Did First Marriage Have a ‘Lack of Form’?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

I read your article on divorce and re-marriage, but I'm a little confused.

My sister (a catholic) married a divorced Catholic six years ago.  They were married by a protestant minister.  Anyway, the marriage ended in divorce and because she didn't get married in the Catholic Church, my family is convinced that she is free to marry one day in the Catholic Church.

Thankfully, she has gone to Confession about her sin of marrying a divorced Catholic.  However, I could have sworn I read an article a while back where even those married outside of the Catholic Church need to seek an annulment. Is this true?  Does she need to seek an annulment within the Catholic Church before she can get married within the Catholic Church?

I am very sad over the whole situation, but want to make sure I have my facts straight because she comes to me for advice.  They have a two-year-old daughter and now my sister has begun dating.  (Long story short, she married this guy because he told her the annulment process was in the works and was just about to go through.  Foolishly, she believed him and thought they'd just get married in the Church once the annulment process was complete. Turns out during their marriage he was carrying on an affair and is now married to wife #3.)  My sister has been through a lot.  She has returned to her Faith, and is hoping one day to marry a nice Catholic man.  Is she free to date?  The whole situation weighs heavily on me and I want to make sure the advice I give is in line with our Catholic teaching.

Thank you,

Maria W.

Dear Maria,

Greetings in Christ!

Your sister is blessed to have someone like you looking out for her.

In response to your question, in a sense both of you are right. Her marriage outside the Church had what is called a "lack of form," in that it wasn't a Catholic marriage. So, based on what you wrote it doesn't appear that there would be any reason why should couldn't eventually marry in the Catholic Church.

However, because it was an attempted marriage, she would still need to file paperwork to get an official Church decree stating that this previous union had a "lack of form" and thus was not a marriage. The Church has this requirement because of her duty to make sure that the couple is free to marry in the Church. This generally could be handled by one's pastor. It's a relatively simple procedure that sometimes is taken care of during a couple's engagement period, because the party who was previously married outside the Church assumed that he or she was free to marry. Even though this sort of nullity procedure should be a "slam dunk," it does add stress during the engagement process as one has no way of knowing exactly how long it's going to take to get the decree. One really should not seriously consider marriage until he or she has gone through this process and has officially established his or her freedom to marry. Therefore, I would encourage your sister to see her pastor or another priest she trusts now to get it taken care of before she starts dating another man.

Please feel free to call us at 1-800-MY FAITH (693-2484) or email us with any further questions on this or any other subject. If you have found this service to be helpful, please consider a donation to CUF to help sustain this service. You can call the toll-free line, visit us at www.cuf.org, or send your contribution to the address below. Thank you for your support as we endeavor to "support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church."

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Leon Suprenant
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  • Guest

    Maria, I read your question and thought I would share my experience with you as it is relevant.

    In 1998, un-baptized, I married (witnessed by an Episcopal Minister) a divorced Catholic who was previously married in the Catholic Church but had not received an annulment. This was considered “lack of proper form” and the paperwork was minimal and the process speedy. The way it was explained to me was that my first husband could not (in the eyes of the Church) “legally” enter into a marriage because he had not sought and received an annulment of the first marriage.

    In 2002, still un-baptized, I married again, a Catholic, who was divorced, (marriage witnessed by the JP in the local court house). His marriage was also considered “lacking in proper form” and without “spiritual bond” because the marriage took place in a courthouse. This process was also quick and painless – one form, two signatures.

    In 2003, still married, I joined the Catholic Church (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist) and my marriage was “renewed/blessed” by the Church. In the eyes of the “world” I was already “legally married”, but the marriage was formally acknowledged by the Church after the “renewal/blessing”.

    From what I’ve been told, a marriage between two baptised persons in any Christian denomination is considered “valid” in the eyes of the Church and if entering or returning to the Church the marriage would be “renewed/blessed”.

    Previous marriages can be a touchy situation and I pray your sister has an easy time of it.

    God Bless,

  • Guest

    Dear Sir,

    I am a Catholic man and first marriage was to a Catholic girl outside church.  The marriage ended shortly after 2 years.  I did not annul my first marriage. I cohibitated with my 2nd wife for 5 years before we married. She was a non-Catholic then.  The marriage also took place outside church. The marriage ended 3 years later. She was baptized after we were married. Now I am in love with a Catholic girl and would like to have a proper church wedding so that I don't put her to sin.  My question is:

    a.  How long will the process takes to annul both the marriages?

    b.  Do both the marriages considered "lack of form"?  Will it be a fast and straight forward one? How many forms do i need to feel? Do I need to pay?

    c.  Do I need to go through the Pope to get the marriages annulled or the state Bishop can do the annulment?