Question from Martin McDonald on 3/17/2008:
According to Church law, is a non-Catholic man/woman who was previously married in a registry office but is now legally divorced from their spouse who is alive, free to marry an unmarried Catholic man/woman? In other words, is a registry office "marriage" considered unbreakable in the sense that a Catholic sacramental marriage is? Thankyou so much for your response!
Answer by Fr. John Echert on 3/17/2008:
Since the Catholic Church does not exercise legal oversight over the marriages of non-Catholics but accepts their marriages as valid and binding, the short answer is that a non-Catholic with a previous marriage must be assumed to still be obliged to the vows of that marriage, even if there has been a civil divorce granted. If there are circumstances that would have rendered the marriage in question invalid--such as a previous marriage by one of the two--that is another matter. But the bottom line is the Catholic Church presumes all marriages of non-Catholics as binding, unless there is evidence to the contrary that has been established and formal declaration or determination made.