When is divorce not divorce?


I was playing golf with a friend yesterday and he confronted me with a question out of the blue. I prayed on it and am not sure if I have the answer right so I wanted other opinions.

My friend is a lapsed catholic. He was married before but divorced. (not married in the CC). He is now married to another woman who is not catholic. They were not married in a CC. Now, unfortunately, he told me things aren’t working out and he’s looking at divorce again.

The question to me was since neither of his marriages were to either catholics or taken place in a Catholic Church, once he is legally divorced (again) what would be his official status within the Church?

I told him I felt that since neither of his marriages were “recognized” by the Church that once he is legally divorced, he would be eligible for marriage because he was never “married” in the eyes of the Church to begin with.

How far off base am I in telling him this?


All marriages are considered valid unless ruled otherwise he would need an annulment before he would be free to marry, possibly two annulments.


Actually, Jodi, IF the man is a baptized Catholic who has received the sacraments (at least communion and reconcilation), and IF he did not marry in the Church, then techically speaking his marriages are BOTH invalid due to lack of form. He WOULD have to get the paperwork from the diocesean tribunal and do it before attempting to marry in the church (if ever he divorced the second wife and then sought to marry as a Catholic in church–and he would possibly have to have extensive counseling to make sure he understood what marriage entailed) but technically speaking from a Canon law standpoint his marriages, while valid from a ‘secular’ or civil standpoint, are not valid sacramental marriages.


no way to answer, too many variables which there is no way you can learn, which is why prior marriages must be investigated and judged before a Catholic is free to marry in the Church. send him to his parish priest. most likely, if facts are as you describe (and 90% of the time what someone tells you casually is not the complete truth) he has never validly married in the Church, but the situation must be investigated and judged properly. Send him to his parish priest because he needs a lot more pastoral care than just an answer to this question. If he has a pattern of marriage and divorce it is unlikely any pastor will encourage or enable him to marry again without extensive pastoral counselling and evidence of real conversion.


I was told by our pastor in class that if a catholic marries a non catholic, civilally only, the marriage is not recognized and invalid and there is no need for annulment.


It isn’t a full blown declaration of nullity, but there is a process required. As stated above, the issue is not one of a defect in the bond but rather defect of form. The couple would still need to file paperwork and clear the attempted marriage in order to be considered free to marry again. You cannot just take it upon yourself to remarry even if you are certain that your first marriage was invalid. You wouldn’t get past the first session of marriage prep. :slight_smile:


I hope I am not taking this too far afield but this brings up a question.

I know that sometimes, if rarely, even though a couple’s marriage is found to be null, one or both parties are not given permission to remarry. Is such a restriction ever placed on a defect of form declaration?


If even one of the parties was Catholic, then they were required to follow the Catholic form of marriage which is in front of a priest or deacon and two witnesses to exchange their consent. If he did marry in the Church and did not get the proper permission to have a non-Catholic wedding (which he could have done in marrying a non-Catholic), then both of his marriages are invalid for lack of canonical form.

He can take copies of his marriage licenses, divorce decrees and his baptismal certificate and take them to his parish priest. The priest will know what to do with them next. In some dioceses, the parish priest has been given the authority by the local bishop to handle these sorts of cases in parish… in other dioceses, they have to be sent to the local marriage Tribunal. However, it’s all just a documentary process and can take as little as five minutes up to a few days, depending on the diocese.

As for whether restrictions can be placed on those who have documentary cases like this, the answer is no. Restrictions are generally only placed when there has been a full review of a formal case and a lack of form case is not a formal case - it is a documentary case.


Oh, and it’s not a defect of form but a complete lack of form. A defect of form would be where the priest was forbidden from officiating at the marriage for one reason or another but the parties didn’t know that. A lack of form is where there is a complete and total lack of canonical form.


Thanks! I am constantly learning new things here. :thumbsup:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.