If you are separated or divorced, the Church cares about you.
Psalm 147:3: He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds

Divorce has touched nearly every Catholic family in America. It is a painful process that affects every facet of human existence, a process in which many are hurt.

Among the people for whom Jesus showed special care were those who suffered from the breakdown of the marriage relationship. Separation and divorce are difficult and usually grievous losses, yet filled with potential for vibrant new growth and responsiveness to grace.

 Separated and Divorced Catholics and their children are an integral part of who we are as family. Therefore, we urge everyone involved in pastoral ministry to support, in a visible and caring way, to all those in need of healing and recovery from a separation or divorce. Divorce Recovery Ministry is important in our church today.

The ministry of the Marriage Tribunal is one part of the Church’s effort to offer healing and hope to the victims of failed marriages. The Tribunal investigates these situations to determine whether the parties in certain instances may be free to remarry.

Faithful to Catholic tradition, we maintain innate dignity of marriage and the Gospel's prohibition against arbitrary and unwarranted divorce. At the same time, we live in an imperfect society in which divorce is a common reality. In accord with Canon Law, all previously married individuals (Catholic or not) have the right to seek clarification of the canonical status of their previous marriage(s).

We hope that the information contained below will help you to become acquainted with our ministry on behalf of the Church.  

For a recent overview of annulments, read this article in American Magazine, "Reaching Out to Those Who Have Experienced 'A Failure in Love.'"



What is an annulment?

The term "annulment" is a misnomer because the Church does not undo or erase a marriage bond. Rather the Church issues declarations of nullity when it discovers that the parties were not truly joined by God and hence a full spiritual sacramental marriage as understood by the Church was not present.

Why should I get a Declaration of Nullity?

People who have received a declaration of nullity have expressed feelings of relief, wholeness and healing as a result of the process. For those who have remarried outside of the Church, a Declaration of Nullity provides the opportunity to exercise all the privileges, receive the grace the sacraments offer and re-establish a closer bond with the community. This is a process of understanding, healing, and of making the justice and compassion of God more available to the divorced person.

How can I learn about a Declaration of Nullity?

You may approach your pastor, priest/deacon or the layperson in your parish who has been trained in the process. If you encounter difficulties at your own parish, you may seek a referral directly from the Tribunal.

How long does the marriage nullity process usually take?

The length of time varies from diocese to diocese, depending on the number of pending petitions, the cooperation of involved parties and the specific circumstances.

Can anybody petition?

All have a right to petition.  Whether that petition can be granted depends on the existence of recognized grounds for nullity and proof of same.

Why do I need an annulment if I'm not Catholic?

If you're not Catholic, but plan to marry a Catholic, you might be asked to go through the annulment process. This seems odd to most non-Catholics because neither person from the first union is Catholic. Therefore, why should the Catholic Church investigate this marriage?

The Catholic Church presumes the validity of any marriage between two people who are free to marry at the time of their wedding. (They must have no previous marriages.)  Basically, if the non-Catholic religious community of either spouse recognized the marriage, so does the Catholic Church. Since marriage, as God created it, is permanent, then the Catholic Church must also investigate these marriages. Because the non-Catholic wishes to marry a Catholic, the Church's law applies to the proposed marriage, since canon law still binds the Catholic whom the non-Catholic wishes to marry.

In short, the Catholic Church believes her teachings concerning the essence and the properties of marriage bind all people, regardless of whether they are Catholic, as part of God's natural law.

Are there options for working with previous marriages other than the annulment process?

Yes.  For a person who was either Catholic or married to a Catholic, and did not marry according to the canonical form of marriage (in front of a Catholic priest or deacon with two witnesses), and if the Catholic Church's permission was not obtained for this marriage (called a "dispensation from canonical form"), then the Church could process this case as a "Lack of Form."  The Church calls this an administrative process.

In this case, the individual must prove that one of the former spouses was Catholic, that the couple attempted marriage outside of the Catholic form without first obtaining the proper dispensation, and that the marriage is now irreparable. The individual must also establish that this marriage was never subsequently convalidated (commonly, and mistakenly, referred to as "blessed" by the Church.)  Most marriage tribunals accept as sufficient proof of these circumstances the Catholic's baptismal record, a copy of the marriage license, and the couple's divorce decree. Nevertheless, depending upon particular circumstances, more evidence may be necessary.

For a person previously married to someone with a prior marriage, provided the Church had not dealt with the prior marriage, a documentary process exists.  This is called ligamen, or prior bond. In most cases, one simply documents the prior marriage of the individual with whom one attempted marriage. The local tribunal advises the couple concerning what documents they require and guides them through the process.

If one of the spouses was not baptized during the first marriage, and the lack of baptism can be proven (provided the person applying for this process did not cause the marital breakdown), then a "Privilege of the Faith" case (or "Petrine Privilege" case) can be sent to the Holy See. If the Holy See approves, the non-sacramental marriage may then be dissolved in favor of a new marriage.

If neither of the spouses was baptized during their marriage, and now one of the spouse's wishes to become baptized and marry a Catholic, provided one can prove the non-baptism of each former spouse, a Pauline Privilege is possible.  In this situation, the diocesan bishop or his lawful representative, having established the non-baptized status of both parties, allows the non-sacramental partnership to be dissolved in favor of the new marriage.  Of course, the spouse desiring baptism and the new marriage must first receive baptism.

A Basic Rule

If you are trying to determine whether you need an annulment, these explanations may be helpful.  In any case, keep in mind one basic rule as you approach the process: If either you or your intended attempted a previous marriage, be sure to tell your priest.  Before you attempt another marriage, the Church must address the previous marriage in some form or another, either by a documentary case, a privilege case, or a formal annulment process.