Declaration of Nullity (Marriage)
For anyone who has been divorced, the annulment process can bring the closure and healing needed to move on with one's life and enter a new, healthy relationship.
For most people, Catholics included, this is a very misunderstood process. Often people view it as just one of the church’s many rules and regulations. In fact, the annulment process can be a very pastoral process.
The annulment process involves the Church gathering information about the marriage that has ended in divorce. This means that the petitioner (the person who begins the process) will be asked to write a history of the past relationship (there is a question guide to help).
This writing can be difficult and even painful for some people. But avoiding "dredging up" the past can be the same as avoiding feelings associated with past events. We cannot avoid feelings forever. They are "in there" and will affect us one way or another in the future if we do not acknowledge them and deal with them in a healthy way.
For all of us, looking honestly and fearlessly at the circumstances of our failed marriage, and especially our own contribution, is an insurance policy that we will not carry the same behaviors and attitudes into a new relationship.
It's always easier to focus on the faults of our former spouse. But focusing on our own faults is what will help us heal. It challenges us to change the things we can with God's help. This is what assures us that we can enter another relationship or marriage that will be a successful and fulfilling one.
If you feel uneasy about your relationship with God and/or your church since your divorce or since making your plans to remarry, you may find that the annulment process will bring you the peace you need. Ask God to give you the courage to face the past. Trust in God's forgiveness and plans for your future.
Questions about Annulments
Q. If the Church declares my marriage Null, is it saying that my marriage never existed?
A. No. The Church acknowledges that your marriage existed in the legal sense. The annulment process only examines the sacramentality, or the religion dimension, of the marriage.
Q. How can the Church determine if my marriage was sacramental?
A. The circumstances of the marriage will be looked at in comparison to a set of criteria that the Church says need to be present for a marriage to be considered sacramental. If it is determined that one or more were missing at the time of the marriage, the marriage may be declared Null.
Q. How long does the process take?
A. Timing is dependent on many things but generally less than a year should be expected.
Q. Does my former spouse have to be contacted?
A. Yes. The Church feels that both partners have a right to participate in the process. However, a former spouse can wave his or her right and the process can proceed without his/her participation. In the case of a possible Order of Protection situation, discuss the situation with the Metropolitan Tribunal.
Q. Is there a cost for the process?
A. The Metropolitan Tribunal for our Archdiocese currently charges a $600 fee to help cover about three quarters of their administrative costs; $200 is required at the time of application, but the Tribunal is flexible about the payment process, and the fee is not a determining factor in the outcome of the case.
Q. What is involved in the annulment process?
A. You will be asked to fill out an application, write a history of the marriage (guide sheet available), identify at least two other "witnesses" who can share their perspectives, gather some documents (Baptismal certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree), and submit it all to the Metropolitan Tribunal.
Q. How do I get started?
A. Contact your parish for a priest, deacon or other trained staff person who will meet with you to explain the process in detail, answer your questions, and give you the necessary forms to begin.
Q. Does an annulment affect the legitimacy of children or child support?
A. Not at all. The annulment process only deals with the sacramental nature of the marriage, not the legal dimension.
Q. What if I am afraid to go back and get in touch, again, with all the emotions related to my past marriage?
A. A big part of the value of the annulment process is the healing/closure aspect. Writing a history of the past relationship may be difficult for some people, but for many it is the very thing that helps put some real closure to feelings and emotions. This closure is necessary to move on with life and possibly a new relationship in a healthy way. This is probably the most important value of the annulment process.