Catholic Annulment

Even though most Catholic marriages start off with the best of intentions, there are times where the marriage breaks down. This isn’t to say that there has been wrongdoing in either part, but sometimes people have entered into a marriage, without fully understanding what’s involved, or who it is that they are truly marrying.

Marriage is meant to be a life long commitment that two people can make towards one another, and it is something that should never be entered into lightly. So what do you do if you’ve made a mistake, or the person you thought you were marrying, doesn’t turn out to be the person they were promising to be?

Here within this one simple article, you will find everything there is to know about Catholic Annulments, their procedures, and requirements, and why they are sometimes needed.

What is an Annulment?

An annulment does not remove or end the relationship or existence of two people having ever been married. An annulment addresses whether or not a marriage was ever truly valid.

A marriage that has been annulled by the Catholic Church, has been deemed to be invalid in the eyes of the Lord and Church. In no way does it appoint blame on one party over the other. In no way does it declare that the recipients of the annulment have never cared about one another, or absolve them from their obligations, religious or otherwise.

All that the declaration of an annulment confirms, is whether or not the marriage met the criteria for a Catholic wedding ceremony if the couple were able to be married, and if they understood and were to honor their vows.

A Catholic whose marriage has broken down, but has not been annulled, can not remarry according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church. With that said, should a Catholic wish to be able to remarry, they need to first have the marriage dissolved and annulled according to both the law of the land and in the eyes of the Lord and the Church.

What is the Legal Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment?

The difference between a divorce and an annulment, especially one issued by the Catholic Church, has a lot to do with whether or not a marriage needs to be recognized as still being valid after the marriage has broken down.

In other words, a divorce is the civil law recognition of the marriage being dissolved. While an annulment is the act of acknowledging that a marriage was never valid, to begin with. If the annulment is issued according to a governing body, the legal obligations for the couple, are very different from those who are just getting a divorce.

Is a Divorce Still Needed?

Divorce is a civil law, legal requirement that is needed to acknowledge the legal termination of a marriage. It is also required to help ensure that a separation is conducted as fairly as possible, and is vital for determining legal matters such as taxes, custody of children (if any), and individual entitlements and obligations, regardless of religious affiliation.

So even if a marriage was to be successfully annulled by the Catholic Church, unless the marriage has also been annulled by the government as well, a divorce may still be needed for legal reasons.

The reason for this has a lot to do with ensuring that both parties are treated as fairly as possible. Any assets or wealth that were acquired during their time together, needs to be distributed fairly. It is also needed to help protect both parties from any other legal matters that may arise later in the future.

Are All Annulments the Same?

There is a big difference between a government-issued annulment and an annulment issued by the Catholic Church. While one could be used to try and argue the case for the other, neither the government nor the Church recognizes the authority of the other when it comes to recognizing the validity of a marriage.

This is because they use different criteria for determining if a marriage could be considered valid or not. For example, a wedding ceremony that was conducted outside of the church, by someone who is not a member of the clergy, or without the expressed consent of the Church; may not be recognized by the Catholic Church as being a valid marriage, even if the couple remain together for the rest of their lives.

Yet this exact same scenario could be considered as being valid as long as the legal requirements have been met to match the secular definition of a legally binding marriage contract.

Similarly, the Church can not permit a Catholic who is a divorcee to remarry in the eyes of the Lord or Church. But most governments have no issue in approving 2nd, 3rd or 4th marriages, as long as the appropriate divorce papers have been filed, and as long as an appropriate amount of time has passed since the previous marriage.

What is the Difference Between Receiving a Catholic Annulment and a Government Issued Annulment?

What the Church believes to be the requirements for validating a marriage, is very different from that of most secular governments. This is why they have different criteria from one another for annulling a marriage.

If a government annuls a marriage, it can protect both parties from various other legal obligations. But unless the Catholic Church also agrees, the marriage will still be considered valid in the eyes of the Lord, and neither party can be permitted to be remarried by the Catholic Church.

If the Church chooses to annul a marriage, they are determining that the marriage was never valid in the eyes of the Lord, to begin with. This offers no legal protections or recourse for either party as far as most governments are concerned, as they may still need to file for a divorce to confirm the end of the marriage.

Do Annulments Make Things Complicated?

Sadly, this can be the case. Having the two different annulment processes or stances, the government vs the Church can create complications if someone wants to remarry later on in life.

Even if the Church agrees to annul the marriage themselves, this doesn’t automatically permit both parties to simply remarry someone else when they want to. If one of them refuses to sign the divorce papers, this could prevent the other person from legally remarrying according to the government.

So even though the Church or the government may be willing to grant someone a 2nd chance at happiness; unless they are both in agreement, an annulment from the Church plus an annulment or divorce from the government, a Catholic person can not be remarried.

When Did Catholic Annulments Begin?

It could be safe to assume that the Catholic Church has been practicing annulments in the beginning of Christianity. Throughout the bible, there are many references to divorce or separation equating to adultery.

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19:9

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

To the rest, I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.

1 Corinthians 7:10-13

He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.

Mark 10:11-12

Even though the bible speaks ill of divorce, the marriage nevertheless needs to be a valid marriage in the eyes of the Lord and Church. In order for a marriage to be considered valid, both the bride and groom must be suitable for marriage, be able to do so out of their own free will, while being willing to honor their vows and commitments.

But as many humans are flawed sinful creatures, the Church has come to acknowledge the need to offer a way to protect their followers from deceivers and non-believers masquerading as devout Christians.

To force, or to trick someone into marriage, is to rob them of one of the most sacred things a person could do in their life. If one person is intentionally deceitful or has no desire to honor their vows, their spouse, or the Lord at the time of their wedding; their marriage could not be considered to be lawful and valid in the eyes of the Lord nor the Church.

It is for this reason that the Church has been willing to review questionable marriages, to determine their validity for centuries.

How to Get an Annulment in the Catholic Church

To be able to request an annulment of your marriage, you need to first speak with your local parish priest. They will guide you through the process of lodging your application.

After confirming that you are serious about having your marriage annulled, and have met the criteria for justifying the annulment; the priest will forward your application on to the tribunal on your behest.

The tribunal will assess your case and determine it’s suitability before requesting any additional documentation that may be required. The tribunal may be able to determine your case in a single sitting, otherwise, they may need to pass it onto a second tribunal for further evaluation.

If your former spouse is willing to participate, it can make the process a lot smoother. The tribunal may be willing to communicate with them for you, but in either case, they do need to give your ex-partner a chance to address the reasons that have been given as grounds for an annulment.

Listen to their advice and take their decision seriously. In some cases, they may withhold judgment for a period of time. Other times their judgment may be enacted straight away.

How Long Does a Catholic Annulment Take?

How long each annulment process takes will vary case by case. Clear cut cases where it is obvious that a marriage was never valid, such as in cases of fraud or where one of the spouses was previously married, can be resolved rather quickly. Most cases can take up to 16 months to come to a conclusion, with more complicated cases taking longer.

If one party member wishes to contest the annulment, it may need to go to a second tribunal which could delay the proceedings even further.

How Much Does a Catholic Annulment Cost?

How much each an annulment is going to cost will differ from church to church, or tribunal to tribunal, country to country. On average, filing for an annulment could cost about $500.00 USD. This price may be higher or lower, depending on where you live, and how complicated your case may be.

Final Thoughts

Marriage is a sacred thing between a man and a woman, being made as one flesh by the grace of God. As such it is something you should never rush into.

Just as a marriage is not something you should be rushing into, so too is seeking an annulment. If you feel as though you have made a mistake, or that you were unaware that you were unprepared for what’s truly involved with marriage, please seek advice from your local priest or counselor.

Categories: Holy Matrimony
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View Comments (1)

  • My good friend finds herself in this situation:

    Years ago, as a Protestant she married a non-practicing Catholic man in a Protestant wedding ceremony. No approval of this marriage by the Catholic Church was ever sought.

    During the course of the marriage, her non-practicing Catholic husband converted to Protestantism. Years later, the marriage ended in a civil divorce.

    She has since converted to Roman Catholicism and wishes to marry a devout Roman Catholic man.

    Is her original terminated Protestant marriage, which had never been approved by the Catholic Church, valid in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church? Must she receive a Catholic annulment of this marriage in order to marry within the Catholic Church?

    Thank you for your consideration and any recommendations.

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