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Our readers asked:

Can we keep our civil marriage a secret from our priest and then get married in the church?
My husband and I got married in a civil ceremony. We always knew we were going to do it in a Catholic ceremony though. Nobody knows but us. We already have a marriage license obviously, what sort of certificate does the priest need to sign? We dont want him to know either....is there any way to keep it a secret and pretend we were never married through the courts?

Fr. Joe Answers:

Thank you for sending your question to “Ask Fr. Joe.”

First of all, let me say that there will be no problem with your getting your married “validated” in the Catholic Church. I’m assuming that neither of you has been married before in a valid Catholic marriage so no annulment would be necessary.

Catholics who marry in a civil ceremony need only to get their marriage con-valided, that is, to exchange your vows in the presence of a priest or deacon. You are already married civilly so you can only get one marriage license. It will be necessary for you to produce a certificate of your marriage in order to get married in the Church so there is no way you can keep this secret from the officiating Catholic minister. All of that would be confidential. The priest or deacon will have to sign the church certificate. He cannot perform a marriage unless he knows you have a civil license or certificate indicating that you were married legally(civilly).

One alternative would be to go to a priest somewhere other than your parish and explain why you don’t want the local priest to know and ask him to set in motion what is needed for you to get married in the church. I’m not sure why you want all of this to be secret. Whatever priest you contact would maintain confidentiality and no one need know what you have previously done. The only documents the church needs in this situation is your married certficate indicating you were married civilly. The priest or deacon will have you fill out the necessary paperwork which is required of all persons getting married in the Church. It’s not complicated.

Good luck to you both.
Fr. George Fitzgerald, CSP – filling in for Fr. Joe.

The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Nicole Alaine Brewer

    why would you want to keep a secret from your church? thats a sin…

    • Daniel Prays

      Hi Nicole, I don’t know any more than anyone else here does about the particulars of this situation. However, people usually keep secrets at church because they fear being judged. Ahem.

      • Lena Parent

        I see what you did there…

  • Reza

    I appreciate anyone who may have a direct answer to this assue:
    I married in Iran many years ago and when we came to the US, our marriage certificate was translated so it would be official to the US law. The US law honors most foreign marriage, Many years later we went through series of probelms which lead as to separate and proceed with divorce. Our American divorce is finalized, but one side is not willing to finalize the Iranian (Islamic) marriage. I also know that California law permits secret marraige. My question is: “Can I marry secretly with my boyfriend while my X will never finds about it?”. Is it any preprequisition for getting married secretly? For example should I declare that I am not legally married to anyone before we can go through this process?. Is there any ways that my X can find out?.

  • Vanessa

    Soo if yu get married by the civil first yu cant married by church or how is that??…and a other thing my partner got married by the church (but not with me)and he wants to get married by the civil can we do that?(but he stil married to the other person..)

  • zlayah

    hi i want to marry my girlfriend. Put dont want to tel anyone im pakistani and if i tel my family they wil kil me i was married befor family got me married in pakistan when i was 17 years old. How do i get married with out anyone knowing? Plz help me

  • Alli

    It seems many of us are in similar hard places! We choose to get married in “secret” civilly (except both of our parents knew and supported our decision) when we found out we were pregnant. Instead of rushing a trip down the aisle, we choose civil for insurance reasons etc with the full intention of a full out “big bash” wedding in June 2012. I’m am confused though because when we spoke with our deacon today, he told me I could not have my big wedding- he said a validation is only the priest, couple and 2 witnesses. This took the wind out of my sails big time and it is all I can do to not freak out!! However, I am reading on this forum that you can have a big wedding still despite the civil marriage. I understand it will really be called a validation, but why would he tell me I can not have the white dress, bridesmaids/groomsmen flower girls etc?

  • Jennifer

    One you should not hide your first marraige, it’s like lying and you don’t want that…it’s a sin. Your church will be very understanding, my husband and I are legally married but now going to be married in the church, our pastor is doing a great job in helping us with our steps and very proud of telling him. Have trust in your church, God is there to support you.

  • Susan

    I am in the same situation as Carlene and you. I am engaged to a man in the army (he is in Kentucky and I’m in New Jersey). He will be moving to Oklahoma in January and we are planning a wedding for June 2012. However, if we were to get married now, it would be a huge help financially, plus, the military could pay for my moving expenses, his base pay increases, housing money increases, etc. Everyone in his family is on board with the wedding; in my family, everyone is on board except my dad. I plan on moving out to OK next year, but we want to get married in a civil ceremony without telling our parents. UGH! This is hard. What are your thoughts?

  • ladyduke

    Calene. I am in the same situation now as you were in a year a a half ago… what did you end up doing? We have been trying to figure everything out for months and nothing seems to be a good answer.

  • Terri Lopez

    You will also need your sacraments to get married through the church. My husban and i recently tried and we both were babtized and did our 1st communion but not the confermation so we had to go to class for a year before we could get married to get our confermation so my husband sd no he dsnt like school or class. I have not given up I am stil ltrying to talk him in to it

  • maryd

    several of my friends and a cousin have had their weddings and receptions about a year apart.
    you could have a small, church wedding (just the best man, maid of honor, the 2 of you, the priest, and God). now, you’ll be married both civilly and sacramentally.
    when you’re ready, send out invitations to your big bash. you might renew your vows at a ceremony on the grounds where the wedding reception is to be held. you’ll probably enjoy the party more than a bride and groom do on their actual wedding day.
    MEANWHILE …. I caution you that if you think your families will see your wedding as something that should wait, give some thought and prayer to that. they may be right.

  • cathyf

    An interesting coincidence. 2-1/2 weeks ago, my neighbor’s fiance got a job 1000 miles away. They decided that they could not afford to move separately without her having a job, too, and that they would not live together without being married. So they got married. Two hours ago, in fact. And they are leaving tomorrow morning in the rental truck, and he has to be at work on Monday. Everyone in their families is thrilled that these two put more stock in their moral beliefs than the wedding industry’s norms of having an elaborate wedding with months/years of planning.

    My husband and I started dating right after he had accepted a 2-year fellowship in Europe. He left 6 months later. After a year, he came back and proposed, and we set our wedding date for a year later. He was on another continent until 5 weeks before the he wedding. So I feel your pain!

    But a big difference was that no one was shooting at my husband — if, God forbid, anything happens to him, you want to be his next-of-kin, and as “just the girlfriend” you won’t have that. A lot of this is about stepping up to the plate and being an adult. When you marry, you make a life-long commitment to carry these burdens for each other, and you get the legal, cultural and family support to carry out your promises. Keeping secrets deprives you of those structures.

  • Carlene


    I wish it were that easy. I would LOVE to include both of our families. I just know that both sides would feel we are rushing it and wouldn’t be happy. We would get nothing but negativity. And I don’t want that. I want to be happy with him and when we are husband and wife to only have positive thoughts. I don’t want us to have to not only deal with our lives (military separation, etc) but also our parents being unhappy about our decision. I’m afraid I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m wrong if I do and wrong if I don’t. :/

    I’m not really sure what we should do. I feel like I have to choose between making mine and my fiance’s lives a little easier but having the stress of dealing with unhappy parents – or making things difficult for me and my fiance so our parents aren’t unhappy. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the circumstances) both of us care deeply what our parents think and we hate disappointing them. Which is why we were thinking about keeping it a secret and then telling them a few years later, when it wouldn’t matter anymore. I know it seems wrong, but I’m at a loss. Any suggestions??? :(

  • cathyf

    In many countries the civil and religious weddings are completely separate ceremonies. (In England, for example, only an Anglican wedding is both religious and civil — everyone else goes to the registrar’s office first, and then to the church or other house of worship.)

    Carlene, I would recommend that you NOT keep this a secret from your families. Instead, make arrangements for a small private civil ceremony, and just have whomever of your closest friends and family can come. Then in 22 months have the big wedding and party. Trust me — you’ll hurt a lot of people’s feelings if you exclude them from the fact that you are married.

    Everyone will understand — you are dealing under special circumstances. And anyway, as my husband and I tell brides and grooms, it’s about being married not getting married — and being married is wonderful!

  • Carlene

    My question is similar to JJ’s. My fiance is in the military and not being married is making life extremely difficult. It would be much easier if we were married. (Pre-deployment/access to base/health insurance/etc) We want to get married in the Catholic church and we want a big beautiful wedding. Yet, because of training and deployment, we can’t have that wedding for another 22 months, which is fine. We know we love each other and we know we want to make our commitment known to God. During that time though, not being married is causing problems. We were thinking about getting a civil marriage certificate but we don’t want anyone to know. If we go to a priest a year later would he be willing to perform the ceremony as he normally would, so our families won’t know about the previous marriage certificate. We aren’t concerned with the priest knowing the truth, just our families.

    Thank you

  • Mike Hayes


    I’m not sure what you are asking here about “exceptions” and military service. If you are asking if you can get married after a quickie civil ceremony because of a pre-deployment because of military services then the marriage can indeed be convalidated but only after going through the same marriage preparation course that everyone else goes through–especially if the marriage was entered into hastily.

    Please let us know what you are asking and we would be glad to help you. Thanks, MH

  • jj

    Anyone have any experience with exceptions such as a spouse’s involvement in the military? Pre- deployment? Access to base? etc?

  • UkrainianGirls

    I think that it is a very interesting and amusing article. Practically all its main points are true.

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