According to Catholic canon law there are a handful of impediments that can hold a couple back from getting married. I'm not going to try to name them all, but you can find many of them online, and in 'Finding Your Hispanic Roots' (page 195) by George R. Ryskamp. In short there are two major categories of impediments:
- Diriment - diriment impediments are not pardonable if one is discovered after a couple was married...they would actually void the marriage. This is why a pre-marriage investigation took place before a couple got married. If the impediments were discovered before the marriage, the couple could petition to the diocesan bishop for special permission to marry. The more common diriment impediments include:
- Consanguinidad - couple was blood related within the 4th degree, or a common great great grandparent.
- Afinidad - couple was related by marriage within the 4th degree
- Espiritual o Compadrazgo - couple was related by godparents within the 4th degree
Dispensas contain a lot of great information about the marrying couple and why they needed a dispensation. In my research in the Granda, Spain expedientes matrimoniales and dispensas I have seen dispensation records as long as 30 pages. The records often structured this way:
- Presentation of the marriage applicants/petition - this is usually a paragraph outlining the couple desiring to marry. Usually gives their place of birth, their parents' names (especially a minor was involved), and their intent to marry each other.
- Acceptance of the marriage petition - usually not very long, however, the parish priest accepts to investigate the impediment so the couple can marry.
- Investigator idenitfied - statement who will carry out the pre-marriage investigation. This was normally done by a local notary or the local parish priest. In the dispensas that I've used this section usually lists the questions that the investigator is going to ask the witnesses. If anyone is interested I can supply these questions...but I don't want to go too long.
- Testimony of 3 witnesses - three different individuals that know the couple getting married. They testify that they know of the impediment and outline how the couple is related (great for genealogists). These testimonies sometimes give interesting biographical data, like how long the bride or groom has lived in a particular parish, etc.
- Applicant statements - bride and groom give a statement of the facts found in the investigation
- Summary - the investigator basically sums up the findings of the investigation for the bishop. Many times this summary will include a drawing (click here for an example) that shows the bishop in one page how the couple was related.
- Dispensation - Statement/document signed by the diocesan bishop granting the couple permission to marry.