Contact Deacon Jim Hyland at (803) 327 5080
An annulment, or a shortened way of saying “Decree of Nullity,” is not a “Catholic divorce” but rather a declaration at the end of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding a presumed marriage, which has now ended in divorce, to see if the essential features for a true Sacramental Marriage existed at the time of the wedding. This declaration does not deny that an interpersonal relationship existed, nor does it imply that the marriage was entered into with ill will or through moral fault.
Many circumstances can undermine a person’s ability to freely give oneself in the Sacrament of Marriage. Extreme youth, familial pressure, mental illness, addiction, serious personality disorders and many other circumstances and conditions can lead to a situation in which while the marriage ritual was performed, the Sacrament did not take place.
Difference between Annulment and Divorce
Annulment and divorce are two entirely different entities. Each has a different process, grounds, focus, and consequently different effects. A civil divorce declares that a marriage did occur but, due to various external reasons the marriage is no longer a civil entity. A civil divorce is concerned with the end of a marriage. Often there is a blame attributed, such as adultery, mental cruelty, abandonment, or simple incompatibility between husband and wife after many years of marriage.
An annulment is not a Church divorce. It does not dissolve a marriage, it declares that a specific union, thought to be a marriage by all appearances, did not include, from the beginning, the proper intentions and/or capacities for a valid and sacramental marriage in God’s plan.
There are so many myths and stories surrounding the annulment process that much time is spent addressing all the misconceptions and misinformation surrounding one of the Church’s most serious endeavors, determining the sacramental validity of a marriage.
The annulment process is a detailed investigation to see whether or not a Sacramental Marriage took place. If it is concluded that it did not, the presumed Sacramental Marriage is declared “null,” never having taken place, despite the reality of a marriage in the eyes of the State. The process is somewhat lengthy and involves a series of interviews and the collection of various documents, but many people who have been through a divorce find that the annulment process brings them additional closure and healing. Each case is different and no outcome can be guaranteed.
Before a petition can be considered there must first be proof that there is no longer any hope of reconciliation between the parties. A civil Declaration of Divorce would provide such proof. One of the parties would then petition (Petitioner) for the annulment and the other would be given the opportunity to respond (Responder) to that petition. The process cannot begin unless the former spouse is notified by the Tribunal that a petition has been submitted and is given the opportunity to respond to the petition. The annulment process continues whether or not the other party (Responder) contests or cooperates in the process.
The annulment process is time-consuming and involves a lot of people who bring their own genuine emotions and prejudices into the process. There are divorced people who are angry, or bitter, or disappointed, or simply hurting from a failed marriage. There are relatives and friends who are either supportive or hostile not only to the parties but to the process itself. Some accommodate, others obstruct.
To begin the process you will need you recent Baptism Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Divorce Certificate (Decree Absolute) and contact information for you and your former spouse.
There are a number of “grounds,” on which an annulment might be granted. It is best to discuss these from the perspective of what is required for a marriage to be considered valid in the eyes of the Church. So, the Church considers that there are four characteristics that work together to make a valid marriage. They are:
- It is permanent, enduring until the death of one of the parties;
- It is open to having children, and to supporting and educating them;
- It is a faithful and exclusive relationship, and
- It is a relationship of love and trust.A Catholic Tribunal would examine how both parties in the marriage responded to these four characteristics. The Tribunal would ask:
- Did each have sufficient freedom and maturity to properly judge whether they were ready for the responsibilities of marriage with this particular person at the time the marriage began?
- Did one or the other intend to exclude one or more of these characteristics at the beginning of the marriage?
- Were the parties psychologically capable of living a marriage that would express, to an adequate degree, these four characteristics?
The annulment process involves not only the former spouses but their respective relatives, friends and acquaintances that they have asked to cooperate as witnesses in the process. Witnesses are a necessary element in the process because the investigation is concerned with the facts which led the parties to give their consent to marry. Consequently, we need to hear from witnesses who knew both parties – together or separately, during their dating, during their engagement, and, for some couples, during the early years of their marriage. As no blame is attributed to either party, no one is ever asked to testify against either party. The witnesses submit their testimony directly to the Tribunal, and may do so in person or by completing a questionnaire.
The investigation cannot be concluded unless the entire marital situation is taken into consideration. It is the Petitioner who has the responsibility of eliciting the necessary cooperation of all parties. For this reason we need the input of relatives, friends of each party who knew them during the time of the courtship, as well as the best man, maid of honor and those invited to the wedding reception, the bridal shower or bachelor party.
In order to determine if any canonical grounds for nullity exist, the petitioner must make n appointment with Deacon Jim Hyland, Saint Anne Annulment Case Assistant. He will give you the Petitioner Information Form and assist you.
Listed below are some frequently asked questions and myths about annulments. When we assist you with your individual preparation, we will also answer all the specific questions you have that pertain to your case.
While the Catholic Church believes that marriage is a life-long commitment, it is a reality that some marriages break down. At some later point, either of the two parties may wish to re-marry in the Church. A declaration of nullity would permit them to celebrate a new marriage in the Church and to continue to participate fully in its sacramental life.
Any Catholic who has separated or is divorced from his/her spouse may apply, provided that all possible means of reconciliation have been tried and failed. It sometimes occurs that a non-Catholic who is divorced now wishes to marry a Catholic. Because the Catholic Church upholds the validity of most marriages, it would be necessary for that person to have his/her earlier marriage examined by the Catholic Tribunal and to obtain a declaration of nullity so that he/she may now marry a Catholic.
Yes. Your former spouse has to be informed, because a declaration of nullity will affect them and their freedom to re-marry in the Church. It should be noted that, while a former spouse may assist in this process, their objection to the process cannot prevent it.
No. People who separate or divorce for reasonable cause are free to receive the Sacraments. This means that people who are separated or divorce, as long as they are not re-married outside the Church, can freely come to Mass and receive the Eucharist, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or ask to receive the Sacrament of the Sick in times of illness.
No. There is no way of denying that the parties were married for a period of time, during which the marriage was presumed to be valid. Children born of this marriage remain legitimate in the eyes of both Church and Civil Law.
Despite frequently circulated rumors, money is not a significant consideration in a marriage case. But as would be expected, expenses are incurred in the operation of the Tribunal. There are salaries to be paid to Tribunal staff, costs incurred by the Tribunal for mailing, stationery and telephone bills among many other factors. In order to meet those expenses, the petitioner is expected to bear portion of the costs. The actual amount always depends on the type of case. Inability to pay the entire fee has absolutely no bearing on the final decision. In case of actual hardship, documents must be provided for reduction or cancellation of fee.
False. Divorce is a function of the civil law and secular courts. It is a myth that a divorced Catholic is “excommunicated,” and not able to receive the sacraments with in the Church. This is because the Church still considers you married, even if you are no longer living with your spouse.
No. Everyone is treated fairly in Church law. A person is not given preferential treatment for being rich and famous or penalized for lacking wealth and fame. In fact, Church law prohibits any court official from taking part in a case in which there is a family relationship, close friendship, animosity, or desire to profit or avoid loss.
Yes, but don’t imagine anything like Court TV. The Tribunal is a Church court, but it is very different from a civil courtroom. Depending on the type of case, you may have tribunal advocates who assist you and there will be 1 to 3 judges involved in your case. But most of the work is usually done by you and your witnesses in writing. You do not have to appear in a courtroom. You do not have to be together with your ex-spouse. There is never an emotional courtroom scene as in television dramas.
Any divorced person has the right to request an annulment. The length of the marriage or the presence of children does not prohibit an annulment request. If a Church annulment is granted, it has NO effects on the legitimacy of your children in Church law. Don’t believe anything you may have hear to the contrary – as it simply is not true.
No. In the United States, tribunal judges are men and women. Collectively, US tribunals are comprised of judges who are husbands, religious sisters, priests, wives, single men, religious brothers, single women and deacons.
The Church cares a great deal for persons who have suffered the pain of divorce. As such tribunal personnel should treat petitioners, respondents and witnesses with great care and sensitivity. Though the annulment process is primarily a legal one, efforts are made by many tribunals to extend emotional and spiritual comfort to the parties. The tribunal also cares about your children, especially in regard to the present welfare of minor children.