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 relationship. For most people, Catholics included, this is a very misunderstood process. Often people view it as just one more of the many rules and regulations of the Church. In fact, the annulment process can be a very pastoral process aimed at helping people heal from a past marriage, and enter a healthy new marriage if that is a gift God gives to.
The process involves the Church gathering information about the marriage that has ended in divorce. This means that the petitioner (the personwho begins the process) will be asked to write a history of the past relationship (there is a question guide to help). The writing of the history 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 the 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 and challenge 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 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 which the Church says need to be present for a marriage to be considered sacramental. If it is determined that one or more of these criteria was missing at the time of the marriage, the marriage can be declared Null.
Q. How long does the process take?
A. Timing is dependent on many things but generally 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.
Q. Is there a cost for the process?
A. The Metropolitan Tribunal for our Dioces charges a $450 fee to help cover about three quarters of their administrative costs. They are very flexible about payment. 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 could share their perspectives, gather some documents (Baptismal certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree), and submit it all to the Tribunal.
Q. How do I know what diocese can handle my annulment case?
A. An annulment case can be handled in the diocese where the couple was married, in the diocese where the Respondent (the former spouse) currently resides, or in the diocese where the Petitioner resides with the permission of the Respondent’s diocese.
Q. How do I get started?
A. Contact the Tribunal in the appropriate diocese for the name(s) of a Field Advocate in your area or contact your parish for a priest, deacon or other 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. How 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 and 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.