribes that the faithful who have left the Church “by a formal act” are not bound by the ecclesiastical laws regarding the canonical form of marriage (cf. can. 1117), dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult (cf. can. 1086) and the need for permission in the case of mixed marriages (cf. can. 1124). The underlying aim of this exception from the general norm of can. 11 was to ensure that marriages contracted by those members of the faithful would not be invalid due to defect of form or the impediment of disparity of cult.

That is a serious misreading of Canon 1055.

Can. 1059 Even if only one party is Catholic, **the marriage of Catholics is governed not only by divine law but also by canon law, **without prejudice to the competence of civil authority concerning the merely civil effects of the same marriage.

Can. 1066 Before a marriage is celebrated, it must be evident that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration.

Can. 1108 §1. Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses according to the rules expressed in the following canons and without prejudice to the exceptions mentioned in cann. 144, 1112, §1, 1116, and 1127, §§1-2.

Ooops. I meant to type : so-called ex-Catholics.

I just went through this process in March, so I will give KWR_1 a little more help. The Church is flooded with these marriage/divorse problems, so they probable won’t get back to you when you contact a parish. You must join a Parish, and be very active for at least 6 months. Show yourself friendly towards the priests and deacons. Attend all the the men’s events, bible studies, etc. Go up and cross your arms across your chest at
communion. Watch for what side of the alter each priest takes to serve the Eucharist. Aways sit on that side so the priest will bless you, rather than a parish laity server. Sign up for the returning Catholics program, etc, etc.

In short, be a practicing catholic for 6 months before asking any favors from a priest. When you join a Parish you will be given Envelopes for your weekly offering. Nowadays, $20 is the absolute miminum, or it’s not worth processing. :slight_smile:

Welcome back, and God bless.

I disagree. There is no reason to wait. A priest will be able to help the OP through this regardless of how long he has been putting money in the collection basket. If the priest (for some strange reason) is not willing to help, the diocesan Tribunal office is just a phone call away.

Quick question:

Is a Catholic marriage between two baptized Catholic valid although one of the persons lied about the couple already having been married legally and so that the marriage would be a convalidation of a previous marriage? This is a strange situation I encountered. One of the marrying partner thought that the Catholic ceremony would be serving for both the religious and legal marriage. The other person knew that this was not the case and for some reason mislead the partner, lied to the priest and claimed that they had been married in another country legally and just wanted to convalidate the legal marriage. The person must have gotten a false marriage document to show the priest. Life went on…until one day the naive partner found out he was never married legally and the the woman had made such a claim.
That’s what he got for working hard and leaving the marriage arrangement to the woman.:rolleyes: Unbelievable. There are people that actually like living deceptive lives and they come up with ways… it’s like they are living in soap opera.

Given that, there can not be a legal divorce as there never was a legal marriage. But, what is the standing of the Catholic Church in such an incredible situation?

I was not addressing the validity or otherwise of a marriage.
I was simply addressing the point that Catholics who have made a “formal declaration” that they no longer consider themselves Catholic is meaningless because they remain a Catholic and all they have to do is come back to Confession for reconciliation.

But my original post, to which you responded, was only addressing the validity of the OP’s marriage. Considering the timing, if he had formally renounced his faith, his marriage would have been considered valid and he would have needed a decree of nullity. If he hadn’t formally renounced his faith then he had been in an invalid marriage and the process was administrative only and really, nothing needs to be done until he’s ready to get married since his marriage was never presumed valid and he’s doing nothing wrong by dating.

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