Thursday, June 14, 2007


Continuing on the topic of annulments.

So who needs a decree of nullity? Anyone who was married to another party in any church, by any recognized civil official, or by common law and now wishes to marry in the Catholic Church. Anyone. ANYONE. If a pagan was formally married to another pagan by a justice of the peace on a boat off the coast of the middle of nowhere, was divorced and now wishes to marry a Catholic, that person will need an annulment. If it was a Catholic whose first marriage was not even recognized in the Church and that person now wishes to be married in the Church to another party, that person needs an annulment.

When should a decree of nullity be applied for? After a divorce has been received and as soon after as you are ready. My personal recommendation is that you do it sooner rather than later. Who knows what God has in store for you and there is a minimum six-month preparation period in the Diocese of Cleveland. Other diocese will have similar stipulapulations and a date for marriage cannot be put on the books until it is determined that you are actually free to marry. Clevelanders are fortunate in that they have a good tribunal and even the most difficult cases can be handled in about six to eight months. But it is not until after this period that the six-month wedding preparation period may begin!

What can be expected of you in the process? You will need to meet with a person at the parish (most likely a priest) who will be the procurator for your case. His first job will be to determine what kind of annulment you require. Some are very simple and quick; others known as formal cases are more involved. It will be your job to collect the requisite paperwork (such as marriage certificates and divorce decrees), and information, which in some cases is little, in others a little more involved.

Your case is then sent to the Church tribunal. Note that only paperwork goes to the Church court, no persons are called in. In a formal case you will be asked for witnesses and they may be contacted by letter to give witness by answering questions and mailing it in.

It is all right if the former spouse refuses to cooperate. It is helpful but not absolutely necessary. There is no need to worry that they might try to sabotage the process. The judges in the court have seen it all a thousand times and are experts and sorting through the rubble. Remember: their goal is to help you move forward with you life.

Perhaps the most persistent “urban legend” about the process concerns the exorbitant fees involved. The point in fact is that you have a right to apply for a decree of nullity regardless of your ability to pay the requested donation. The reason for the donation is that this office is obviously not a parish and therefore does not have any income. Lights still have to be turned on, people still need to be paid, office supplies still need to be purchased and so on. Some fees are rather minimal. The most expensive is for the formal case which requires the most time and effort. In the diocese of Cleveland as of June 2007 it is $450. If the amount cannot be met, payments can be made in installments, a lesser fee might be negotiated, or in cases of great need, the fee is waved altogether. The ability to pay has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the case or the speed in which it is processed. If the person with whom you are working is telling you anything too far off of this mark, get away from him and go to another parish to apply.

Why is the Church sticking its nose into this business? It arose from necessity. Originally you did not need a priest even to marry. You needed vows and two witnesses. But that allowed for a lot of abuse. One could find ways to say that he was never married, or pay witnesses to say that he was married, or skip town and marry another. So the Church started having official witnesses (and indeed I only witness marriage, the couple are their own ministers.) We also started keeping records for the same reason.

Likewise there can be many abuses in the dissolving of a marriage. Is a couple splitting up for legitimate reasons or is someone just being dumped? Is the sacrament being respected? Is the other person (and children) being properly taken care of? Should one or the other of the persons of the marriage have serous counseling before being allowed to be married in the Catholic Church again? In the end, it is about protecting the people involved and the integrity of marriage as a sacrament. It may seem like over kill in the United States, but the Catholic Church is more than the United States.

Perhaps the nullity process is not as great as it could be. There might be far better ways of handling it. But this is what we have. And it works. Of the many nullit cases that have been completed through my office there has been only one report of a person who said it was a horrible experience and they were sorry for having gone through it. But for the most part, even those who entered into it with trepidation have said that it helped them sort out what happened and to bring some clarity not only about the past but the future and are glad for the feeling of reconciliation and being able to start over again.
This is the end of the posts on annulments for now. If you have further questions contact your local parish or if you would rather, you can leave a comment over the next week or for more private questions you may Email me.

God bless you on your journey.


Anonymous said...

So I'm assuming in the two pagans married by a civil official case, the decree of nullity is very quick? Or does that have less of an effect in comparison with what they knew about each other going in?

Also...can you give some of the more common grounds for annulment. I taught this to my students, and I was trying to give them the most obvious things--lying about freedom to marry, coercion, etc.

Fr. V said...

Greetings nab,

Actually that would be a formal case because these two people were married in a way that was recognized both civily and ecclesially. If there are no other extenuating circumstances, we would recognize that marriage as perfectly valid and so ot becomes one of the more difficult cases to dissolve. Another circumstance that would change things would be if we could prove that one of them was a Catholic who never formally left the Church. Then they could get a defect of form which is pretty quick and easy. OR - if one of the parties is planning to marry a Catholic they may get a Petrine privledge - OR still yet - if one of hte two non-babtized persons after their seperation and divorce converts to Christianity and wishes to marry they may obtain a Pauline privledge - both of which are easier to do than the formal case. (Too much information??? :>)

I started copying down other reasons for grounds and then decided just to copy and past something by Fr. Quirk in the Whealing-Charlston Diocese:

1. Insufficient Use of Reason [1095,1(] You or your spouse did not know what was happening during the marriage ceremony because of insanity, mental illness, or a lack of consciousness.

2. Grave Lack of Discretionary Judgment Concerning Essential Marital Rights and Duties [1095,2(] You or your spouse was affected by some serious circumstances or factors that made you unable to judge or evaluate either the decision to marry or the ability to create a true marital relationship.

3. Psychic-Natured Incapacity to Assume Marital Obligations [1095,3(] You or your spouse, at the time of consent, was unable to fulfill the obligations of marriage because of a serious psychological disorder or other condition.

4. Ignorance about the Nature of Marriage [1096 §1] You or your spouse did not know that marriage is a permanent relationship between a man and a woman ordered toward the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.

5. Error of Person [1097 §1] You or your spouse intended to marry a specific individual who was not the individual with whom marriage was celebrated. (Except for mail-order brides, does not occur in the United States.)

6. Error about a Quality of Person [10967 §2] You or your spouse intended to marry someone who either possessed or did not possess a certain quality; e.g., social status, marital status, education, religious conviction, freedom from disease, or arrest record. That quality must have been directly and principally intended.

7. Fraud [1098] You or your spouse was intentionally deceived about the presence or absence of a quality in the other. The reason for the deception was to obtain marital consent.

8. Error regarding Marital Unity that Determined the Will [1099] You or your spouse married believing that marriage was not necessarily an exclusive relationship.

9. Error regarding Marital Indissolubility that Determined the Will [1099] You or your spouse married believing that the State had the power to dissolve marriage and that remarriage was acceptable after civil divorce.

10. Error regarding Marital Sacramental Dignity that Determined the Will [1099] You and your spouse married believing that marriage is not a religious or sacred relationship but merely a civil contract or arrangement.

11. Total Willful Exclusion of Marriage [1101 §2] You or your spouse did not intend to contract marriage as marriage is understood by the law of the Church. Rather, the ceremony was observed solely as a means of obtaining something other than marriage itself; e.g., to obtain legal status in the country or to legitimize a child.

12. Willful Exclusion of Children [1101 §2] You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, to deny the other's right to sexual acts open to procreation.

13. Willful Exclusion of Marital Fidelity [1101 §2] You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, not to remain faithful.

14. Willful Exclusion of Marital Permanence [1101 §2] You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, not to create a permanent relationship, retaining an option to divorce.

15. Future Condition [1102 §1] You or your spouse attached a future condition to your decision to marry; e.g., you will complete your education, your income will be at a certainly level, you will remain in this area.

16. Past Condition [1102 §2] You or your spouse attached a past condition to your decision to marry and that condition did not exist; e.g., I will marry you provided you have never been married before, I will marry you provided you have graduated from college.

17. Present Condition [1102 §2] You or your spouse attached a present condition to your decision to marry and that condition did not exist; e.g., I will marry you provided you don't have any debt.

18. Force [1103] You or your spouse married because of an external physical or moral force which you could not resist.

19. Fear [1103] You or your spouse chose to marry because of fear that was grave and inescapable and was caused by an outside force.

20. Lacking of New Consent during Co validation [1157 & 1160] After your civil marriage, you or your participated in a Catholic ceremony and you or your spouse believed that (1) you were already married, (2) that the Catholic ceremony was merely a blessing, and (3) that the consent given during the Catholic ceremony had no real effect.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! It more than helps. That answers some of the major questions my students asked me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Fr. V,

A point of order. An honest soul commenting on my blog is a bit fired up that Anullment means that every act of sex in the anulled marraige was actually extramarital sex, and fornication, albeit unintentional since the parties thought they were married. Is this the case? Is part of the annulment process then reconciliation for those sins?

Thanks! B