Catholics who have married outside of the Catholic Church are encouraged to have their civil marriage recognized by the Church. We call this a convalidation. These couples, who were no doubt well intentioned and sincere in professing their vows outside of the Catholic Church, are not considered validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church because Church law requires baptized Roman Catholics to marry before a bishop, priest, or deacon and two witnesses. If a couple finds themselves in this situation but want to have the Church officially recognize their marriage, then they should contact a priest in order to begin the process of convalidating their union. This process is usually not very difficult and often helps the couple live their faith more fully. Below is an outline of the usual procedure.
When beginning the process of convalidation, the couple should:
- Make an Appointment: Contact their local parish and make an appointment to speak with the priest or deacon in charge of marriage preparation so as to discuss their particular situation.
- Obtain Necessary Documents: Catholics need a recent copy of their baptismal certificate, including all notations. The recorded date should not be earlier than six months prior to beginning the convalidation process. Usually, the church of baptism will need the individual’s name, as well as their parent’s names, date of birth, and the approximate date of baptism. This is a regular request in parishes and should not take long to acquire. Baptized non-Catholics should attempt to supply proof of their baptism as well, either by certificate, letter from a parent, and/or pictures if need be. Other needed documents include: a copy of the civil marriage license, and any Declarations of Nullity if appropriate.
- Pursue Possible Annulment: If the marriage you wish to convalidate is not the first marriage for one or both of you, it may be necessary to first pursue an annulment of a prior marriage. If this is your situation, it may be necessary to petition for a Declaration of Nullity for the previous marriage. The priest or deacon assisting you with marriage preparation will be able to give you more information on this.
- Complete Paperwork: A Premarital Investigation, as well as other necessary paperwork, must be filled out with the priest or deacon assisting you with marriage preparation.
- Determine Date and Time for the Ceremony: At the appropriate time during the process, the priest or deacon will help you determine the date, time of the ceremony, as well as the appropriate type of ceremony to have. The planning of the actual ceremony will come later.
- Make a good Confession: The Catholic spouse(s) should celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before the convalidation ceremony. It is very common for the people who were not married in the Church to have not been to Confession for a long time. If one doesn’t remember how to make a good Confession, one needs only to ask the priest for help.
- Plan the Ceremony: Plan the ceremony that will follow the liturgical blessing to celebrate the Church’s recognition of the marriage.
For more information on the process of Marriage Preparation, click here.