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Back to Frequently Asked Questions

Revised: September 3, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions
about reasons/grounds for

See Pope Francis changes to the annulment process here

(Note: This webpage is intended to educate the reader regarding the basic teachings of the Catholic Church on the subject of Marriage Annulments. For more information than what is contained herein, please contact your local Diocese.)

Q. 1. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, what is a marriage?

A. 1. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, the word "marriage" can only be applied when the union was created as God intended it to be, such a marriage having the minimum content that God gave it. If that minimum content is not present, than the union between the two spouses can be called whatever people want to call it, but in the eyes of the Catholic Church, it was never a marriage.

Based on the teachings of the Catholic Church, the bride and groom must consent to three essential obligations of marriage, these being permanence, exclusivity and openness to children. Several Catholic writers have added that there is a fourth essential obligation, that being an "interpersonal relationship."

"Permanence" means having the condition or quality of being permanent.

"Exclusivity" means that it is a unity that is not divided, nor shared by others.

"Openness" means possessing a truthful character, being readily accessible, not concealling one's actions or purposes, not being secretive.

"Interpersonal relationship" means being mature, lacking any psychological disorders that would make a spouse incapable of making a valid marriage promise.

Q. 2. Why are Marriage Annulments granted?

A. 2. Marriage Annulments are granted when, from its beginning, the union between the bride and the groom lacked one of the essential elements that are mentioned above.

Q. 3. What is an Annulment?

A. 3. Under church law, an annulment is a ruling that a true marriage never existed. An Annulment is usually granted for the reason that one or both parties did not have the psychological ability or maturity to understand the commitment that they were making by getting married.

Q. 4. What does it mean that a marriage is declared null?

A. 4. A marriage being declared null is not the same as a divorce. A divorce states that two people, a bride and a groom, who had been validly married, are no longer married. A declaration of nullity means that something that was necessary and indispensable for a valid marriage has not come into existence in the relationship.

Q. 5. What are the reasons needed to obtain an Annulments?

A. 5. The Catholic Church, according to the Canon Law, provides three main reasons as to why a true and valid marriage did not exist in a previous union. Those reasons are:

a. There was a lack or defect of what is called "canonical form."

All persons who have been baptized in the Catholic Church, or who have been received into the Catholic Church after their baptism in another Christian denomination, and who have not left the Catholic Church by a formal act, are bound to "canonical form." Canonical form means that the parties were married in the presence of a properly delegated priest or deacon and two witnesses, following the rites of the Catholic Church.

Therefore, if a Catholic decides to get married before a Justice of the Peace or before a Protestant Ministry without first obtaining permission (called a dispensation) from the Bishop of the Diocese, then that marriage is not valid according to the Catholic Church because of its "lack of form."

b. There was an impediment to the marriage.

An impediment exist when the circumstances of a person or a couple does not permit them to enter into certain marriages. This applies in both, Canon Law and Civil Law. An example is when a person is below the minimum legal age, that being 14 years old for a female and 16 years old for a male. The minimum age can vary from country to country and/or state to state within a country.

Another example is the marriage of very close relatives by blood or by marriage where a dispensation has not been obtained. Dispensations are not granted for a brother to marry his sister. Nor for a person to marry a deceased spouse's parent or child.

There are about a dozen impediments listed in the Canon Law.

c. There was a defect in the consent exchanged between the partners, this reason being the most widely used. Such examples are:

One of the parties did not have sufficient use of reason to be able to consent to marry. A person, such as in epileptic seizures, is incapable of the logical thought necessary to enter into marriage.

When the bride and the groom make their vows, they must freely accept and clearly understand the lifelong commitment that they are making. Marriage is not a sudden decision for the present, one that can be discarded and forgotten tomorrow.

The marriage vows must be free of pressure. A person cannot marry because one or more parents have arranged the marriage.

Nor can a boy feel obligated to marry a girl because she is pregnant and refused to have an abortion, he believing that marriage is the right thing to do under the circumstances. (This should not be understood to mean that the Catholic Church permits abortions.)

The consent of both parties must be an informed consent. There must be present an amount of assessment and weighing of the obligations, responsibilities and expectations of marriage before one consents.

Marriage resulting from love at first sight, especially when the person has never dated anyone else, can be viewed as one or both parties not having the necessary faculty to enter into a marriage agreement.

The consent of a party is questionable when the person was escaping from an unhappy home life that was marred by abuse, alcoholism, fights, quarrels, etc...

A man's consent is questionable when he was recently widowed, is still grieving, has a demanding job and is concerned with the upbringing of his children.

Some psychological problems justify the annulment of a marriage. The Church recognizes instances of psychoses such as schizophrenia or manic depression. It also asserts that conditions such as homosexuality and alcoholism often undermine the capacity for a permanent union.

There is the situation when one is psychologically unable to meet one essential criterion of marriage, the close and intimate personal relationship of mutual support and affection. Frequently, this was evident before both parties were married. But this was ignored because one party believe that he/she could "change" the other person during the marriage.

The abuse of alcohol, cannabis or other forms of abuse and violence is hardly compatible with the Church's definition of marriage as a community of life and love. Such are grounds for an Annulment.

A party setting a condition prior to the marriage that he/she does not want to have children invalidates a marriage.

A party setting a condition prior to the marriage of reserving the option of divorce if things do not work out invalidates a marriage.

A party setting a condition prior to the marriage of reserving the right to have a sexual relationship with a person or persons other than one's spouse also invalidates a marriage.

While adultery may indicate an underlying immaturity stemming from the time of the wedding, it is important to note that in and of itself, adultery is not grounds for annulment.

Participating in a marriage for the purpose of gaining resident status in a country, without intent of permanently living together in a marital union, invalidates a marriage.

An aversion to sex, such as finding it disgusting, invalidates a marriage.

The concealling of infertility or impotence are grounds to invalidate a marriage.

Hiding a previous marriage invalidates a marriage.

In January, 2007, the Vatican ruled that the overbearing influence of a mother or father, meaning the psychological autonomy needed for marriage was lacking, is another reason to invalidate a marriage. (Example: A mama's boy.)

As can be appreciated, each case is different and there are numerous grounds that can nullify a marriage.

Q. 6. What is the procedure to obtain an Annulment?

A. 6. The first step is for the person who is applying for an Annulment (the Petitioner) to approach their parish priest. After a brief discussion, the priest will refer the Petition to the priest, religious or lay person in the Diocese who is responsible for processing Annulments. That person is usually called a "Field Advocate" of the Tribunal.

Q. 7. What steps are involved in an Annulment?

A. 7. Four steps are involved in the annulment process. They are:

a. The Preliminary Investigation and Formal Testimony of the Petitioner.

This involves the first interview by the Advocate with the person applying for an Annulment. This interview provides basic information about the meaning of an Annulment and its process.

During this meeting, the Petitioner is given a Form called the "Preliminary Investigation Form" that needs to be completed at home. This Form asks basic questions about the family background of both parties, their dating and the marriage. The Petitioner is also asked to provide names of witnesses such as family member, relatives and/or friends who have personal knowledge of the Petitioner, the Respondent and their marriage. In most cases, the names of the children cannot be used as witnesses because they were not born when the parents were married. Once the Form is completed, the Petitioner returns it to the Advocate along with a copy of both, the Civil Marriage Licence and the Civil Divorce.

During the second meeting, the Advocate will conduct a session called the "Petitioner's Formal Testimony." The Petitioner will be asked to expand on his/her answers found in the Preliminary Investigation Form. These answers are given under oath and they are taped.

Once the formal testimony is completed, the Petitioner will be asked to sign three documents. They are:

i) a petition asking the Tribunal to officially start the annulment case;

ii) a mandate appointing the Advocate for his/her case; and

iii) a signed oath indicating that what the Petitioner has written in the Preliminary Form and spoken in the Formal Testimony are the truth.

The Advocate will then forward all this material to the Tribunal.

b. The Formal Investigation of the case.

Within a short period of time, the priest-judge assigned to the case will contact the Respondent. The Respondent (the other party in the marriage) will be provided with the right to give Formal Testimony regarding the marriage. This testimony could be in writing or verbally. Even if the Respondent refuses to cooperate, the annulment still proceeds because the Respondent cannot prevent the case from being heard.

The Tribunal will then contact the Petitioner's witnesses by mail, they having already given their consent to being witnesses. While the testimony of the witnesses is usually sent by mail, they may request to give it verbally. Sometimes during the formal investigation, the priest-judge may feel that he needs to talk to the Petitioner in person. In such cases the Petitioner will be asked to attend a meeting of the Tribunal.

At this time, documentation may be sought to help clarify the grounds for an annulment. Under certain circumstances, the Tribunal may appoint an expert, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist for an evaluation.

Once all testimony, documentation and evaluation have been gathered, the priest-judge closes the case. It is at this time that the Petitioner and the Respondent are given the right to review the "Acts of the case" (meaning the testimony). After this period the case proceeds to the Decision Phase.

c. The Decision Phase.

The tribunal Advocate studies all the testimony in the case. He/she then presents the reasons why the annulment should be granted. The "Defender of the Bond" (This is an official, who usually has a degree in Canon Law, and whose's duty it is to defend the marriage-bond in the procedure prescribed for the hearing of matrimonial causes which involve the validity or nullity of a marriage already contracted.) will take the position that the marriage is valid and sacramental until the opposite is proven. His responsibility is to protect the rights of the parties involved and the sacredness and indissolubility of the marriage.

Once the legal briefs of the Advocate and the Defender of the Bond have been presented, the priest-judge makes his determination as to the validity or invalidity of the marriage.

He then issues his formal sentence or decision. In his sentence, restrictions may be placed on one or both parties. Premarriage preparation is one restriction, but in the case where more serious problems arise (such as alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, infidelity, etc...) professional counselling may be ordered prior to any remarriage in the Church. The presiding cleric working with the Petitioner or the Respondent consults the Tribunal concerning the restrictions.

d. The Appeal/Ratification Process.

If the Tribunal issues an affirmative sentence (meaning being in favor of nullity), the matter is referred to the Tribunal of the Archdiocese for a review. This review is mandated by Canon Law. Once this review (appeal/ratification process) is completed, the presiding judge of the Tribunal will notify the parties of the final decision.

Contrary to what some believe, not every case goes to Rome.

Q. 8. How much does it cost to process an Annulment?

A. 8. The cost for the processing an Annulment varies from Diocese to Diocese. It can be as low as $300.00 and as high as $2,000.00, all depending on the complexity of the case. Usually the cost only covers part of the process. This money does not go to the priest or staff personally. It goes into the Diocesan funds to help defray the expense of Annulment proceedings.

No one is ever denied an Annulment process because of his/her inability to pay the court expenses. In such cases, the cost can be reduced or waived when the Petitioner states his/her reasons for declaring financial hardship. As a general rule, most persons can easily pay as little as $10.00 per month over a number of years. The payment schedule is worked out with the Tribunal.

It should be noted that an Annulment cannot be bought. The payment of the cost does not guarantee that the Petitioner will be successful in his/her application.

Q. 9. How long does it take to process an Annulment?

A. 9. The complete process of an Annulment, without the involvement of an appeal, can easily take two years.

Q. 10. Should a person start planning their next marriage during the process of an Annulment?

A. 10. The Petitioner is asked not to plan a date for his/her future marriage in the Catholic Church until such time as the Annulment process is completed. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the length of the Annulment process is unknown until it is completed. Secondly, if the Petitioner does not receive a favorable answer, he/she will not be able to remarry in the Catholic Church.

Q. 11. Do spouses have certain obligations that are mandatory before they can apply for an Annulment?

A. 11. When children are involved in the separation of the parent, the Tribunal insist that all obligations of the civil divorce be followed and one should not approach the Tribunal seeking justice from the Church when one is not being just with his/her civil obligations to the family (such as paying child support as outlined by the civil court).

The Catholic Church does not permit a person to remarry in the Church without an annulment and the fulfillment of "the natural obligations (children) of a previous union" [Catechism: # 1629, Canon Law: Code 1071, #1, 3]. If there is doubt concerning the future, the Catholic Church will insist on a solemn written promise in this regard from both parties to the new marriage.

Q. 12. Is there an Appeal process over and above the Appeal that has already been mentioned above?

A. 12. When a Petitioner disagrees with the decision of the Tribunal, he/she can appeal to the Appellate Tribunal of the Archdiocese or to the Roman Rota, the Appellate Tribunal in Rome.

Q. 13. What if an Annulment is not granted? Then what?

A. 13. When an Annulment is not granted, the following shall apply to both parties:

i) Both parties cannot remarry in the Catholic Church;

ii) Should they remarry outside the Catholic Church without an Annulment, they will no longer be able to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Because of the lack of an Annulment, their relationship (new marriage) shall be viewed as an adulteress affair.

iii) If the parties, although Divorced, do not remarry and live a celibate life (not being sexually involved with someone else), they qualify to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

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