Even with the good intentions of both partners, marriages are not always successful. This can be true even when the family is well established, and the marriage has lasted many years. Once a marriage is entered into by two people of faith—whether Catholic, Protestant, or of another non-Christian belief system—it is presumed to be a valid and binding union.
The Catholic Church has established procedures that a couple must follow when petitioning for an annulment. Primarily, a civil court must divorce a couple before they can attain an annulment.
What Is Annulment?
Annulment is the act of declaring something invalid. To annul your marriage is to declare that the marriage had no legal existence.
Who Can Apply for an Annulment
Usually, a person seeking an annulment is someone who has been married, is now divorced, and wishes to marry again in the Church. The intention to marry again is not a necessary aspect to attaining an annulment; devoted Catholics may simply prefer to have their divorce legitimized by their Parish.
Involvement of the Former Spouse
The Church requires that the former spouse is notified that the annulment process has begun and to offer them the opportunity to make a response. Your ex-spouse will be sent a letter explaining the process that was initiated. They do not have to agree to the annulment. They also can choose not to participate in the process at all.
Documents You Will Need
- A formal annulment petition through the church
- Copies of the baptismal certificates of all Catholic parties involved
- A copy of the civil marriage license
- A copy of the church marriage certificate
- A copy of the divorce decree certified or signed by the judge
Submitting Your Case
If the case begins on the Parish level, the priest, deacon, or pastoral associate will submit your request to the tribunal. If you choose, you can go straight to the tribunal and not begin at the Parish level.
You are asked to contact two or more people who are willing to help with your case. They should be people who know something about the marriage in question, especially the period right before and right after the wedding. These people usually are friends or family members. You should tell all the witnesses that they have your permission to speak freely.
When to Expect a Decision
After all the information is gathered, a judge or panel of judges will write the decision. They will decide whether or not the marriage was indeed invalid from the start. Another person who is known as the Defender of the Bond also participates. The Defender of the Bond represents the marriage itself, speaking in favor of all the facts that support the validity of the marriage. After the judge reaches a decision, both you and your ex-spouse will be notified of the decision, unless the former spouse does not wish to be notified.
There is no way to put a timeline on the process. However, it normally takes approximately 16 months. The period for a declaration of nullity depends on many factors. For instance, if the petitioner does not complete the necessary document gathering in a timely fashion, the annulment is delayed.
The cost of an annulment can vary from church to church. The average cost is around $500, with a portion due at the time the case is submitted. The rest can be paid in monthly installments. If you cannot pay the full amount, arrangements can be made through the church to settle some of the expenses. No case is turned down due to a person's inability to pay the fee.