How Does Catholic Annulment Work?
An annulment, at its simplest, is an examination of marriage. Many believe that Catholic annulment is the Church’s form of divorce, but it’s more complex than that. Church teachings tell us that a marriage entered into through the Church is a contract — a covenant — between the couple and God. Because of that, it’s a life-long contract. It cannot be broken in the same way a legal contract can.
Like a legal contract, though, it is possible for a Catholic marriage to be nullified. The Church’s annulment process is considered an investigation as much as anything because it explores the marriage as a whole and seeks to discern whether the marriage contract was, at any point, missing some essential element that would cause it to be nullified. Those six elements are:
- The spouses are free to marry,
- They are capable of giving their consent to marry,
- They freely give that consent (i.e. through marriage vows),
- They have the intention to marry for life (regardless of what happens in the future), to be faithful to each other, and to be open to children
- They intend to be good to each other,
- And they give that consent freely in the presence of two witnesses and an authorized Church minister.
If the marriage is found to have been nullified, the Catholic Church will issue an annulment and both parties will be free to remarry in the Church.
While the annulment process may sound complicated, there are plenty of resources available to guide you through the process. You aren’t expected to be an expert and go it alone! Your diocese should have resources in place to help you through the process. However, not all diocese have the same resources. Whether your diocese has plenty of resources or not, the team here at Catholic Annulment – Another Chance can help you prepare for your annulment investigation and tribunal. We offer individualized help to guide you through every step of the process.
Isn’t Annulment Just Divorce?
This is not true at all! Divorce is the secular process that impacts your legal marital status in civil law. After a divorce, you and your ex-spouse are still considered to be married according to Church law — at least, until an annulment is issued. If you and your ex-spouse are divorced but have not received an annulment, Church law views your situation as if you are still married and simply living apart. That means you can still receive Holy Communion since you are considered living separately.
However, you cannot get remarried in the Church without a Catholic annulment. The previous marriage is still viewed as existing until an annulment is issued or the marriage is ended in another way. With that understanding, you can see how divorce isn’t sufficient to let you remarry in the Church. The three ways to be able to remarry in the Catholic Church are:
- An annulment issued by the Church
- The death of their spouse
- The dissolution of the marriage by Church authority
Dissolution of marriage in the Church is both similar and different to a dissolution in civil law. A Catholic annulment finds the marriage in question to be, essentially, null and void — it is viewed as having existed within civil law, but not valid according to Church law. Dissolution in the Catholic Church is closer to what we view as a “divorce” in civil law. In the case of a dissolution issued by Church authority, the marriage cannot have been consummated and has to be found to be “of great spiritual advantage” to one or both parties. As you can probably imagine, dissolutions issued by Church authority are rarer than annulments. If you seek to remarry in the Church, a Catholic annulment is almost always going to be the best process to follow.
I’m Not Catholic. Do I Need An Annulment?
If you are divorced and want to marry a Catholic, yes, you probably do. Something that tends to surprise many divorced non-Catholics is that they will likely need an annulment before they can marry a Catholic according to Church law. The Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Protestant (Christian) and Jewish marriages as well as interfaith marriages and civil marriages. This means that a marriage between two Lutherans or between a Catholic and an agnostic person are still seen as valid marriage contracts according to Catholic Church law.
What this means is that, even if you are not Catholic yourself, you may need to go through Catholic annulment proceedings if you want to marry a Catholic. Since the previous marriage is still seen as valid, Catholic annulment proceedings can provide the same nullity of marriage that would be provided to a Catholic — thus allowing you to enter into a marriage contract in the Catholic Church.
We Were Married For Several Years. Can We Get An Annulment?
This is a common question in large part because one of the qualifications for determining the validity of a marriage according to the Church is whether or not the couple had “the intention to marry for life.” The number of years you and your ex-spouse were together does not necessarily confirm or negate that qualifier. The other qualifiers may render that marriage null and void, or the investigation may find that, despite your years together, one or the other of you did not actually have “the intention to marry for life” after all. That’s why the investigation is held.
I’m Not Planning To Remarry. Do I Need An Annulment?
The desire to remarry in the Catholic Church isn’t the only reason to seek out an annulment. It is a major reason, but the process is begun for a variety of reasons. For some, going through the annulment investigation is a way to grieve and process the ended relationship. It’s also a way to tell your story, to trace back through what is a deeply emotional issue to understand what changed or went wrong and to help you accept the divorce. The Catholic annulment process can be a good way to understand yourself and to understand a complex emotional change as much as it is necessary to remarry in the Church. For some, it’s also something they undertake for their own moral and spiritual wellbeing.
For others, it’s a preparation for the nebulous future. Just because you don’t plan to remarry now does not mean you won’t in the future. Consider the age of people you might ask to act as witnesses. If you think you would like the option to remarry in the Church in the future, you may want to go through the annulment process now so that you don’t have to worry about whether any witnesses may pass away and no longer be able to provide valuable testimony.
What Is The Annulment Process?
Think of the Catholic annulment process as an investigation rather than legal proceedings. Yes, Church law is involved, but at the heart of any annulment is a group of Church leaders seeking out an answer to one standard question: “Is the marriage contract valid?” The typical process includes the following steps:
- Request for a declaration of nullity — the person asking for an annulment has to request, in writing.
- The request for an annulment will also need to include written testimony about the marriage and a list of people willing to answer questions about the marriage.
- Either the ex-spouse has to co-sign the petition or the tribunal will contact them in order to give them the opportunity to be involved.
- Either party/both parties may appoint a Church advocate to represent them before the tribunal. This representative can come from the diocese, but you may also choose other authorized representation — like the team at Catholic Annulment – Another Chance.
At this point, the tribunal will review the information submitted and decide the process needed. Those processes include: the standard judicial process, a process involving the Bishop, a documentary process, or a process that goes before a Roman court. No matter which process is needed, both parties will be able to read any testimony submitted (with the exception of material protected by civil law, like counseling records).
The annulment process is like presenting any other legal case. The time it takes for the tribunal to go through the investigation and make a determination can vary anywhere from weeks to months, or even more than a year. The tribunal and your advocate can give you better guidance on the timeline as it relates to your specific case once the proceedings have begun.
If you’ve been considering requesting an annulment, the experienced team that makes up Catholic Annulment – Another Chance can help. Whether you want to learn more about the process before you decide or you want to initiate proceedings, we are happy to help. Connect with us today to get started.
As church judges we can help you right away!
To many, the Catholic annulment process is both mysterious and daunting. You may have questions, fears, and potentially misconceptions. Have you asked yourself questions like:
- How do I file for a church annulment and what are the costs?
- How fast can I get a Catholic annulment, and what are the grounds (reasons)?
- Do I have to contact and then deal with my ex-spouse?
- Will it impact my children’s legitimacy?
- Who make good witnesses?
As active and former church judges we will answer all of your questions, as we have the knowledge that comes from decades of experience processing thousands of cases.
Our goal is to provide you with assistance that is tailored to your individual circumstances. We offer this assistance by:
- Explaining how the annulment process works
- Identifying the legal Catholic Annulment Grounds
- Focusing your materials around those grounds
- Helping you assemble the evidence and documents you will need
- Aiding you in the writing of your initial testimony
- Suggesting appropriate witnesses
- Searching for your former spouse if you don’t know their whereabouts
- Providing accurate information on where to file your annulment papers.
In particular, a church judge will help you compose your written testimony, which is crucial to a successful case. Your testimony will be reviewed by a second judge on staff to ensure you optimal accuracy in your presentation to your Tribunal.
Don’t delay your Catholic annulment proceedings. Let us help you gather the information needed, prepare your request, and begin the process. Connect with Catholic Annulment – Another Chance today to get started.