Annulments

The following body of work attempts to inform divorced individuals the process of a Catholic Annulment. It is imperative to note, that a divorce does not mean the divorced person is no longer part of the Catholic Church. Since the Church does not recognize divorce or second marriages, the divorced individual (who has not re-married outside of the Church) is encouraged to attend Mass, receive the Sacraments and participate in their parish to the fullest extent.

How does an Annulment work? The Annulment process is simply an investigation to determine whether the Marriage was a Sacrament from the very first day. The Catholic Church expects certain qualities and capabilities to be present in those getting married. These qualities and capabilities need to be present in order for the marriage to be Sacramental, and valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

A Catholic Annulment should not be confused with a legal “annulment.” A Catholic Annulment deals with the Sacramental character of the marriage and is sanctioned by the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese. A legal “annulment” deals with fraud, deception or misrepresentation by one of the individuals in the marriage and the union of both is invalidated by a petition in a civil court. Also important to note, a Catholic Annulment does not say there was never a marriage or that children born of the union are illegitimate. If an Annulment is granted,  the individual would be free to marry within the Catholic Church.

The preparation of an Annulment application requires a great deal of personal reflection. If you believe that the time is right for you, contact your parish priest to talk more about the Annulment process.

Declaration of Nullity

A declaration of nullity within the Catholic Church is a decision that a given marriage lacked  essential elements from the beginning and was therefore not a sacramental marriage. It is a judgment that one or both of the parties did not give proper consent to marriage. This judgment is reached through a full and careful inquiry into the history of the individuals and the marriage. A marriage presumed to be valid unless proved otherwise. A declaration of nullity within the Catholic Church has no effects in civil law. It does not affect in any manner the legitimacy of children.

Preliminary Investigation Form

The annulment process is most often initiated by meeting with the local priest or pastoral associate who will assist you in completing a preliminary investigation form. The completed form is then sent to the Tribunal Office and the priest who is the Presiding Judge will contact you within a couple of weeks to inform you that your case has been accepted, or that further information is required.

Interview

In some cases, you may be contacted by the Tribunal Office for a personal interview with a member of staff. The length of the interview varies in nature. Its purpose is to obtain information on which to base a decision regarding the possible nullity of your marriage. The interview will focus on your life history, that of your former spouse, your courtship, decision to marry, marriage, divorce and current circumstances. Although it is unpleasant to relive this difficult period of your life, be assured that the Church understands this and will assist you as best as it can. Your careful preparation for the interview by reviewing major factors of your life history and marriage with attention to dates will enable you to utilize the interview constructively. Look at the interview as your opportunity to present your understanding of yourself, your partner, your marriage and divorce.

Notification of Former Spouse

Your former spouse will be notified that you have filed a petition and will be offered an opportunity to testify. It is most helpful if both parties provide testimony. However, if he or she chooses not to be involved in the process, this will ordinarily not jeopardize the final decision. If at all possible, you will be expected to provide the name and address of your former spouse. If that is not possible, you will be asked to provide the most current information you have regarding his or her whereabouts, and an attempt will be made to locate the respondent.

Witnesses

Supporting witnesses are required. Usually two are sufficient. Witnesses are very important and should be selected with care. As far as possible, select witnesses who have knowledge of you, your former spouse and marriage by their personal observation. It is preferable that they knew you before the marriage and during the early years of your marriage, not only toward the end of it. It is important that they are willing to share the information they have openly, and that they express themselves clearly about what they saw, heard and known. Friends and relatives are acceptable witnesses.

Professional Reports

If you received counseling or other psychological services before, during or after your marriage, a report from the professional providing the service may be of help in understanding you and your marriage. Such reports would be be requested only with your written permission.

Decision

A decision in the Court of First Instance will be rendered as soon as possible. You will be informed of the decision, and will be offered the opportunity to review the decision, if you wish, at the Office of the Tribunal.

Appeal

All cases receiving an affirmative decision in the Court of First Instance must by law be appealed to an Appellate Court. Cases receiving a negative decision can be appealed by the petitioner. The Appellate Court must either ratify the decision of the court of the First Instance or initiate a new trial.

Length of Time Required to Complete A Case

Ordinarily a case is completed approximately nine months from the date it is accepted by the Tribunal Office. However, it may take longer if there is a delay in obtaining the necessary materials.

Fee

A standard fee is imposed for processing a formal marriage case. The fee is partial reimbursement for the cost of paying salaries and operating the office. The average case requires 24 to 40 hours of  study and processing.