Adapting Together in God's Love for Validation of Civil Marriage

More and more frequently, the couples that present themselves for marriage in the Catholic Church are already married civilly. This civil marriage might have occurred before a justice of the peace, or before a minister of another Christian denomination. In both cases, if at least one party is Catholic, the marriage is not recognized by the Church due to “lack of form.” For this reason, couples who are preparing for the Validation of a civil marriage (sometimes called “convalidation’) are actually being married for the first time iin the Catholic Church. For this reason, it is not appropriate to speak of “having the marriage blessed by the Church,” because in the Church’s eyes, a Christian marriage has not yet taken place. (An exception to this would be a case in which both parties were members of another Christian denomination and are now coming into the Catholic Church through the RCIA process. If they were marriaed in their own Christian Church, the marriage may already be valid and would in this case be noted as such in an official document.

It is important for us, in a spirit of welcome, to appreciate that which the couple already has between them – a relationship history and a formal commitment to one another. At the same time, we should gently and pastorally assist the couple in understanding what will be different about their relationship – it will now be sacramental and will make particular graces available to the couple to live out their commitment to one another. If the sacrament is validly celebrated, (i.e., both parties give their vows with valid consent and without any impediments to marriage) the marital bond will be indissoluble. This is an ideal time for couples to reflect on what they already have together and also what will be different once they are married in the Catholic Church.

The way in which Together in God’s Love is adapted for coupes preparing for convalidation will depend somewhat upon the particular circumstances. All couples should benefit from the portions of the program that discuss the meaning of the sacrament. Some couples with long histories might not find the budgeting section helpful (or they might find that they need to get back on track!). Certain activites, such as the “Fiancee Game” might be less relevant for couples who have been together for some time. Many married couples lack the particular communication and conflict resolution skills discussed in the second section of the program, so most couples will benefit from this material. While older couples who are marrying might appreciate the theological explanation of Catholic teaching on sexuality, a couple that is past their childbearing years will likely not find material on Natural Family Planning to be relevant.

Faciliatators of the program are encouraged to customize the material for couples preparing for convalidation. One helpful tool for doing this would be the married-couple versions of the premarital assessments we recommend. For the FOCCUS, this would be the REFOCCUS. In place of the PREPARE, already-married couples would take the ENRICH. These instruments might also assist in helping the couple and the facilitator better assess the needs of civilly-married couples.

Also, besure to note the “questions for couples who are already married” and “prayer for married couples” at the end of each section in the workbook. Together in God’s Love was also designed to be a teaching tool for couples married in the Catholic Church, but these two sections might also prove useful for civilly-married couples that have long histories together.

Be sure to check in with civilly-married couples throughout the process. Find out if what they are experiencing feels relevant, and strategize with them around areas in which they feel they might need more or less.