As we started delving into last time, the annulment process is often misunderstood. It’s not “Catholic divorce,” and it’s not the years-long process that rumor says it is! The annulment process is an investigation into a marriage to determine whether the relationship is a valid, sacramental marriage or not. In our previous post, we looked at annulment versus divorce, and dug into why someone might seek an annulment. Now, let’s dig into what the annulment process looks like, what you could reasonably anticipate the role being for your life, and how to seek out help to guide you through the annulment process.
The Catholic Annulment Process
We’ve touched on this briefly in our previous post, but the annulment process isn’t like a civil divorce, which is presided over and decided upon by a judge, in court. The annulment process is more of an investigation because there are not always clear signals that point to a marriage’s nullity. In order to ascertain whether the marriage is, in fact, valid in the eyes of the Church, the marriage needs to contain all of a list of elements. If any one of those elements was not present, the marriage would be considered null. So, the annulment process actually investigates the relationship in order to determine whether all of the necessary elements were present when the vows were said.
The annulment process starts with a petition, which is submitted by one or both members of the couple seeking the annulment. You do not need to have your former spouse’s agreement to seek an annulment, though the tribunal will give them the opportunity to know everything that is going on and voice their experiences. The tribunal — which is a group of Church judges — will review the petition to determine if there is enough information to warrant an investigation. Because the initial petition plays such a big role, it’s important to have a thoroughly prepared packet. The more information that is included in that initial petition, the more it can also help the investigation proceed quickly. Once the petition has been reviewed, and assuming the tribunal feels there is cause to investigate further, they will proceed to gather and review witness testimony about the relationship before and during the marriage. This may mean letters, phone calls, or in-person testimony depending on your witnesses’ availability. In any case, the important element is for the tribunal to get a better understanding of both people and the relationship shared before and after the wedding — it’s not about exorbitant fees and getting witnesses before a judge, the way it might be in a civil court.