Marriage Preparation – Civil and Church Requirements

1. Introduction

A man and a woman make a serious and sacred commitment when they decide to marry in the Catholic Church. Marriage is a permanent commitment to a way of Christian life; it requires serious discernment, prayer, and preparation.

2. The Sacrament of Marriage

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1601)

In the Latin Rite the celebration of marriage between two Catholics normally takes place during Mass because of the connection of all the sacraments with the death and resurrection of Christ. The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptised man and woman who are free to contract marriage, and who freely express their consent. The Church holds “the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that ‘makes the marriage’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1626). If there is no true consent, there is no marriage.


3. Initial Contact with the Church

A couple who are either UK or EU citizens wishing to marry should contact their parish priest at least six months prior to the anticipated date of the wedding.

4. Initial Contact with the Civil Authorities

You need to give notice with the Register Office at least 16 working days (three weeks plus one day) before the ceremony. Priests and Deacons can be authorised to register marriages but if the official performing the ceremony is not authorised, either a Registrar must attend the religious ceremony.

5. Foreign nationals

You and your partner must go to a designated register office if either of you are not from the European Economic Area (EAA) or Switzerland, and are subject to immigration control.

The process is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You will need to apply for one of the following if you are not already in the UK:

  • a visa to come here as a fiancé(e) if your partner is a British citizen or settled in the UK and you intend to remain in the UK
  • an EEA Family Permit if you are from outside the EEA and the person you are marrying is from the EEA or Switzerland but not the UK
  • a Marriage Visitor Visa if you and your partner are from outside the EEA or Switzerland, you want to come to the UK to get married and you and your partner intend to leave the country within 6 months
  • You must get married within 1 year, or 3 months if you are in Scotland.

6. Documents required by the Register Office

When you go to the register office, you need to take proof of your name, age and nationality, e.g. your:

  • passport
  • birth certificate
  • driving licence
  • national identity card
  • immigration status document

You should bring at least 2 of these.

The registrar also needs something with your address on it, e.g. our driving licence or one of the following dated within the last 3 months:

  • gas, water or electricity bil
  • bank statement
  • Council Tax bill

You might need other documents if you don’t have a valid passport and you were born after 1983 – check with the register office.

You each need to pay a £35 fee when you attend the register office to give notice.

7. Civil Regulations for the divorced or widowed

If you have been married or in a civil partnership before, you need to take either:

  • a decree absolute or final order
  • the death certificate of your former partner

A foreign divorce will usually be recognised in England and Wales if it was valid in the country where it took place.

The registrar will check your overseas divorce documents and may have to get in touch with the General Register Office to confirm whether your marriage can go ahead.

8. Documents required by the Church

When you go to the Parish Priest or one of the clergy, you will need to take:

  • a recently issued Baptism Certificate (a copy of the original entry in the Baptism
  • Register but dated within 6 months of the planned date of the marriage)
  • a Letter of Freedom from the Parish where you were baptised
  • if your partner is not a Catholic, a letter from a parent stating that he/she has never been married before will suffice

9. Church Regulations for the divorced or widowed

If you have been married and divorced you will need to provide the Church with:

  • a copy of the Decree of Annulment for the first marriage from the appropriate
  • diocesan marriage tribunal or
  • the death certificate of your former partner

10. Marriage Preparation

If the couple are living in the Diocese of East Anglia they will be required to attend the Mandatory Marriage Preparation Course which is used throughout the Diocese. The course, usually of four sessions locally and a fifth session more regionally, will cover all the aspects of married life as a Sacrament and the Church’s teaching. At the conclusion of the course the couple will be issued with a Certificate verifying that they have fulfilled the requirement.

Couples who are planning to marry outside the Diocese are included in this prescription and they will need, in addition to the ordinary paperwork which they will present, the authorisation from their Parish Priest for the marriage to take place outside the parish.

Marriage papers and the Certificate of Marriage Preparation will be sent to The Chancellor of the Diocese for his NIHIL OBSTAT (no objection) and he, in turn, will be in contact with the couple, usually through their parish priest, to arrange the safest and quickest means of conveying the documentation to the Diocese where they couple intend to marry.

11. Process

Your marriage is an important part of your life and growth as a follower of Jesus. Your priest will help you reflect on your understanding of Christian marriage, so that you can enter into this commitment to God and to each other well prepared. The process begins with an initial interview with your priest, and addresses your faith experience, your relationship as a couple, and your understanding of Christian marriage. There are documents to be assembled and some pre-nuptial papers to be completed (see above).

12. Special Circumstances

Some couples have special circumstances and will need further assistance in planning a marriage in the Church. Please discuss with your priest if:

  • Either or both of you have been married before
  • Either of you are in, or have been in, a common-law union
  • Are now civilly married (to each other) and wish to have your marriage blessed (Convalidated) in the Catholic Church
  • You are presently living together
  • Either you or your fiancé(e) is a teenager
  • A pregnancy is involved
  • One of you practise another faith or does not follow any particular faith.

13. Place of the Wedding

The wedding of two Catholics is a Sacrament and takes place in the parish church of either the bride or groom.

To be married in another parish, it is required that permission be received from the parish in which you wish to be married, as well as from either of the parishes where you reside.
A wedding in which only one of you is Catholic takes place in the parish of the Catholic party.

The celebration of marriage is an act of worship and a Sacrament for two baptised Christians. Hence, the church building, the house of God and home of His people, is the proper place for weddings. Gardens, secular “wedding chapels”, or other settings outside a church are not appropriate.

14. When the Celebrant is a Visiting Priest

If a priest other than one of those assigned to the parish where your wedding will take place is to witness the exchange of vows, he must receive permission from the parish priest of the parish in order to officiate at the ceremony if he is already exercising his ministry within the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

In addition, a priest from outside the Bishops Conference of England and Wales will require permission from the Bishop of East Anglia. The visiting priest will be required to contact the Curia Offices of East Anglia in good time before the marriage in order that all the necessary checks and paperwork are completed that will allow him to function as a priest in this Diocese.

You should discuss this with your priest at the beginning of your preparation.

15. Celebration of the Sacraments

The Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist should be a vital part of every Catholic’s growth as a disciple of Christ. These Sacraments will prepare you for a more meaningful experience of your wedding liturgy and deepen your relationship with Jesus as the foundation of your married life.

Every Catholic should complete his or her initiation into the Faith by receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. If you have not been confirmed, the time of your preparation for marriage can be an opportunity to prepare for Confirmation also. Your priest will be able to assist you if necessary.

16. Planning the Wedding Liturgy

Your priest will help you plan your wedding liturgy which may be celebrated with/without the Mass according to particular circumstances. The care you put into the choice of Scripture readings and music will help make your liturgy a meaningful expression of you as a couple.

Please remember that the wedding is to take place in the context of the worship of the Church. The Church has a wealth of inspired readings from Holy Scripture and a treasury of sacred music. Secular music or readings are not permitted even if they might have quasi-religious overtones.

Your parish priest will inform you of any additional requirements that are particular to your parish.