1 : the act of annulling: state of being annulled, nullification of marriage
2 : judicial pronouncement declaring a marriage invalid
Questions and Answers about the Catholic Annulment Process
Q. Who Needs An Annulment in the Catholic Church? (Civil annulments are handled by the civil courts.)
A. Anyone (Catholic or Non-Catholic) who was previously married and who wants to remarry in the Catholic church should discuss the circumstances of their former marriage with a priest to determine if an annulment or nullification of the previous marriage is necessary.
Q. What is the difference between a civil divorce or civil annulment and a Catholic Church annulment?
A. Anyone who marries in the United States must obtain a civil license to legally contract the marriage and cohabitate with all the privileges the law provides. In most cases, the civil divorce states that the above did take place, but the contract is severed and each party is free under the law to remarry. The legitimacy of children is not affected.
The Church views marriage as a covenant for life that cannot be severed. However, some marriages are entered into without the necessary maturity or full knowledge and ability to keep such a permanent commitment, or without full free will because of external pressures. Therefore, a person has the right to ask the Church to examine a previous marriage to see if it was less than what the church views as a valid marriage, a freely chosen commitment between two mature, knowledgeable and capable adults to enter a covenant of love, for life, with priority to spouse and children.
A Catholic annulment is a declaration from a diocesan Tribunal that the marriage bond was less than such a covenant for life because it was lacking something necessary from the very beginning. One or both parties may have entered the marriage with good will, but lacked the openness, honesty, maturity, fully free choice, right motivation, emotional stability, or capacity to establish a community of life and love with another person. If an annulment is granted, then both parties are free to remarry in the Church, however, for pastoral reasons, counseling may be required prior to marriage in order to prevent the parties involved from repeating mistakes. The legitimacy of the children is NOT affected in any way. There was an assumption of marriage at the time; therefore the standing of children is never affected by an annulment.
Q. I’m a divorced Catholic; can I be married in the Catholic church? Do I need a Christian marriage annulment? What are the annulment laws?
A. Although the answer depends on the specifics of your situation, if you are Catholic, or plan to marry in a Catholic church, you likely will need to have your first marriage declared null. Depending on where you were married and whether you and/or your ex-spouse were baptized, the matter might be resolved rather simply, or it might take more examination and work.
As you prepare for your upcoming second wedding, you have probably given a great deal of thought to the sacredness of marriage. It is that sacredness that the Church’s marriage policy strives to protect. But while the Church believes that a valid marriage cannot be dissolved except through death, it also recognizes that what appears to be a valid marriage is not always so.
The Roman Catholic Church considers a marriage valid when:
It is celebrated in a ceremony according to Church law;
Both parties are free to marry each other;
Each partner intends, from the beginning of the marriage, to accept God’s plan for married life as taught by the Church;
Each partner has the physical and psychological ability to live out the consent and commitment initially given to the marriage.
If any of these requirements are lacking from the beginning of the marriage, then the Tribunal, acting as the bishop’s representative, can declare that marriage invalid.
Please note that children of an annulled marriage are still considered legitimate! A civil marriage did exist and the assumption of a Catholic marriage did exist. The marriage was consummated in good will; therefore children of the marriage always remain legitimate, even if at a later time that marriage is annulled.
We urge you to contact your pastor or a Church pastoral minister and investigate whether your previous marriage might be declared null. You should also educate yourself about the annulment process, annulment law and policies.
Q: What are the grounds for annulment in the Catholic Church?
Most annulments are based on canon 1095, psychological reasons. These include a wide range of factors. Some of them may be misrepresentation or fraud (concealing the truth about capacity or desire to have children for example, or about an preexisting marriage, drug addiction, felony convictions, sexual preference or having reached the age of consent)
Refusal or inability to consummate the marriage (inability or refusal to have sex)
Bigamy, incest (being married to someone else, or close relatives)
Duress (being forced or coerced into marriage against one’s will or serious external pressure, for example a pregnancy)
Mental incapacity (considered unable to understand the nature and expectations of marriage)
Lack of knowledge or understanding of the full implications of marriage as a life-long commitment in faithfulness and love, with priority to spouse and children.
Psychological inability to live the marriage commitment as described above.
Illegal “Form of Marriage” (ceremony was not performed according to Catholic canon law)
One/both partners was under the influence of drugs, or addicted to a chemical substance.
Q. When should I apply for the annulment?
A. You can only apply after your divorce is final. Go to a parish near you and ask for the application form. A priest, deacon or pastoral staff person will assist you with the process. You do not need to be a member of the parish in order to apply for an annulment. However, you should apply within the diocese where you live, or where you were married.
Q. Can I still attend mass & receive communion if I’m divorced or wasn’t remarried in the church?
A. Every baptized Catholic —no matter what their situation or standing—is always free to attend Mass. Please don’t let questions of divorce or marital validity interfere with your regular attendance. If you are divorced and have not remarried, you may receive the Eucharist (if you are not burdened by a grave sin that requires sacramental Confession). The same applies for other sacraments. If you have remarried, you would need to have your current marriage convalidated before receiving Communion, which may involve having your first marriage declared null. If you are still in your first marriage but it took place outside the Church, should have it convalidated. Your pastor or another parish staff member can help you begin this process; please contact your parish office for more information.
Q. Can I still be a part of the Church if I am remarried without a declaration of nullity?
A. You are still a member of the Catholic faith community. You can register in your parish and raise your children Catholic. However, the choice to remarry without having received a declaration of nullity concerning one’s prior marital bond sets a person apart from the Church with regard to full sacramental participation. One cannot receive Holy Communion when one’s lifestyle is not in communion with the teachings of the Catholic faith. Still, there is grace to be gained through participation in Sunday worship, particularly in the nourishment that comes from God’s Word, the Homily, the Church’s devotional piety, coty fellowship, and other aspects of Catholic life.
Q. I am planning on re-marring my ex, we were married in a Catholic Church, how do we go about having a Christian remarriage?
A. We assume from your question that you did not receive an annulment in the Church, but only sought a civil divorce. Since the Church does not recognize the effect of civil divorce, you are still sacramentally married in the eyes of the Church . Therefore, you do not need to do anything with the Church, though civilly you must be remarried; the Church would view this period merely as a separation. However, you may want to discuss the matter with your parish priest and consider having a renewal of your vows within the Church after the civil ceremony.
Q. Does the length of the marriage count in annulments?
A. The length of the marriage does not influence the decision in any way. The only facts considered are factors that were present at the time when the vows were exchanged.
Q. Do ex-spouses have to be contacted?
Ex-spouses are contacted to protect their rights, but they do not need to consent. They are given the opportunity for input during the process. The final decision however is always based on an objective evaluation of the the facts at the time of the vows. Later events merely illustrate behavior patters that were already present in a person at the time of the marriage vows. The Tribunal understands that the very fact that an ex-spouse tries to prevent an annulment may spring from the same negative behavior patterns that destroyed the marriage, therefore no attempts need to be made by the applicant to get the ex-spouse to consent. Since an annulment also gives the ex-spouse the right to remarry in a Catholic Church, he or she will receive a copy of the annulment decree.