The Church follows Christ's teaching that marriage is a covenant that cannot be dissolved, so it does not recognize divorce as "dissolving" the previous marriage.However, the Church has a legal process for determining whether the previous marriage was valid—that is, that the couple freely gave themselves to one another in a way that brought about a valid marriage between them."If there is not sufficient awareness on the couple's part of the essential elements of Catholic teaching on the sanctity of marriage and sexual relations and of the commitment, fidelity, and permanence needed in marriage, then the marriage should be postponed until such awareness has developed" (, Diocese of Rapid City; quoted in Marriage Preparation and Cohabiting Couples).A mature awareness of the nature of sacramental marriage contributes to a couple's ability to freely consent to marriage.If the Church determines that the previous marriage was not valid, it is said to be annulled. In order to enter a valid marriage, each person must freely choose to give his or her entire self to the other, and to accept the gift of the other, irrevocably (forever).
First, both people must be capable of being married and free of any impediment (obstacle) that would prevent marriage.Some impediments to marriage include: This is not an exhaustive list.However, the sacrament of Marriage cannot be denied solely because a couple is living together.In fact, the Church has urged that pastors approach cohabiting couples with respect, charity, and patience.
Immediately before the couple consent to enter into marriage (by reciting the marriage vows), the assisting priest or deacon asks the couple three questions: If there are serious doubts about the ability of one or both persons to give their free consent to marriage "without reservation," the pastor may ask the couple to spend additional time addressing the issue; the wedding may even be delayed "for a time" until the issue is resolved (Canon 1077).
For example, cohabitation (living together) is an issue that usually receives extra attention during the marriage preparation process.