Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I have to tell my parish priest what I am doing?
- “A friend of mine went for an annulment and it only took a couple of months to sort out; how come this will take up to two years?”
- My partner who has been married before is a non-Catholic; how come they can have their marriage investigated by the Catholic Church when they got married in the Church of England?
- We’re both divorcees, but I’m the Catholic, how come my non-Catholic partner has to do all the hard work?
- My marriage was consummated and we had children; how is it that it can be annulled?
- If our marriage is annulled will that mean that our children are regarded as illegitimate?
- Is there a charge?
- The only people who get annulments are Royalty or people with inside connections in the Vatican, so how can I stand a chance?
- Can all this be done without letting my ‘ex’ know, because he/she is bound to cause trouble?
- All these questions are very personal! How come the Church has the right to ask such intrusive questions?
- As soon as this annulment comes through can I get married straightaway?
- As a divorced and remarried person I/my partner is not baptised, and we want to be baptised in the Catholic Church; can we go through with all the rest in our RCIA group?
- How come the whole process takes so long?
Do I have to tell my parish priest what I am doing? No, not unless you want to. It may be very helpful to do so, however, as he may be able to support and advise you. If you do not have a good rapport with him, however, you may not wish to tell him until the case is resolved.
“A friend of mine went for an annulment and it only took a couple of months to sort out; how come this will take up to two years?” Your marriage is presumed valid by the Catholic Church. If you are a Catholic who was married in a Register Office, or in a non-Catholic church without the necessary dispensation and marriage preparation, then the Catholic Church does not recognise your marriage as valid. This is still true if you have been married for years and have had children. In some cases a couple may have had a Register Office marriage ‘put right’ in later years, and then the marriage would be recognised. If, however, the marriage was outside the Church because the other party had been married before, then the marriage wouldn’t be recognised for the additional reason that there was what is known as the ‘impediment of ligamen’ i.e. the person was not free to marry because of their previous bond. N.B. this would not apply had that previous spouse died by the time of the second wedding, or if it was, by chance, a Catholic marrying in a Register Office. This type of case which relies on assembling the necessary documents in order to arrive at ‘moral certitude’ can usually be processed in a couple of months and a Decree of Nullity will be issued. This is why some people appear to get their nullity cases resolved in such a short time compared with the formal process.
My partner who has been married before is a non-Catholic; how come they can have their marriage investigated by the Catholic Church when they got married in the Church of England? The church presumes that all those who are baptised enter into a sacramental marriage whether they acknowledge this or not. The Church has the right to administer and to judge the validity of all the sacraments, even those which are contracted outside her temporal jurisdiction. The Church is given the ‘right’ to make the investigation by the petitioner who asks to know what their status is. This can often be viewed as irksome by their former partners, particularly if they have little time for the Catholic Church.
We’re both divorcees, but I’m the Catholic, how come my non-Catholic partner has to do all the hard work? This situation occurs relatively often and is an understandable dilemma. If two divorcees, one a Catholic and one not, but both having been married in a Register Office, come along to see if their situation can be resolved it is more than likely that it is the non-Catholic who will be faced with the formal process and its thorough questioning whereas the Catholic party will only have to produce evidence of their baptism and their marriage and divorce documentation to be able to establish that they are free to marry. This then leads to a situation where the non-Catholic party embarks upon the formal process out of love for their Catholic intended spouse who may well be their current civil law husband or wife. Please do discuss your feelings about this situation, but if the case is as it has been described, then there is no other way in which it can be resolved.
My marriage was consummated and we had children; how is it that it can be annulled? The consummation of a marriage that was always valid does make it indissoluble, so long as the consent of both parties was sound. Very often the partner who has been abandoned often feels that they have been cheated and that they were sincere about their vows, so how can the marriage bond be said not to have existed? One analogy that can be used to explain this is that of a standard banknote that is taken and cut in half, and then sellotaped back together again, it is still legal tender; but if a counterfeit note is cut in half and taped back together, it is still counterfeit, but if you sellotape half a counterfeit not and half a genuine note together, the end product is still counterfeit, because the validity of one half cannot make up for what is lacking in the other half. This applies to marriage too, and no matter how sincere and capable one party to the marriage may have been, they cannot make up for a fundamental lack or incapacity in ‘their other half’.
If our marriage is annulled will that mean that our children are regarded as illegitimate? Once a child has been born legitimate, there is no way to make him or her illegitimate. One might as well suggest that the divorce process also voids all the civil effects of the contract, but it does not. As was explained in the initial section, the Church is enquiring into the sacramental bond and its existence. The same end result would obtain had a Catholic couple married in a Register Office and had children, these would be regarded as legitimate by the State and thus also by the Church. In this regard a declaration of nullity has no civil effects whatsoever.
Is there a charge? Again, Pope Francis has made it clear that he does not expect Marriage Tribunals to charge any fees. Naturally the process does use up resources, both human and material, but any donation to cover these costs is entirely at the discretion of the parties.
The only people who get annulments are Royalty or people with inside connections in the Vatican, so how can I stand a chance? This is a popular and widespread misunderstanding that refuses to go away. Since the mid 1960’s there has been, sad to say, a vast growth in the number of nullity cases brought before our Church Courts. A tiny percentage of these may involve members of the various royal houses or families with a high media profile, but they are treated all the same. In fact, cases involving royalty are reserved to the Roman Courts, which are the most thorough in their treatment of cases. The most significant factor that gives petitioners any sort of advantage is being able to nominate insightful and articulate witnesses. To this extent the ‘Professional’ classes could be said to have some advantage, but every case is treated on its merits and according to the highest standards of justice.
Can all this be done without letting my ‘ex’ know, because he/she is bound to cause trouble? As has been explained, the ‘Citation of the Respondent’ is a vital part of the natural justice of the nullity process. Unless every avenue of possibility to contact the respondent has been explored, the whole process will be considered invalid by its own rules of procedure. There are cases where the mental state of the respondent has been known to be precarious and the threat of retaliatory violence very real, but the highest court in the Catholic Church has not allowed this step to be by-passed. If the person is truly insane, then a ‘curator’ can be appointed on their behalf, but the proof of the diagnosis will have to be presented before this step can be taken. It is understood that there can be many unresolved issues and on-going problems over custody, visits, maintenance etc. and that a manipulative ‘ex’ can threaten to cause havoc if they are upset by anything. Nevertheless, this is one bullet that has to be bitten. The Tribunal Staff will always talk over you concerns and will always try and adapt its processes so that the least upset is caused. However, the ‘ex’ is still a person with rights in Church Law and those rights must be offered to them in full.
All these questions are very personal! How come the Church has the right to ask such intrusive questions? Marriage is a complex human reality, and when there has been a breakdown that has resulted in the failure of a marriage, the reasons for this need to be understood. Just as when a car inexplicably comes off a straight road, the investigators try and discover there was a ‘design fault’, so the marriage nullity process tries to establish how the relationship came to be put together, in order to understand why it came apart. This involves detailed and personal questioning, and since the sexual relationship is part of the core of a viable marriage we have to ask whether there were any problems in this area. The questions will always be asked in as sensitive way as possible, but the whole picture must be put together, including the intimate dimension of the marital relationship.
As soon as this annulment comes through can I get married straightaway? This will depend on your situation and that of your intended partner. It may be that a vetitum has been applied in your case and therefore some counselling will need to be put in place. All these matters can be discussed with the Tribunal Staff and/or the priest or deacon who is preparing you for marriage.
As a divorced and remarried person I/my partner is not baptised, and we want to be baptised in the Catholic Church; can we go through with all the rest in our RCIA group? The question of whether someone can be baptised into or received into full communion with the Catholic Church if their marital status is irregular is often a complex one. Furthermore it may not emerge until someone is well on their way through the ‘Journey in Faith’ or RCIA process as it is known. As soon as this question comes up it is advisable to speak with your parish priest straight away. He may consult the Tribunal Staff for their advice, but as a rule you should expect to be put ‘on hold’ until the situation has been clarified.
How come the whole process takes so long? The process is a detailed and thorough one and has to abide by the procedural norms of Church Law. These are constructed to ensure that not only both parties, but also the Church herself are protected from hurried decisions and unfounded allegations. The priest/lawyers who will be dealing with your case will also have parish responsibilities and will do their work for the Tribunal during the week. We also have to rely upon the good will and free time of our lay auditors who gather witness evidence on our behalf. If we have to send away to other Tribunals to collect evidence, then we are reliant upon their staff and have to take our turn in their ‘queue’. It may be like ordering a Rolls Royce, but we hope that the end result will also be worth the wait.