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Annulment FAQ

What is an annulment?

An annulment is a declaration that a marriage was in fact invalid after an extensive investigation. What is investigated is whether or not at the time of consent a valid marriage bond was created. It is not a divorce; it is a statement that the bond of marriage as it is understood by the Catholic Church was not made.

Why can the Catholic Church conduct such an investigation?

If you are Catholic, or you intend to marry a Catholic, the Catholic Church can perform such an investigation to determine your freedom to marry. The Catholic Church does not believe a person can divorce and remarry; the only option is to petition for an annulment to determine if a marriage bond exists as it is understood by the Catholic Church. If an annulment is granted, you are then free to marry in the Catholic Church. This process has no civil effects.

An annulment should be petitioned for if:

  • You are a divorced Catholic who wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church
  • You are a divorced Catholic who has already married outside the Catholic Church
  • You are a divorced non-Catholic who would like to marry a Catholic
  • You are a divorced non-Catholic who is married to a Catholic outside the Catholic Church

If I am not Catholic, why do I need to petition for an annulment?

The Catholic Church upholds the permanence and sanctity of all marriages, whether they are Catholic or not. Thus, in any case of a marriage of two non-Catholics, the presumption is that a marriage is valid whether it was done before a judge or a minister of another faith. Before you can marry a Catholic, you must petition for an annulment because it is assumed that you are still married and are not free to marry again until it is proven that your first marriage was invalid. According to Catholic teaching, divorce does not have any effect upon the binding nature of a marriage. Therefore, despite the desire of the couple to divorce civilly and to separate themselves and their belongings, in the eyes of the Church the bond of marriage is presumed to remain binding upon the two parties. As a result, in order to be free to marry it must be proven that the bond of marriage did not exist in the first place, thus making it necessary for an annulment to be requested.

I'm in RCIA and I found out that I need to petition for an annulment. Do I need to petition for an annulment before I can be received into the Church?

Yes, you do need to petition for an annulment before entering the Church if you are already remarried. The reason for this is twofold. First, it would not be prudent to bring someone into Full Communion with the Catholic Church while living in a situation that is contrary to the Church's teaching on divorce and remarriage. Secondly, since the Church presumes that all marriages are valid and binding until proven otherwise through the annulment process, the current civil marriage cannot be convalidated. Consequently, the parties cannot receive the sacraments of Holy Communion or the sacrament of Penance, since their marital status remains irregular. Therefore, until an annulment is granted, you must live as brother and sister (no sexual relations) during the annulment process.

What if I'm already in a marriage outside of the Catholic Church and either I or my spouse is Catholic and at least one of us has been previously married?

The Catholic Church considers you married until proven otherwise. Thus, if you were previously married you are not free to marry again unless a decree of nullity is obtained. If you have remarried and have not obtained an annulment, you are not married to your current spouse in the eyes of the Catholic Church. You should petition for an annulment and must live as brother and sister (no sexual relations). If a decree of nullity is granted, you are free to marry and can prepare for a convalidation with your local parish.

What is a convalidation?

If at least one of the parties to a marriage is Catholic, the marriage must be performed according to canonical form for the validity of the marriage. If it is not, a convalidation must be performed. THIS IS NOT JUST A BLESSING! It is a new act of the will and you are considered married to this person validly for the first time. That means your anniversary date of your marriage is the date of your convalidation, or valid marriage in the Catholic Church.

What if I have been married more than once?

All of the marriages will need to be investigated. Contact your nullity minister for more information on how each marriage will be addressed.

I am currently engaged. Can I set the date for a wedding before receiving an annulment?

No, you should not set a wedding date. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, you are still married to your former spouse and are not free to marry unless a decree of nullity is given. Because the annulment process can be lengthy and it is not guaranteed that you will receive an annulment, it is wise that you wait until the court has made its decision.

Do I need to be civilly divorced before petitioning for an annulment?

Yes. Because the annulment process is purely religious, it does not involve custody of children, temporal goods, etc. which must be settled before the investigation in the Tribunal may begin. In the United States there are no civil effects to the Catholic Church's annulment process. A civil divorce is a definitive separation of the spouses and serves as an indicator that the marriage and common life have, for all intents and purposes, ceased. If the Church were to declare a marriage no longer binding, while the couple still remained civilly bound to one another, it would create numerous problems with custody of children, financial disputes, and put the Church at odds with civil authorities.

How long should I wait after my civil divorce to seek an annulment?

Generally, we would recommend waiting about six months after your civil divorce to begin this process. On the other hand, the longer you wait to submit your petition, the harder it is to find witnesses that can speak to the time of consent, i.e., the time of the wedding. The delay in finding good witness testimony is often responsible for delays in the annulment process.

How long does the annulment process take?

The process takes anywhere from 8 to 12 months to complete. The process can be lengthy when the Tribunal has to wait for the responses of the parties and/or their witnesses.

Do both spouses need to be involved in the annulment process?

Both parties must be notified that an annulment case has been started. However, if the other party does not wish to participate, or cannot be located, the case can continue without them. It is recommended that both parties participate by providing written testimony and naming witnesses.

What is a Pauline case?

This is applied when two unbaptized people get married, and later one of the spouses chooses to get baptized, and the unbaptized party departs. If there is no given cause to depart on the part of the one baptized, i.e. the baptized party is not the reason for the ending of the marriage, then the baptized party is free to enter into marriage with another party. The new marriage to the new party will dissolve the first marriage. The departure is affirmed after a series of interpellations; the non-baptized must be asked if they wish to receive baptism and if they wish to at least cohabit in peace without affront to the Creator. The conditions under which it can be applied are when the other party responded negatively to the interpellations, or after a period of cohabitation, departed for a just cause.

What is a Petrine Privilege?

This is a request to the Holy Father to dissolve a marriage between a baptized and an unbaptized person, or two unbaptized persons. There are four requirements for this privilege: At least one of the parties had to be unbaptized at the time of the marriage and throughout the time they lived together If after the marriage both parties become baptized, no sexual relations occurred after both were baptized The one seeking the privilege cannot be the one responsible for the failure of the marriage If the privilege is requested to permit a Catholic and a non-Catholic to marry, the non-Catholic must give the Catholic full freedom to practice his/her faith and must promise to raise all children in the Catholic Church.

What is the role of a witness in an annulment?

As in any investigation, there must be corroboration of the assertions made by the parties. The goal of an annulment case is to discover the truth about the motives and intentions of the parties at the time of their wedding.

Does an annulment affect the status of children?

If an annulment is granted, it has no bearing whatsoever on the status of the children of the marriage.

Is there a financial cost associated with a petition for an annulment?

Yes. Please contact the tribunal office for the current cost. This nominal fee is essentially a filing fee and covers only a small percentage of the actual cost to the diocese to process these cases.

Who do I contact to start the annulment process?

You should contact your parish priest or deacon.

Who do I contact if I have questions regarding my case?

Contact your advocate if you have any questions regarding the case you submitted to the Tribunal.

Can I appeal a decision?

Yes. If you wish to appeal a decision of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Savannah, you have the opportunity, within a certain period of time, to appeal your case to another court.

What is Frater/Soror?

This is the promise of the parties of an invalid marriage to not engage in sexual relations, thus to live as brother and sister (frater et soror), in order to be eligible to receive the Eucharist. If you are in an invalid marriage, the Church does not consider you to be married. Therefore, you cannot engage in sexual relations without committing a mortal sin. This makes you ineligible to receive the Holy Eucharist.

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