What to Know About Pope Francis’ Changes to the Annulment Process

There is a pervasive myth about the Catholic annulment process, which is that an annulment can take several months, or even years from starting the process until a decision is made. While the time limit is often exaggerated, it’s true that the Catholic annulment process can feel prohibitively lengthy to some. Fortunately, Pope Francis has made some changes to the annulment process which are intended to make it more accessible to anyone who is interested in going through the Catholic marital investigation.

A Brief Note on Annulments

For anyone who is entirely new to the Catholic annulment process, it’s important to understand that annulment is not just “Catholic divorce.” An annulment is the process of investigating whether a marriage was complete at the time the vows were spoken, and thus a sacramental marriage or not. The process is considered an investigation into the marriage, rather than a court case or something of the like. During the annulment process, the Church tribunal will go over your own account of the relationship, along with accounts from witnesses who have been close to you and your ex-spouse through the relationship.

The idea behind an annulment investigation is to determine whether all of the necessary elements for a sacramental marriage were, indeed, present at the time vows were spoken. As you may imagine, this is a big question to answer; the level of due diligence needed is why the Catholic annulment process has gained a reputation for taking so long.

Recent Changes to the Annulment Process

Back during the fall of 2015, the Vatican, on behalf of Pope Francis, announced “sweeping revisions” to the Catholic annulment process. The overall aim of the changes is to make the annulment process less complex and less lengthy. In order to do this, the process will change in a few key ways:

  • The annulment process should be more accessible.
  • Annulments should not require heavy fees.
  • Annulments will only need one judge now (instead of the previous two-tribunal process).
  • Bishops are now the principal judge for their diocese, and can be assisted by others whom they choose.
  • A third, briefer judgment process has been created involving the bishop, to serve as a sort of middle option between the formal and documentary processes.
  • Appeals can now go to the metropolitan bishop (or the senior suffragan bishop) in order to provide checks on each bishop’s judgment.

All of these changes are designed to ensure that the annulment investigation is followed through to completion, as is necessary, but to help cut down the wait time as much as is possible. In many cases where certain elements are evident — things like entering a marriage for non-marriage life reasons (like immigration), or the purposeful concealment of infertility — the annulment can go through the new, shorter process and a judgment can be made much faster.

What Isn’t Changing

In terms of what stays the same, the broad answer is that the process itself is still the same. The individual seeking the annulment will still need to gather witness testimony and other evidence about the relationship. And, of course, all annulment requests will still need to go before a Church tribunal for investigation. As was the case before these reforms, the annulment process typically asks applicants for fees to help pay for the tribunal’s expenses, though it is possible to get an annulment even if you cannot afford to pay.

Getting Annulment Help

There is no need to go through the annulment process on your own. The compassionate, experienced team here at Catholic Annulment - Another Chance is here to provide guidance and support as you begin the annulment investigation process. Connect with us today to learn more.