Catholic Wedding after Civil Marriage?

Hi, I am new to this forum and I have a few questions about my upcoming marriage.

My fiance and I are both Catholic. We recently had a civil marriage ceremony through the city clerk in NY for a variety of personal reasons. However, we are still planning a Catholic wedding, which is very important to us, within the next year. I have a few questions:

  1. Is it permissable to have a Catholic wedding after a civil marriage is performed? I read that the priest must sign the marriage license, however, we already have our marriage certificate.

  2. What documents will we need? I am born American but my fiance is originally from Poland and baptized there, so I want to make sure we have time to collect everything. Is more than proof of Baptism required?

Thanks so much for any help. If there are other complications I’m missing, I would appreciate being made aware of them as well.

You will have to contact your pastor to get an answer that applies to your specific situation and to get his pastoral guidance on how to conduct your married life in the meantime, and your status with the other sacraments. Not competent to comment on your subjective situation, but objectively a Catholic couple who does this has deliberately disobeyed Church law on marriage, so they must rectify that situation as soon as possible, and confess if necessary. Also objectively they have willingly separated themselves from the sacraments if they insist on living as man and wife in the fullest sense, so the priest must also give his guidance on that issue.

You can do this, thousands of couples every year feel the same need you do to bring their married life fully into accord with Christ and His Church. As you go through this preparation you will find it a great source of grace for you and your family.

I am guessing you may have married civilly for reasons related to immigration?

As puzzleannie said, you can do this, and it happens a lot. But you should contact the priest sooner rather than later. You’ll likely have to do a pre-marriage class which can take some time.

It actually had nothing to do with immigration, and my fiance has been here for over 20 years. It’s just his baptism records, etc, are in Poland so we would need to contact his parish there and I want to see if there is anything else we would need to request as well. Our personal situation was unfortunately relating to financial means right now and insurance. I’m sure those aren’t good enough reasons for others, but we did what we did to manage better.

Our planned date for the real wedding is about a year away so we will start to discuss with our parish soon.

Thanks for the advice. Any other is welcome as well.


My wife and I just did this ourselves. It’s called a “Convalidation” and can be performed by a priest or an ordained deacon. Our deacon did ours.

I’m sure every parish is different, but our was very simple. We met with the Deacon, went through an interview process answering questions about our marriage and faith life and then had the ceremony. We didn’t have to go through pre-Cana since we have been married for a few years.

Good luck and God bless. You’ll be happy you did it.

Well this should not be a problem on the theological scale (if it was all married Catholics in Germany would be in trouble as German law requires them to have a civil marriage first).
The thing is that you are already married according to the law so there is no way for the priest to give you another certificate.
For legal reasons this would go as a renewal of the vows, but the ceremony would be the same.
I am a legal immigrant too and my husband and me married in front of a justice of the peace. We had planned to get a church wedding back then to follow, but were told that this would then only be a renewal of the vows as we were already legally married.
The best thing for you to do though will be to contact your priest and ask him these questions as he will know better from experience and he will ask you to partake in some classes or counseling prior to the ceremony. He will also tell you what kind of paperwork you need and whether you need to get it translated into English or not.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Him,

Thanks very much for the kind and informative answers. For a while my heart was sinking wondering what kind of huge mistake we made, ruining our ability to have the real wedding I want, which is a wedding in the Church. Both of us were raised Catholic and this is important to us. I understand some parishes may be more lenient than others with this process, so I hope ours can help us. I never heard of Convalidation before, so I will definitely inquire. Thanks and God bless. I feel a sense of relief now. :slight_smile: I’m so glad I found this board today. There’s so many interesting posts to read through as well.

Convalidation means to make a legal marriage valid in the Church. Right now the Church doesn’t consider you validly married.

In simple terms a convalidation is a marriage in the Church. You will state your consent before the priest in the same way you would have done if that had been your only marriage. You can make it as simple or as elaborate as you wish.

You don’t need a marriage license since you are already married civilly.

as OP points out the usual reasons couples marry outside the Church is not a deliberate disregard of Church law on marriage, which is why each individual couple needs to meet with their priest for pastoral guidance. It is usually something like a matter of immigration, paperwork, baptismal records, family issues, military deployment, insurance, etc. Your parish or diocese can actually help you expedite your marriage in some of these cases, so by all means ask for help at the earliest opportunity.

Yes, that is what couples who have been married civilly do, a convalidation. At the Cathedral, we have had many of these. In fact, for convalidations, often, the fee for use of the Cathedral was waived, but, that was under the first rector. This can either occur within the context of the Mass or as a Liturgy of the Word. The priest or deacon does not have to sign the marriage certificate, since that already happened with your civil ceremony. However, the marriage will be recorded in the parish records and the documentation will be sent to your baptismal parishes.

The reason why the Church needs a current copy of your baptismal certificates is because the parish where you will be marrying needs to see the Sacramental record. Behind each baptismal certificate is a space where the records of the subsequent sacramental records are noted. This lets them know if you’ve received First Holy Communion, Confirmation and if there have been any previous marriages. That is why the emphasis is made on “current”.

However, since you went ahead with the civil ceremony, you do need to talk to your pastor because what you did was against the Church’s precepts on marriage. As it stands right now, your marriage is invalid and, as others indicated, you need to rectify the situation as soon as possible. Granted, you had your reasons, but, you need to make things right with the Church before you present yourselves for Holy Communion.

Hopefully you are living together or at least not living together as though you are actually Married. To do so would be objectively seriously sinful.

Thanks again for the thorough explanations. It’s nice to be more informed before we approach our pastor. I’m really impressed with the quick, detailed responses here.

Would the covalidation ceremony be any different than if we were marrying for the first time in the Church?

To answer Br. Rich SFO, no we do not live together. We maintain 2 residences, and these separate residences are also shown on our marriage license as where we each reside. We have no intention to cohabitate until after our wedding. That is something we are both resolute about.

Here in the Philippines a civil wedding is required first. Its the only one recognised by the Government.

It’s the same in many countries: France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc.

Thanks for sharing that last bit. I’m sure you understand that relieves the mind of a bunch of us.

Yes you fiance should go about getting his Sacramental Record. Not just Baptism. All the Sacraments. He would need to get confirmed before the wedding if he hasn’t already.

Yes, this is like you have never been married before because you haven’t.

Make your appointment and enjoy all the planning!

Then in my opinion if it is necessary to do this then you are at least doing this in the proper way. By the way I meant to say “Hopefully you are not living together…”, which is the way you read it.

As others have said, by all means get the records together, meet with your local pastor, you will also need to participate in the pre-marriage preparation process.

I quoted Germany as such earlier too… As far as I know they are in the process of changing that a little. The Church may marry you without seeing a marriage certificate by the state. The state still does not accept the church wedding so that you then have to go and do the civil part. Well they were talking about something like that.
Many European states do not accept a wedding in a church as legally binding.

I think it would be better all around if the Church were not involved as an agent of the State. That would mean that people who approach the Church for marriage are really interested in the religious aspect of the ceremony. Let the people deal with Caesar then come to God.

That’s actually a good thing, yes. Germany however doesn’t know that kind of a separation. Even though the state demands that there has to be a legally binding wedding before the Church wedding (usually on the same day), they still keep the church and the state together. The German state actually takes a church tax from everybody who is a member of a church. Priests are partially paid by the government too…
I think to have a church wedding after a civil wedding is the best thing to do for the same reasons you mentioned above, but the state should also keep out of the church’s issues after that. In Germany many people formally defect from their church in order to not have to pay the tax anymore (and they do this defection through the government).