The annulment process can seem daunting, particularly when you don’t know what to expect. This is why Catholic Annulment - Another Chance is here to help. Going through an annulment can be a very emotional time, in part because you may not know how to prepare or what may come. The process is unlike civil divorce proceedings because an annulment does not end a marriage, it actually looks at the moment the vows were said to see if all of the elements for a true sacramental marriage were evident. Likewise, there isn’t a single judge that presides over the case, the way there is during a civil divorce. If you are preparing to go through the Catholic annulment process yourself, here is what you need to know about how the annulment process works, and how it differs from the civil divorce process:
Filing for Annulment - Getting Started
In a civil divorce, one person can initiate proceedings, or the couple can submit the legal request together. This starts a legal progression that provides a certain level of guidance for what to do next. That’s not exactly how the annulment process goes. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, all marriages are considered valid until they are proven otherwise, so the first step is to prepare a strong packet of information that provides enough reasonable doubt that one of the elements needed for a true sacramental marriage was not present when the vows were said. Sure, that may sound complicated, but what this is really asking for is a letter explaining why you are seeking an annulment, as well as an explanation of the circumstances of your relationship. In this initial packet of information, you should be as thorough as possible, and even include explanations from close family and friends who can speak to both sides of the relationship. Basically, the more information you can provide about the marriage and your relationship with your spouse, the better.
When it comes to filing for annulment, both spouses do not need to participate. It is possible to go through the entire process without your spouse contributing — something that is generally impossible with civil divorce proceedings. If the petition for annulment proceedings is accepted, a tribunal will be formed. This group of Church-appointed judges will review the request, looking for more information about whether there may have been something missing from the necessary elements for a sacramental marriage. According to the Church’s teachings, marriage is for life. Nothing can end a valid, sacramental marriage. This is the big way that annulments differ from a civil divorce. Where a divorce brings about a legal end to a marriage, an annulment simply investigates whether all of the necessary elements for a true, sacramental marriage were present when the vows were said. If all of the elements were present, the marriage is considered valid; if not, it is seen as invalid from the very inception — so it’s not ending a marriage so much as demonstrating that there was never a true marriage to begin with.
During the annulment process, your former spouse will be contacted and given the chance to respond. However, unlike with most civil divorce proceedings, the process does not depend on both parties participating. The tribunal reviewing your petition will contact them, so you do not need to, and if they do not respond, it will not stop the annulment investigation.