Annulment Process for the Divorced
What is an Annulment?
Is it ever possible to enter a second marriage in the Catholic Church? If a Catholic spouse did not follow the Canonical Form of marriage (married before a priest or deacon and two witnesses), then a relatively simple process can be used in order to receive a Declaration of Nullity based on a lack of Canonical Form. But, if proper Canonical Form was observed, or if it was not required—for members of other faith traditions, for example, or because a dispensation was granted by the Bishop—a second type of annulment process examines marital consent: that is, the intentions and abilities of the spouses at the time of the marriage. This process is called a Formal Case. It is possible that two persons are legally married, but were never actually joined together by God in a sacramental union. In either the Lack of Form Case or the Formal Case, it must be very clear that an annulment is not a “Catholic divorce.” The Church does not have the authority to declare “divorced” any persons who have been united by God.
An annulment does not mean that a marriage never occurred!
An annulment (more properly termed a Declaration of Invalidity) is a judicial finding that the sacramental bond of marriage was not brought about on the wedding day as the faith community had presumed. Even though the wedding ceremony might have been stunning, the vows exchanged, and children born from the love in this union, the Catholic Church recognizes that there are occasions when, and for a variety of reasons, a necessary element was absent for creating this sacramental bond of marriage. For this reason, in the annulment process the intentions and understanding of the couple—when they entered into the union and when they lived as husband and wife—must be considered in some detail.
An annulment is a declaration that the sacramental bond of marriage was not present from the time of consent. If invalidity is declared by the Diocesan Tribunal, the persons are free to marry in the Church. C
What About Children?
An annulment in no way affects the legitimacy of children, nor does it remove the natural and civil responsibilities that the parents have to provide for their children.
How do I Begin the Process?
If a formal annulment is necessary, you will be asked to work with an Advocate: a priest, deacon or lay person who has been specially trained to work in this ministry. The Advocate will address any questions that you may have and guide you through the process. As part of this process, you will be asked to give a history of any prior marriage, as well as information regarding your upbringing and your decision to marry. You will also be asked to list witnesses who can provide insight into these areas. Please see our list of Advocates.
Copies of your Civil Marriage Certificate and Final Divorce Decree are required. Please submit these with your questionnaire.
How Long is the Process?
The Tribunal cannot promise that a case will be completed within a specific period of time. Each case is unique, and many different factors may either contribute to or hinder its conclusion, including the ability to secure the testimony of witnesses. It is never possible to expedite the process or promise a favorable decision. Therefore, a future wedding date may not be set until a favorable declaration is received.
Why Would an Annulment Not be Granted?
In those cases when an annulment is not granted it is usually because there are no apparent grounds for invalidity as understood by the Church.
There are no fees for marriage cases in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. The costs involved for the process are covered partly through Care and Share and also through the generous contributions to the Tribunal Ministry Endowment (at the Catholic Foundation of Eastern Montana).
A Source of Healing
While the process can revive painful memories, examination of a prior marriage often results in healing, in a greater understanding of marriage, and in renewed inner strength.
Tribunal officials understand and appreciate the effort put forth by those seeking an annulment. This process may initially be seen as an obstacle but, as time passes, it can be a means of personal healing and spiritual growth.
Should you decide to seek an annulment, please know that your life story will be treated with respect and utmost confidentiality. In this process, may you be open to God’s enduring love and grace. May Almighty God bless you as you seek the Sacrament of Marriage in the Catholic Church.