You probably have a lot of questions about Catholic annulments, especially how it will affect your children’s legitimacy.
Listed below are some frequently asked questions about Catholic annulments. When we assist you with your individual annulment preparation, we will also answer all the specific questions you have that pertain to your case.
Do annulments render children illegitimate in the Church?
No. When the Church declares a marriage of parents null many people are often confused about its legal impact upon the legitimacy of the children in church law. The legal term “legitimacy” means that the child’s father is known. He is the “husband” of the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth. Before there was such a thing as DNA testing, this was the only way society could assume who was the father of the child. An annulment does not “retroactively” affect the child’s paternity. At the time of the child’s birth, the parents were legally presumed to be husband and wife. It was at that moment that the legitimacy of the child was established. Any statement or belief to the contrary–that an annulment renders a child illegitimate–is simply wrong!
Does an annulment wipe away the marriage like it never existed?
No. The Church is really declaring, in hindsight that on the wedding day specific factors prevented the bride and groom from bringing about a legally valid marriage in church law. The ceremony is not wiped away–all the guests saw it happen. The relationship of husband and wife is not wiped away –that remains the relationship between the man and woman while they lived together. The children are not wiped away–they were born in a loving union, are a blessing from our loving God and remain legitimate in church law.
Is it true it only matters whom you are or whom you know to get an annulment?
No. The name or position of the petitioner (the spouse requesting the annulment), the respondent (the other spouse) or any witness does not matter. Everyone is treated with the same procedural rights in law. No one is penalized for being well known. No one is penalized for being unknown. Everyone is treated fairly and in accord with the norm of church law. In fact, no officer of the court is permitted to take part in a case in which there is a family relationship, close friendship, animosity, or desire to profit or avoid a loss. This law exists to protect the integrity of the process and to avoid any suggestion of collusion.
Does the Church annul the marriages of Protestants and unbaptized individuals?
Yes. The Catholic Church recognizes Protestant, interfaith and civil marriages as valid in Catholic Church law. Once the Catholic Church recognizes a marriage as a valid in its law, then any question of invalidity must come before a church tribunal. These types of annulment requests normally occur when a divorced non-Catholic wishes to marry a Catholic.
So, for example, when two Lutherans marry in the Lutheran Church, the Catholic Church views that as a valid marriage in its own law. Suppose the Lutheran couple divorces, and the divorced man now wishes to marry a Catholic woman. He is not free to do so in the Catholic Church until the Catholic Church annuls his prior marriage. The same illustration also applies to unbaptized individuals. Some national estimates suggest that close to 20 % of the Catholic annulments granted in the United States are of non-Catholic marriages.