"...an official determination by an ecclesiastical tribunal that what appeared to be, from one or more points of view, a valid marriage, was actually not one." --100 Answers to Your Questions on Annulments

This, of course, is the Catholic point of view. If you aren't Catholic, it is not going to make a lot of sense to you, and no one should expect it to. You are likely to think this whole concept hypocritical.

However, from a Catholic's point of view, annulments make perfect sense. You see, in everyone's mind, there are many aspects to a marriage, and in the mind of a Catholic, there is the sacramental aspect. This aspect requires that both the man and the woman have the capacity for marriage and are able to give sufficient consent, and (if at least one party is Catholic), that the Catholic Church's rules are followed (called canonical form). An annulment, in the Catholic sense, means that the sacramental aspect was not present.

What does this mean practically? Well, first of all, there are no guarantees. But in general, annulments might be in order for the following cases:

  • A man and woman get married only because she gets pregnant.
  • A man gets married only to get a woman's money (she is about to die or something).
  • One of the partners has a serious mental illness.
  • A woman gets married to a man who has lied to her about something important, such as his long criminal past.
Here are some other random facts:
  • An annulment does not take a long time (usually about a year).
  • Of about 80,000 annual annulments worldwide, 50,000 of them are from America
  • A person does not have to have a lot of money for an annulment (if you can't afford the processing fees, they will be covered).
  • People with children can get an annulment (my ex had three children from her 1st husband and she received an annulment). This does not make the children "illegitimate".
  • Just because one of the partners has an affair, that does not automatically make them eligible to get an annulment.
A careful process is involved in an annulment, and it is all regulated by Canon Law. The petitioner requests the annulment and the other party is called the respondent. They each have to fill out a questionnaire and can call witnesses. There are many good books on annulments, two that I am familiar with are:
  • 100 Answers to Your Questions on Annulments, by Edward N. Peters, J.D., J.C.D.
  • Annulment: Do you have a case?, by Terence E. Tierney.

Just to add to sgs fine w/u…

Here’s the dilemma. You’ve been a “good “Catholic all your life and wish to remain that way but your stuck in a bad marriage. For reasons that escape me, the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize divorce as a means to end your misery yet does offer a solution. That solution is called an annulment. That being said…

How do I get one?

Well first of all you have to have some reason or grounds for the Church to annul your marriage. The list is practically endless but in essence your reason must correspond to these general questions.

1) Was your marriage ceremony legal in the eyes of the Church to begin with? (Now, I don’t know what constitutes a “legal marriage” in the eyes of the church but I’m sure there must be some criteria they adhere to.)

2) Were each of you free to marry each other? (I’m guessing that this is meant to include such practices as arranged marriages and shotgun weddings in the annulment process.)

3) Were both of you adequately prepared to understand, accept and fulfill the rights and obligations of marriage? (In the eyes of this former divorced Catholic, a rather broad question indeed)

4) Did the loving couple intend to accept and fulfill something the Church calls the “divine plan for marriage”? (I’ve seen many a couple stick through some terrible marriages and pay some terrible prices. If the “divine plan” calls for suffering, then I guess they achieved it.)

5) Was your union physically consummated after the wedding? (No explanation required)

6) Last but not least, were both of you baptized Christians either before or during your marriage?

Congratulations, if you were able to answer “no” to one or more of the above questions, the Church might consider you a candidate for an annulment. But guess what?

You still gotta prove it

Yup. While the Church will rely heavily upon your word since it assumes that no one would know better than you about all of your intimate details, you still have to come up with more than that. Witnesses in the form of relatives and friends may be called upon to provide some testimony as to the validity of your case. Been through marriage counseling? Good, your counselor might be able to bear witness. Ever been to a psychiatrist? Another plus, since they might also be able to help. Just be aware though that any medical professional, whether it be physical or mental, must require a release signed by the person about whom they are providing the information. Ergo, if your marriage counselor has disparaging things to say about your spouse, he or she must authorize the release of said information.

Ok. Lets assume that you’ve got your grounds and you’ve got your witnesses. The next thing you need to do is…

Petition the Church

It seems that each Church or diocese has a special tribunal that is set up to handle such matters. You should contact your local church to find out what they require in their petition but in general it should include the following:

A description of your and your spouses childhood and home life. Note: Bonus points awarded for instances of alcoholism and/or chemical addiction in your family history!

A description of how the two of you met in the first place and what it was like when you were dating.

A description of how the two of you decided to get married.

A description of the way you communicated throughout your marriage and how conflicts were resolved.

A description of the problems you are encountering and when they first began.

A description of how the two of you attempted to resolve your problems, ie, counseling.

A description of your role in the marriage such as mother/father, husband/wife

In addition, you need to include the following documents:

Your and your spouses Baptismal certificate
Your marriage certificate
The current address of what hopefully will be your former spouse.
And a filing fee, usually about one fifth of the total cost.

It’s decision time

Depending on the nature of your petition, your case might be decided by the local tribunal or the Bishop of your diocese. In extremely rare cases, it might be kicked all the way to Rome where the head honcho, the Pope himself will decide your case.

Should you received an “affirmative” verdict, you will receive something called a Declaration of Nullity.

Basically, the declaration will state that the marriage was never valid according to canon law in the first place and therefore not binding at the time the two of you traded your wedding vows. It does not intend to state that the marriage never took place but rather that certain conditions existed before the ceremony that precluded the marriage being recognized in the eyes of the Church.

Some final thoughts…

Remember, the both of you are still liable for any decisions made by the civil courts regarding such things as child support, alimony, division of property and all of the other pleasantries associated with divorce proceedings.

If your planning to re-marry within the Catholic Church, you may not set your new wedding date before you receive your Declaration of Nullity.

You can now feel free to roam about the cabin secure in the knowledge that you are still a law abiding Catholic and have not violated the sacrament of marriage.

An*nul"ment (#), n. [Cf. F. annulement.]

The act of annulling; abolition; invalidation.


© Webster 1913.

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