You may have heard that an annulment is just a “Catholic divorce.” Well, that’s really not accurate! If you married in the Church, you likely got an explanation during your pre-Cana education about how marriage is a covenantal union — meaning that it is a union that cannot be broken by anyone. According to Catholic marriage rules, annulment and civil divorce are two distinctly different processes with different results. Here’s what you need to know:
Divorce vs. Annulment
A civil divorce is the legal process of ending or dissolving a union in secular courts of law. During the divorce process, they acknowledge that there was a marriage, but that the relationship has ended for reasons other than the death of a spouse. At the end of the divorce process, the couple will no longer have any kind of union in a legal sense.
If you were paying attention to our introduction, you’ll know that this goes counter to the Church’s teachings about marriage. A covenantal marriage, once entered, cannot be ended. And yet, you probably know someone who was married previously and has remarried in the Church. So how does that even work? The annulment process is how the Catholic Church investigates unions and can bring them to an end (in a very broad sense). However, we say that with a heavy caveat because the annulment process doesn’t technically end or dissolve a marriage. Instead, it looks to the relationship as it was when the wedding vows were said. According to Catholic marriage rules, there are a set of circumstances that have to be met in order for a union to be a fully sacramental, unbreakable marriage. If one of those requirements didn’t exist when vows were said, the marriage is seen as not sacramental. From there, a declaration of nullity would be issued. The big difference is that an annulment says there was never a sacramental union to begin with, rather than bringing an end to a marriage.
So, Does An Annulment Count As Divorce?
You may have guessed already, given the above explanation, but no, being granted an annulment does not count legally as a divorce. More often than not, individuals seeking an annulment have already gone through the divorce process, or are going through both processes at the same time. It is possible to start with the annulment investigation and then seek a civil divorce, but your local priest or Church judge may advise that you start divorce proceedings as well.