At least six months before your wedding, you must contact one of the parish priests or the deacon to discuss your intention to marry in the Catholic Church. Please remember, no date or time for a wedding can be confirmed until this meeting takes place. At that meeting, the priest or deacon will conduct the required assessment to confirm your freedom to enter marriage within the Catholic Church. His questions will deal with such matters as previous marriages, age, maturity, knowledge about marriage, intentions, etc.
In order for the priest or deacon to conduct an accurate assessment, please be prepared to discuss any previous marriages. This includes those which took place before a Justice of the Peace or other civil official. Please note, generally the marriages of non-Catholics before civil officials (including Justices of the Peace) are considered valid by the Catholic Church. Thus, these parties are not free to enter marriage again in the Catholic Church without some disposition of that previous marriage (e.g. by death or through a formal process of annulment).
During the assessment process, the priest or deacon may also ask you to complete a pre-marriage inventory to assist in determining one's readiness for marriage within the Church. The assessment process may require more than one meeting. Once the priest or deacon is certain that nothing made known to him would prevent the marriage from taking place within the Catholic Church, he will sign the Initial Assessment Form, place it in the parish records and confirm the day and time of your wedding in the Parish Mass Book. It is only then that formal plans should be made.
Special Circumstances: In the course of the pre-marriage assessment, it may become apparent that a particular couple finds themselves in special circumstances. One of these circumstances is a pre-marital pregnancy. Formerly, it was assumed that a pregnancy was ample justification for marriage. Today, however, the divorce rate for such couples is so high that a pregnancy clearly indicates the need for special pastoral sensitivity. In these instances, the priest or deacon may want to meet with the parents of the couple or seek the assistance of an independent evaluation. Once again, the goal is to assist the couple in arriving at a mature decision based upon all the factors involved.
There are several other circumstances which may become apparent during the course of the initial interview. These include:
- a lack of readiness for marriage as assessed by the priest or deacon
- a lack of appreciation for the spiritual and sacramental aspects of marriage
- non-practice of the faith
- cohabitation (living together)
- the decision to permanently exclude children in a marriage
- refusal to take part in a pre-marriage program or refusal to participate in the pre-marriage assessment, evaluation or counseling
When one or more of these circumstances is encountered, the issues must be satisfactorily resolved before the an Initial Assessment Form can be signed by the priest or deacon.