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Divorce & Annulments

Dear Mary Beth,

I started dating a really great guy. I am a devout Catholic and love my faith. The guy that I am dating was raised Anglican, but not baptized. He was previously married to a Buddhist woman in a civil marriage. I think this guy is really special, and that there may be a future for us. If we decided to move our relationship forward, what would be the steps we would need to take so that we could be married in a Catholic Church? Would he need an annulment?  

 

Dear Mary Beth,

I am divorced. My ex-wife was Lutheran. We had a Catholic priest just do the marriage ceremony and we did not have the full on wedding mass. If I want to remarry a Catholic woman do I have to get an annulment ?

These are just a few of the letters I have received lately from Catholics contemplating marriage after divorce, or marriage to someone who has been divorced.

I wrote extensively on this subject in a series published here on CatholicMatch several years ago. But, given the volume of mail I’ve been receiving on the subject lately, it seems like maybe it’s time to briefly revisit it.

There are really only two things I want to say:

1) If one of you was married before, and that ex-spouse is still living, you need an annulment to re-marry.

That’s the bottom line. Period, end of story. 

Whether the ex was Lutheran, or Buddhist, or bright green with orange stripes, you need to schedule a appointment with whomever-coordinates-annulments at your local parish to start the process.

Now, the type of annulment you need may vary, based on the circumstances of the previous marriage, and whether the ex was Lutheran, or Buddhist, or atheist.

If one of the parties was Catholic and the marriage was performed outside of canonical form (ie, not by a Catholic priest or deacon) without dispensation, you may only need the relatively simple Lack of Form declaration

If one of the parties in that marriage had been married before and that marriage hadn’t been annulled, you may likewise find a fairly simple process.

And, in rare cases involving marriages where one or both parties were unbaptized, the Pauline or Petrine privilege may be applicable. Or, most likely, you have a marriage with no obvious defect of form, which needs to be fully investigated to determine if it was valid.

The thing is, no matter which type of annulment you need, the first step is the same. Call your parish. Make an appointment. Whomever coordinates annulments will listen to the details of your particular case, and tell you what steps you need to take. 

I can guarantee, if that ex-spouse is still living, it will involved applying to your local tribunal for some form of a declaration of nullity.

2) You need to deal with this sooner than later. I really hate hearing “We’re in love. We’re ready to get married. Oh darn, my first marriage! What am I going to do about that?” 

If you have been married before, the time to find out if that marriage was valid is not when you’re in love and ready to get married again. It’s before you start dating.

Here’s the thing that people forget. Until a marriage has been formally declared null, it is presumed to be valid. 

In other words, if you’ve been married before, it doesn’t matter if you’re divorced.  The Church still considers you married until proven otherwise.

An annulment is not just a simple clerical adjustment, sort of a “Catholic ratification of divorce.” 

It’s a full investigation into whether certain conditions existed at the time of that initial marriage. It can take a year, two years, or even more. 

Unless you’re eligible for a simple “lack of form” declaration, the results are by no means guaranteed. 

Just because you apply for an annulment doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get one. The Church believes that a validly contracted marriage is indissoluble.

If the tribunal finds that yours was validly contracted—then, you’re married in the eyes of the Church, and hence won’t be able to re-marry in the Church as long as your current spouse lives.

So, it’s dangerous to start seriously dating when the status of your previous marriage is still uncertain. 

What will you do if the tribunal finds that your previous marriage was valid? Will you and your beloved agree to part as friends? Or will you, as many do, choose your beloved over your faith, marry outside the Church and cut yourselves off from the sacraments?

I realize this all gets trickier when it’s your beloved who was previously married. It may not be so complicated if he or she is Catholic. It’s easy enough to say: “You need to start the process of applying for an annulment before this relationship can go any further.”

But what if he or she isn’t Catholic? It’s a little trickier conversation, isn’t it?  “So, in my religion I can’t marry you until my Church has established to her satisfaction that you weren’t REALLY married the first time. So you’re going to have to go down to this office here, ask to speak to this person, and start the process of letting my Church ask you, and your ex and all of your family and friends, highly personal and invasive questions about every aspect of your relationship. And you need to do it now. Okay?”

Honestly, I don’t know an easy solution to this. It is the reason that I don’t date divorced men of other faiths. 

I’m not willing to let a relationship move forward without knowing that I am free to marry this person, and I can’t imagine having the above conversation with someone I’m just getting to know.

But if you are already seriously involved with someone who is divorced—of any faith —that is exactly the conversation you need to have. And you need to have it soon.

Because the best time to find out if you can actually marry each other is before you fall in love—not after.

(This post has been read 5,218 times)

36 Comments

  1. Annette-969665 June 24, 2013

    I am truly shocked by the numbers of Catholics without an annulment who are on this dating site. My last boyfriend was not Catholic and he rushed to get ASAP from the closest Catholic church. He wanted to show me and my family that his intention was honorable. It becomes a major quiz to prequalify candidates to date and it seems that there are very few who qualify lately.

  2. Steven-94269 June 24, 2013

    I have to say I have just started communication with someone I met on this site who is divorced I know what the Catholic church says about Divorced Catholics but she is in the process of getting an annulment I know it is early but if you care for someone you will wait as long as it takes. I don’t know what the future holds but as for me I am willing to wait as long as it takes and hope she feels the same.

    • Cristine-801066 June 24, 2013

      And that is great that you want to wait! But please remember she is still married in the eyes of God so therefore you two can be nothing more than friends until the process is completed. I know this because I have walked this path and had to walk away. If you continue in a dating relationship with this woman you care for you are both committing adultery because again, in the eyes of God and the Church she is married. I wish you both the best of luck! God Bless.

      • Steven-94269 June 25, 2013

        Christine thank you for your reply. You are correct we have not started dating she lives in a different state all together. Right now it is nothing more then a friendship just for support. I know she is still married. My sister who is not Catholic went through this and I see how it affected her marrying a man who was divorced he was not catholic either but I see how it affected her. they have ben married 12 years now but it was tough on her. I just want to be there as moral support right now.

  3. Sherrill-anne-13557 June 24, 2013

    Good article.It’s great to keep us aware of our Catholic faith in these matters.I’m glad to see lots of divorced individuals on this site eventually taking that important step to process their annulment and being supported by others here.

  4. Michael-780154 June 24, 2013

    I am shocked by Catholics dating before they are annulled, or dating someone who is not yet annulled. I wouldn’t date a young lady last year, before my annulment was complete, and really put her off (to the point she still doesn’t talk to me.) She is now dating a not-yet-annulled fellow (I get the privilege of seeing them together weekly in Young Adults…) I am a little heartbroken at not dating her when I had a chance, she and this fellow have been “together” (!) for nearly a year. But, I wouldn’t trade working to stay faithful to our faith for anything. Now, with an annulment in hand, and all the healing and grace that comes with it, seeking to move forward within the pure grace and blessing of our Lord.

    Dating a married person… Wow… I just couldn’t go there…

    • Marian-83994 July 5, 2013

      Michael Thanks for doing the right thing in the right order before dating. I am grateful to CM for helping me to learn about these issues. As someone who has never been married I would not have known about these various issues. I am sorry the woman you wanted to date did not agree to wait and date you. May God bless you for your decisions to do things in the right order.
      Marian

    • Amy W. December 18, 2013

      Thanks Michael, I agree completely!
      The same thing happened with me, and I was the one wanting to date, however my friend told me its best to be friends and also because there are others involved-my 2 daughters, so it effects more than just the two of us. And to be honorable and respectful to our lord and each other, taking the steps to regain that freedom are worth it completely. If its meant to be, then it will be! ;-)

  5. Naomi-825244 June 24, 2013

    Thanks for writing about this!!! I’ve had someone get offended when I told him I didn’t want to communicate on here because he was not annulled. I want to get married. I don’t want to play around with folks who aren’t even considering getting an annulment. You kinda aren’t serious about moving on, or you don’t want to.

  6. Jeannie-822585 June 25, 2013

    This is such a good topic for the people on CM that do not seem to understand the conflicting things they post on their profile. I’ve had at least ten men contact me who are either listed as annulled and then post in the “free to marry” in the process or divorced yet free to marry. When I asked one man about that on my response to his contact, he said, “sorry for the confusion.” To make matters more perplexing, he said that he didn’t begin the process yet. Talk about confusing. I totally get that there is a learning curve for all of us in our faith, it is alarming to me how this is a Catholic site but there are so many that do not practice their faith. How about the numerous people who do not really read your profile about my seeking and wanting only those men who are in agreement with all 7 teachings of the church? That number is astounding. On my profile I clearly state this and are free to marry but they still contact me anyway. Why?

    • Robert-937382 June 27, 2013

      In your case Jeannie, I believe the answer is simply because they scanned rather than read your profile. I applaud you for being very specific and spelling it out. In some instances, I’ve found that preferences on dating websites are used as general guidelines and not deal breakers; other times, as with you, they are deal breakers. I hope this helps explain at least some of your “why” question.

      • Marian-83994 July 5, 2013

        Recently I was contacted by a twice divorced man. This same thing happened one year ago. I did not know there were two marriages until I asked about the first one and I asked if he was working on his annulment. In both cases the man did not care. He does not believe in annulments so there was really no reason to keep talking as he is just seeking another woman to date/ be with since his last marriage. I have not yet put it on my profile that I would rather date or only date an annulled persons and would not date a person who is divorced. I usually share that topic one person at a time. But I can see how complex it can be and why it should/could be shared in one’s profile.

  7. Lori S. June 25, 2013

    So, what is the purpose of Catholics not yet annulled joining Catholic Match? We obviously can be looking for a Match, because we already are “matched” with our spouse until we receive an affirmative declaration of nullity. Does this not just lead us into temptation with those of the opposite sex? I am not talking only physical temptation, but carrying on an emotional affair which most priests consider committing adultery, also. Priests in my diocese have said that having lunch with someone of the opposite sex if you are married is just not usually a good idea, and even holding hands with someone is to be confessed. So, legally divorced or not, if you are not annulled, joining sites such as these I believe allow for confusion for many at the very least, and heart-break at the worst. I joined for support, as I wait for my annulment, but it is just not that easy in reality.

    • Lori S. June 25, 2013

      That should read “can’t” be looking for a match……

  8. Richard-595743 June 25, 2013

    The bottom line is that a divorce should not be an impediment to getting remarried within the Church, and annulments should be done away with entirely (an exception to the latter would perhaps be if a couple were forced to be married under circumstances completely beyond their control and had no choice in the matter); either way, a divorce is a divorce is a divorce and such should not technically prevent a divorcee from remarrying.

    • Chelsea-743484 July 2, 2013

      Was Our Lord lying then about putting away one’s husband/wife and marrying another being a commission of adultery?

      Mark 10:6-12

      “But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house again his disciples asked him concerning the same thing.

      “And he saith to them: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”

      This notion is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It’s quite improbable to miss.

      A divorce does not sunder what God has joined together. The Church teaches that a Decree of Nullity cannot be given to valid marriages, even if the spouses are separated or legally divorced. Their only recourse is to reconcile with one another if it’s possible. A Decree of Nullity can only be granted in the case of invalid attempts to contract marriage.

      This (annulment) is a totally different concept to divorce. Divorce is the “institution” which should be done away with, not annulment. Divorce is far too easy for people to obtain since it is most often resolved as “no fault.”

      • Cathy-564420 July 3, 2013

        Very well put Chelsea and well written from the Master Himself. If no one knows, that’s Jesus Christ or savior who gave Moses a gift for all of us to follow and set in stone.

        Let’s face it, if you think a divorce is just a divorce, why get married? You obviously aren’t recognizing marriage as a Gift from God or one of the Blessed Sacraments which each and everyone is beautiful and not seen in any other Faith, but are seeing it as your right part of what’s going wrong with the World today.

        Again, Chelsea, keep the Faith:) You will lead a happy life!

  9. Angeline-813577 June 25, 2013

    Thank you for this article. It’s a good reminder and opens my mind about the marriage & annulments status before continuing with a man. I’m still wondering to see men profiles with status of divorce. Often curious what makes them divorced?
    Many people are just to lazy and has not enough strong will to go through the annulment process. I wouldn’t date a guy without confirmed annulment or at least in the process. If he’s too lazy to process it, he’s most likely not strong enough for a marriage.
    I hope more people in CM are moved to proceed their annulments through this article.

  10. Maggie-918313 June 25, 2013

    Richard, you’re thinking of annulment incorrectly. It’s about the sacramental nature of the marriage, not the split of the civil connection. If you do away with annulments you trivialize the Sacrament. You say it doesn’t matter whether the HOLY connection was a true and unimpeded one. Annulment is not “Catholic divorce”. Divorce is divorce. Annulment is NOT divorce.

  11. Joe-786218 June 26, 2013

    My take is simple: I was married to a non-Catholic while I was out of the Church. Then we got divorced. Some years later, I returned to the Church. While I have received numerous blessings as a result of my return, meeting someone worth getting married again hasn’t been one of them and in all likelihood may never be one of them. Have to figure that may not be in God’s plan for me as He has given me no indication in this area whereas I have received His inspiration in other areas of my life. So I figured I’ll do my annulment if I ever meet that one special woman worth doing it for and I think the women who automatically write off a man for not having it done may be cutting themselves off at the knees. If you are the woman for that guy, you may inspire him to do it for you. If he does it, great, you may have your future husband.

    • MaryBeth-278310 June 26, 2013

      Joe — you seem to assume that getting an annulment is something that you just “do” — a process with a guaranteed outcome. In your case, IF your first marriage was not performed within the rites prescribed by the Church and you only need a “defect of form” annulment, you may be right. But for a vast majority of previously-married Catholics, there are no such guarantees. Women who automatically write a man off for not having an annulment are doing so because they don’t want to fall in love, only to find that they can’t marry him because his first marriage was indeed valid.

      • Steven-94269 June 26, 2013

        Mary Beth I have been sending messages with someone who was on this site before she left we exchanged email addresses and have been sending emails back and forth. She lives 1000 miles away. Nothing going on other then asking how each others day went no other contact. I guess what I am asking is this dating in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

        • Steven-94269 June 26, 2013

          Sorry Marybeth I did forget to mention she is divorced I guess what I need to know is any contact with a divorced Catholic taboo. Am I safe just sending emails or am I in a area that is not kosher.

          • MaryBeth-278310 July 2, 2013

            Oh Steven, I think you’re just fine! I see no problem with corresponding with this woman and being a friend to her.

    • MC M. December 2, 2013

      Joe- I was in a similar situation. You should just get your annulment. And once you set foot in that path, God will begin to give you that indication you’re looking for. Take care and God Bless us all.

  12. George-287164 June 26, 2013

    I would like to see either annulments done away with or be much quicker. Two to three months should be more than sufficient in a lot of cases. Many marriages end in divorce with one of the two never wanting to be divorced. Why should someone pay a penalty for getting divorced? I have several long time Catholic friends that have gotten remarried outside the Catholic church because of this. There is nothing biblical about going through a long process where a board looks over your life and decides if you should be granted an annulment. I have been a member of a Catholic support group for a very long time and have interacted with the process and participants and find that it is a deterrent. Catholics are the only Christian orginization that requires you to go through an annulment process. Also, the church almost always grants the annulment if you go through this year or longer process. I’ve many seen Catholics live a holy life for years after being divorced. Spouses have been out of the picture for years or a decade or longer and may have remarried. The remaining spouse still needs an annulment even though the marriage has been completely defunct for many years. It’s time to either get rid of the process or make it much more efficient. I’m sure that intelligent people could come up with some good ideas.

    • Jerry-74383 July 5, 2013

      The term “annulment” is very misleading, as it gives the impression a valid marriage is nullified. Nothing is further from the truth.

      The formal title for what is commonly called an annulment is a declaration of nullity: a formal statement by the Church of her finding that a valid marriage never existed between the petitioning parties (or the petitioning party and his/her former spouse). A declaration of nullity may be issued only when there was a defect in one or more of the elements essential for a marriage at the time it was celebrated. If the marriage was valid at its inception, nothing that happens afterward invalidates it (though events that take place after the wedding may provide evidence as to the intentions oft he spouses at the time of the wedding).

      If one has consummated a sacramental marriage there is nothing biblical about marrying another while one’s spouse is alive, regardless of what may have occurred during the marriage or how long the spouses have been civilly divorced. That other religious groups who purport to be Christian ignore Christ’s very clear teaching on this point has no bearing on the truth or how the Church must act to protect the faithful.

  13. Robert-937382 June 27, 2013

    It’s amazing how so many Catholics are mininformed about annulments. During my own process, I’ve had one fellow Catholic ask me why I was pursuing a divorce when I wasn’t even dating anyone. Similarly, I had another fellow Catholic’s jaw hit the floor when I told her my annulment was in process. You looked at me in horror and said “but, you have kids?”

    I’d also say that you were right on regarding current state of annulments. It’s been my observation that most people wait, for whatever reason, until they are “serious” with someone before pursuing annulment. Then, if they don’t get their annulment in time, they simply get married outside of the Church – making their faith their 2nd choice.

    As for me, I view my divorce as a “process check” in my life’s journey. It was clear that I was in denial about many things, even on my wedding day. I simply could not, or would not, see the issues for what they were. Now that the blinders have been removed through the divorce process, I eagerly pursue my annulment as a second chance to get it right according to His plan.

  14. Hank-985203 June 30, 2013

    Some of the terminology is misused. An annulment is a finding that the marriage did not exist. An invalid marriage did exist, but the church doesn’t recognize it as legitimate or as an impediment to remarriage.

  15. Jerry-74383 July 5, 2013

    Good article, very bad title! “OBTAIN an annulment before you start dating” would be much better for reasons explained in the article.

    • MaryBeth-278310 July 9, 2013

      Thanks, Jerry. And of course you know that I don’t write the titles :)

  16. Michelle-860764 July 6, 2013

    Thank you for this article.

  17. Carole-828165 August 20, 2013

    Awesome topic. I was born into a catholic family, practice my faith, and i didn’t know about any of this. Thanks. Carole

  18. Martha-1003729 October 8, 2013

    I am ready to pursue an annulment now after 22 years being divorced. A secondary factor impeding me is the cost factor because I am currently unemployed. Can you tell me the approximate cost of obtaining an annulment in the Catholic church today?

    The main factor impeding me is the fact that I am in close proximity geographically to my ex, who has been re-married now for the past 18 years, and we see each other at family events. I have three beautiful children and four beautiful grandchildren from this marriage. I am feeling like I would have to “open the wounds back up” so to speak in order to complete this annulment process. I do not want to cause family friction or risk the frail connection I have currently with my family. I know it’s frail simply because I am considered “the odd man out”. How would I go about getting my ex’s consent and validating facts without a catastrophe like this happening? It would seem like going through another divorce and I know I can’t handle that again. Also, this relationship was abusive and these facts would need to be brought to light. I feel my adult children would react negatively to this as they now have a decent relationship with their father now that they are not dependent on him any longer. I know I need this for my own good and spiritual freedom but I find it’s a scary venture. Thanks for your input on this.

  19. MC M. December 1, 2013

    I’m not on CM, just goggled annulment and saw this thread. I just want to say I’m Catholic and married a Catholic man in a Catholic Church. During the “marriage”, I was so far from God. This eventually led to divorce. I felt excommunicated from my faith and became a seeker. Then I reunited with a childhood friend. Long story short, he’s brought me back to my faith and what’s more he said I could remarry in the Catholic Church as long as I get an annulment. At first, I told him I’m divorce, that why should I have to pay to get another “divorce”? Then that’s when I decided that God sent this man to help me. After researching annulments, I felt sick knowing I was still married to my ex even though we got our divorce since 2001. No wonder the relationships I had after, were complete failures. So I talked with a priest and now I’m on the path to receiving my annulment and I think much more… God works in mysterious ways… 13 years after getting a divorce, I wish I knew about this decades ago. I also thought divorce is divorce. But if you seek God, He will match you with that special person and it is without much effort! I really encourage anyone who hasn’t gotten an annulment to get started! My life feels so much more different! It’s like a freedom I never thought would be possible.

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