What is recognized and what is not


So this is fairly serious to me and I am trying to gain some information before we go to talk to our pastor.

Here is the situation.

My husband has been married before. He is not Catholic, he is native american. Since we have been together and have started a family he has shown more and more comfort in my religion and spirituality and has found comfort with going to mass, even though he is not catholic. We are going to talk to talk to my pastor in a few week about a whole gaggle of things regarding him converting and other matters. But we have a problem.

Ok like I said, my husband was married before, neither he or she was catholic and the ceremony was not religious in any way, a justice of the peace performed the ceremony. To be perfectly honest they were both 18 and found them selves in a very awkward position regarding an unplanned pregnancy, so they were married and 7 days later he left for the Navy. They were divorced within 13 months because when he came home from a deployment (he had been gone for 6 months) she was three months pregnant with her second child, obviously he was not the father. He later found out that she was a habitual drug user (cocain and heroin) and had been since she was 16.

He has done a lot of soul searching since then and had a lot of ups and downs and since we have been together he knows that our family is where he truly wants to be. He’s a wonderful man.

When we were engaged we started going through the classes to be married in the church because I was raised catholic and it was important to me, and in turn important to him. We soon discovered that we could not be married in the church with out him obtaining an annulment. I was under the impression (years of catholic school) that an annulment was for those who are catholic and had been married before. I now am to understand I am wrong.

So we were told that he needed the annulment, the deacon we were working with explained to him that this was to say that his first marriage was null and void, and explained that it made his child illegitimate. We ended up being married in a different church.
The deacon told us that our marriage would not be recognized by the Catholic church and that I would be excommunicated. It was a mess. Now that we have started our family, and we have decided that we want to raise them in the church it has become increasingly important to us to be in good graces with the church. This is why we are going to talk to my childhood priest (he is a Mnsgr. and at a different parish.)

My question is this, how is that the church recognizes a marriage that was for surely not Catholic, and not even bound to any other denomination, it was merely civil, recognizes it enough to require an annulment, BUT will not recognize my marriage at all. I guess I am just confused. It’s probably really simple and in front of me. But I am hoping to gain some insight before we go and have our talk to see what our options are.

Thank you so much!


The deacon was absolutely wrong about your husband’s children from his previous marriage. The Church would certainly not view them as illegitimate.

He will have to get a decree of nullity before your marriage can be recognized in the Church. Non-Catholics are not bound to the church laws about marrying in the Church if both parties are non-Catholic. The marriage is assumed valid until proven otherwise. Since your husband’s first marriage has not been declared null the church views him as still married to his first wife this is why your marriage can not be recognized.

A declaration of nullity means something was lacking at the time the marriage vows were said. The fact that they were young and already pregnant could very well prove lack of free consent and/or lack of maturity to understand fully the extent of what marriage means. Also the fact that she was pregnant with another man’s child not long after the marriage was contracted it would seem there was never the intent to be faithful which is another impediment to a valid marriage.

Please see the link below and then see your priest. I am sorry you were given wrong information.


First of all, the Deacon was wrong or you misunderstood him when he said that an annulment would make his child illegitimate … that is not the case … in fact every person who applies for an annulment [and who has children from their previous marriage] is told that their children do not become illegitimate … Also, your child is legitimate too based upon your civil marriage … please remember … children are a gift from God, treasured :slight_smile:

now take heart and work through the process to become married in union with the churches teachings … :thumbsup: Many have been where you are … you are not alone …

A civil marriage took place … recognized by the civil authorities … so any children born of that civil marriage are legitimate … now whether a sacramental marriage took place is what the tribunal decides …

A catholic married civilly is not sacramental … the church is very clear upon this …

with non-catholics - the church begins with a presumption of sacramentality … and what the fatih traditions of the parties to the marriage accept … as virtually all protestant and non-christian people accept a justice of the piece … that is the position from which the tribunal begins …

the testimony of the parites and their witnesses [given in writing] will then be necesaary for the tribunal to investigate to determine if a ‘sacramental’ union [before God and man] actually transpired at the time of the marriage … it does not look at reasons after the fact …

from what you have said, it would appear that both parties would have lacked the "free choice’ feeling compelled by their circumstances [and possibly other outside influences- family pressure, societal] to marry - but you must apply and follow the directions of your diocesan tribunal for the documentation …

Take heart, many have been where you were … sad that you did not get good advice initially … but though complicated you will get though this … I did:o … God Bless, I will hod you in my prayers …


I agree with much of this post. However the previous marriage would be presumed to be *VALID *but not necessarily SACRAMENTAL. A marriage is only sacramental if it is valid *AND *both parties are baptized. If the husband and his former wife were both baptized then the Church would make a presumption that it was sacramental and valid until proven otherwise. If either or both parties to the civil marriage were unbaptized then the marriage would not be sacramental. But the Church would still presume it to be valid until proven otherwise.


I am sorry you had the misfortune of working with a deacon who is so woefully uneducated on the topic of Church law, marriage, and decrees of nullity.

As has already been mentioned, a decree of nullity has no bearing on the legitimacy of children born of that union.

Also, while marrying outside the Church is a grave sin and you must refrain from Communion until your marriage situation is resolved, remarriage does not excommunicate you. Remarriage did result in excommunication under the old code of Canon Law-- but it has not done so since 1983’s revisions to the code.

Lastly, I highly recommend you obtain a copy of the book Annulment: The Wedding That Was by Michael Smith Foster and that you and your husband read it together.

The book will answer many of your questions including why the Catholic Church recognizes non-Catholic marriages as valid. The Church does not recognize your marriage for two reasons-- as a Catholic you are bound by the Catholic form, which you did not follow AND because your husband was not free to marry you.

Although there are never any guarantees, I would say that your husband has a very good case for nullity of his first marriage.

Get the book and read it together. Go and talk to your priest.

I am very sorry you got such BAD information the first time.


Great idea to talk to your priest. :slight_smile: Hopefully he can give you better guidance of how to work through the annulment procedure and help you have your marriage recognized by the Church if an annulment is granted. One thing that you didn’t make clear in your original post, were they baptized Christian at the time of the marriage? That also has bearing on annulments, as the Church is seeking to determine if it is a Sacramental marriage or not. Since he was not Catholic, he was not required to have a Catholic wedding; however, if she was Catholic, since they were not married in the Church, that could also be grounds for an annulment. Other things you wrote, such as her hidden drug addiction and marriage at a young age because of pregnancy, also may have relevance in the annulment process.

As previously stated, the Church presumes marriages to be valid unless shown otherwise. We believe marriage lasts until death of one of the spouses (ie no divorce), and is exclusively between one man and one woman, (ie no polygamy.) Since there was a ceremony and a legal marriage, and since the Church doesn’t recognize divorce, the Church presumes the first marriage valid unless otherwise demonstrated. Basically, the Church won’t allow a marriage if one is already married to someone else.

I’m glad you feel called to return to practicing your faith and want to straighten this out. I pray your priest gives you wise counsel.


the deacon was wrong from start to finish, please find a good priest who is knowledgeable about church law on marriage and take his advice. It is quite likely, if circumstances are as described, that your husband’s first marriage was indeed invalid, from the fact of free choice being limited by the circumstances if nothing else. what happened after the wedding does not pertain, only circumstances at the time of the marriage. the fact that he is native American has no bearing on anything, and the status of children of the marriage is not affected at all.

why oh why do people willing persist in mistaken ideas without going further to get the proper knowledge? If you think what you are being told is wrong, or have further questions, or want more explanation that is your right, so keep asking until you get the knowledge you need.

God bless you and you surely will be blessed because he has immense graces waiting for you when your marriage becomes sacramental and your return to the graces of the other sacraments and the benefit for your marriage and family will be enormous. It will be worth any sacrifice and waiting to go thru this.


First of all, thank you so much! This is finally starting to come together for me.

To clarify, when I mentioned that he was Native American, it was because those beliefs were his only spiritual beliefs growing up, he was not baptized and neither was his first wife.

We have been attending mass ( as regularly as possiable, we have twins who are 15 months and a few of the people at our church have made comments about us bringing them, there isn’t a day care or children’s room) even though I know I’ve gone against doctrine, but I just feel a calling to be there, and he says that he finds peace in the prayer and the message and is so eager to learn the ways of the church ( I love him even more for this, having a partner in your life who appreciates and wants to know more about the faith in your life, just really helps to make a marriage work, in my opinion at least). I have not received communion though, I know it’s wrong so I can’t, although I did find it odd that at my grandmothers funeral, my childhood priest, offered me communion, and he knows the whole situation, I still couldn’t do it, to me it would like putting the communion in dirt, I hope that doesn’t sound strange.

I really feel for my husband in this situation because he feels such guilt for all of this. I try and help him focus on knowing that mistakes were made but that they were not meant to hurt anyone so he can ease up on himself. The only reason they actually were even married was for health insurance, they were so young and naive that the only way he knew he could provide a safe pregnancy and delivery for his child was to join the Navy and to provide health insurance.

I have another question that is off topic a bit.

Can we still have our children baptized in the church even though we are on the “out’s” so to say, or at least I am. They were born so early and it was touch and go for a while and everything was a mess that we didn’t even inquire but in the last few months that we have really started to focus on this it’s becoming really important. So short version, can we have our twins baptized in the church before this is resolved?


Yes you can have the kids Baptized… My kids were baptized when my ex and I were not married in the church… priest wasn’t happy about it and used my maiden name on baptismal cert… which was fine and only right beings I wasn’t married in the church.

As for the annulment for your dh… don’t worry about it… he was young and most likely felt pressure to get married… that is reason enough for an annulment…

Oh… and bringing kids to mass is perfectly acceptable… I NEVER sent mine to the nursery… kids belong with their parents at mass!

Best of luck and prayers to you and yours!


Regarding baptism for your children, you will need to speak with your priest.

The Church requires that there should be a “well founded hope” that the children will be raised Catholic or baptism is to be delayed until such time.

So, it is an area that the priest has discretion-- some priests will want the marriage situation resolved first while others might go ahead with the baptism.



Please, call your local Parish and make an appointment to speak with the Priest. He will help you through all of this.

Jesus is calling you and your husband to the Church - He is good and His mercy is waiting for you!!

May Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha pray for you both! catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=154

You might also want to check out the link at the top of this page that says “shop” and get Jimmy Akin’s book on annulments.


Thank you! I totally agree, The few times we have made it to my childhood parish ( about 20 times in the last 5 months ) the kids are really well behaved during mass. I feel like like they are actually listening, or feeling really. THey really love to sing with the choir, which I think is pretty good, and this parish loves them! Our daughter can say ‘amen’ and not just in a cute way but she looks to me when I say it and then repeats quietly. They don’t make noise either during mass, it’s really neat. Our son really loves the statue of Mother Mary, he calls her Mama Mary and says he’s pretty and the last time we went to the alter to light a candle (my grandmother passed away recently) he was just smiling away at the statue and I said 'you really like her don’t you…" and he replied " I love…" I was touched. We would like to go more but that parish is about 45 min away, although we have decided to make the drive at the very least every other week. Our local church isn’t fond of us bringing them to mass with us, and like I said there isn’t a day care.

I am so greatfull that I have not been shut out by my faith or my church, I mentioned in another post in the catholic traditions board, I have had the overwhelming scent of roses come over me ever since my twins were in the Neonatal intensive care unit and even now when I get panicky about being a semi new mom.

Amazing to me.


Also, please remember: people make mistakes…that deacon certainly did…and if anybody says anything to you about taking your kids to church, remember: Jesus said ‘Let the little ones come to me, do not hinder them!’ Basically, your partner should find it fairly straight forward to seek an annulment (a friend of ours is a Canon Lawyer, and he’s said many times that ‘shotgun weddings’ especially with very young bride and groom, are not ‘voluntarily undertaken’, it’s often a cause for annulment because consent was not freely given), if his first wife had a drug-problem pre-dating her wedding-vows, that will also lessen her ‘free will consent’, as drug addiction is a mental health issue that lessens the consent. By LAW though, they will always be his children, he need not worry about that!

You’re doing the right thing and try not to worry: it WILL all work out, it just may take some time:)


yes absolutely, but have an interview with the pastor now, as others have suggested, so he knows you are working on getting everything else right, but that by itself does not delay their baptism. also mention the insensitive unchristian comments parishioners have made about bringing your children to Mass, where they belong, so he can address that as well.


I agree, tell the priest about the looks and comments!

Our priest, one Sunday when 4 infants kicked off simultanuously in 4 corners of the church(quickly dragged out by their embarrased parents!) stopped his sermon, smiled and said ‘Ah, isn’t it wonderful to see so many babies and young children at Mass, they are our future and we are so blessed to have them with us!’ . And quite a few elderly ladies, who are prone to tut-tut nodded and smiled!

At the end of the day, without children coming to Mass every Sunday, growing up knowing and living the Faith, the Church will have no future! So, it’s in everybody’s interest to welcome young families into the church! Mine used to be hard work and we went through a year at least where one of us had to scoop up a screaming infant and rush outside until she calmed down…but now I see the benefits of that, when I stand outside their bedroom door and hear the eldest read Bible stories to her sister or when they pray together.

Trust me, by ‘righting what is wrong’ and bringing your children to church, God is smiling:) !


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