Note: Because each couple’s situation is unique, persons interested in obtaining a declaration of nullity (commonly referred to as an annulment) should speak with their parish priest or local Tribunal.
What is an annulment?
An annulment is not “Catholic divorce” but rather a decree of nullity by a Church tribunal (a court of the Catholic Church) which declares that the marriage in question was not, in fact a true marriage, as the Church understands marriage. This is the case when it is determined that an essential element of marriage was lacking at the time the vows were exchanged.
What are the essential elements of marriage?
In order for a valid Catholic marriage to come about, both parties must be capable of marrying, give their free consent, and follow canonical form.*
- To be capable of marriage, both parties must be emotionally mature, psychologically stable, physically capable, and free from all impediments.
- Consent involves the free commitment to a lifelong, exclusive marriage that is open to children.
- Canonical form requires that vows be exchanged in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon and two witnesses according to the Order of Celebrating Matrimony. Special permission is required for Catholics to marry in a place other than their parish church.
*Note: The Church presumes the validity of non-Catholic marriages without requiring their adherence to Canonical Form. Therefore, two non-Catholics who marry outside the Church could still be validly married in the eyes of the Church.
Why must divorced Catholics obtain a declaration of nullity before marrying in the Church?
Scripture teaches that marriage is a lifelong bond (see Matthew 19:1-10). Therefore, without a declaration of nullity, one is considered to be married and unable to enter into a new union validly.
Why must divorced non-Catholics obtain a declaration of nullity before marrying in the Church?
The Catholic Church respects non-Catholic marriages and presumes their validity. Any validly married non-Catholic is not free to marry in the Church. Since marriages are presumed valid until declared null, a divorced non-Catholic must obtain a declaration of nullity prior to entering a new union.
What is the process for obtaining a declaration of nullity?
The person(s) seeking a declaration of nullity should first speak with their parish priest who will help them obtain the proper application for their particular situation. Then the person(s) requesting the declaration of nullity will submit a written testimony concerning their marriage as well as a list of persons who are familiar with the marriage – these persons must be willing to answer questions about the spouses and their marriage. If the petition was not co-signed by the other spouse, the tribunal will contact them because they have a right to be involved. They may decline but the case can still proceed.
From there, the Office of the Tribunal will determine the process that needs to be followed. Both parties will be able to read the submitted testimony (except that which is prohibited by civil law).
If the Tribunal grants a declaration of nullity, both parties are free to marry in the Catholic Church, unless the decision is appealed or includes a prohibition of marriage before certain conditions have been met.
How long does it take to obtain a declaration of nullity?
This depends on each particular situation. The Diocesan Tribunal will be able to give estimates on a case by case basis.
How do I begin the process?
Contact your local parish to request an appointment with the pastor or his delegate. To reach the pastor of St. Agnes email [email protected].
Additionally, please reference the link below from the Diocese of Arlington for more information: