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Divorce & Annulments

My husband always says, “You can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take California out of the girl.” This is his nice way of saying I can be an airhead sometimes and it’s true because I can be naive. I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t just believe anything someone tells you, but every now and then I trust what I’m being told when I probably shouldn’t.

Like the time I accepted an invitation to go snipe hunting. It was about six months after my divorce and I had moved from Encino, CA to Nashville, TN. I was making a sincere effort to make new friends and attended a barbecue where some friendly guys were talking about their adventures hunting snipe. I had no idea anything called a snipe existed so they kindly educated me about the species and invited me to go hunting with them that night. A few hours later, I realized just how gullible I was as I sat behind a large rock in the dark at the end of a trail of shredded bread holding a pillow case wide open in case I saw a snipe. Not my finest moment.

We can be deceived about a million and one things when we trust other people, which is why we need to be careful where we place our trust. One situation that causes a lot of frustration is when someone tries to educate their divorced friends and family members about the Catholic annulment process without having their facts straight on this very delicate and important matter. They have just enough information to be dangerous, or even worse, perpetuate many of the myths and misunderstandings they have heard from someone else and accepted the misinformation as gospel. But they’ve never taken the time to check it out for themselves.

This breaks my heart because so many divorced Catholics are living through inexplicable suffering and devastation from the loss of their marriages and they deserve to know the truth about this important tool the Church provides that can make all the difference in their healing and their future. Recently, I’ve heard from people who are angry with the Catholic Church because the believe the annulment process invalidates their marriages and renders their children illegitimate. If that were the truth, I would be angry too. But it’s not the truth, so I thought I would elaborate on what really happens in case other readers are feeling the same way:

1.      If you go through the annulment process and receive a decree of nullity, your marriage is not invalidated.

Christ said quite plainly in Matthew 19 verse 6 that no man can separate what God has joined. Death is the only thing that can separate spouses who have a valid marriage bond. There is no possible way a Catholic tribunal or any other entity can change this.

During the annulment process, a tribunal looks at each case and determines whether or not a valid/sacramental marriage bond took place on the day of the wedding and if the couple is bound to each other until death. They do this through collecting information regarding the upbringing, dating and engagement, and marriage relationship of both spouses with particular focus on what happened on the day of the wedding. If it is determined that a valid/sacramental bond did not take place on the wedding day, then the couple is not bound to each other and they are free to marry in the Church. This is the circumstance under which one would receive a decree of nullity, or “annulment” as it’s more commonly referred to.

2.      A decree of nullity does not declare your marriage never existed.

People who get married have real relationships and real families and the Church does not deny this in any way. Receiving a decree of nullity only means that a civilly married couple did not have a sacramental/valid bond and are not bound together in the eyes of God and the Church.

3.      A decree of nullity does not render children illegitimate.

In the Code of Canon Law, also referred to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Canon #1137 states:

Children who are conceived or born of a valid or of a putative marriage are legitimate (CCC 1137).

Any marriage that was presumed to be valid, but later defined through the annulment process as not to be valid, is a “putative” marriage. So you can see the Church clearly states children of a putative marriage are legitimate. The Catechism is a rich and comprehensive resource for all things Catholic and is the perfect source to refer to when seeking answers to questions about the Faith and it’s practices. It’s accessible online as well as sold in bookstores and every Catholic should have one. You can also have the Code of Canon Law at your fingertips by visiting the Vatican’s website .

I enjoy reading your email comments and questions and if you have any other questions regarding the annulment process, you can reach me at asklisa@catholicmatch.com and follow me on Twitter at @lisaduffy.

(This post has been read 3,585 times)

34 Comments

  1. David-870960 February 20, 2014

    Excellent article!

  2. Anna-205201 February 20, 2014

    I am a paralegal and I am currently enrolled in an Annulment Advocate course in my diocese. And yes, there are many fallacies that are unfortunately perpetuated. One way I try to explain the issue regarding children is that the the words “illegitimate” and “legitimate” derive from the Latin legitimus (lawful, legal). A Church annulment does not invalidate the legal aspect of marriage. The Church requires a valid civil dissolution before one can pursue the annulment process. In the divorce documents the facts regarding the legal civil marriage are stated, as are the facts regarding the children of the legal civil marriage. A decree of nullity does not affect the legal aspects or obligations of a marriage. For instance, parents who are required by the divorce judgment to pay child support for the children generated during the marriage are not relieved of that duty by the annulment process. Churches are allowed by law to perform marriages that are legally recognized. Since the Church currently obeys civil law regarding marriage, a marriage certificate is used, making it a legal as well as a religious bond.

  3. John-761922 February 20, 2014

    Not really the point of the article I know: snipe are real. They are a bird with a very long beak found in the UK. They are also delicious roasted!
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/snipe/index.aspx

    So next time someone fools you on a snipe hunt, well, they are the fools!

    John.

    • Lisa-727959 February 20, 2014

      John,

      Yes, I found out later that snipe is a real animal! They’re just not indigenous to Nashville, TN :) But thanks for looking out for me :)

      Sincerely – Lisa

  4. Charles-8478 February 20, 2014

    Alas, I fear Lisa has contributed to more confusion. An annulment IS precisely a statement by the Church that a sacramental bond of marriage never took place and thus invalidates or renders null the presumption in canon law that a sacramental bond exists. Lisa first headline point obscures this core point.

    See Anna’s post for helpful clarifications on Lisa’s second point which again is worded awkwardly.

    Peace.

    • Lisa-727959 February 20, 2014

      Charles,

      I respectfully disagree with your statement. Semantics are important here and what I addressed was the erroneous idea that the annulment process dissolves or in some way nullifies a valid marriage bond, which it does not. It declares that one exists, or never existed. I don’t see how I may have obscured that point, or my second, as you suggest.

      Thanks for your input to the conversation.

      Sincerley – Lisa

  5. Frank-780947 February 20, 2014

    I loved the comments regarding “snipe,” as I plead guilty of fostering that prank on some gullible female friends.

  6. Mark-167519 February 20, 2014

    A question to those who submitted paperwork for annulments. Do you recall if the marriage tribunal had as a prerequisite obtaining a civil divorce first?

    • Caron-1064345 February 21, 2014

      Mine did. It’s part of why annulment took so long. I first had to have a civil divorce (which took a year) and then I had to submit the divorce decree to the tribunal when I applied for an investigation. All in all, from the time my ex-husband left me for someone else, it took close to four years.

      I also wonder, when I do searches for men my age, I see a lot of “never married” more so than divorced or widowed. I rarely ever see another “annulled.” I wonder if they are really divorced (with an annulment) and therefore put “never married” since it was found that there never was a sacramental marriage bond.

      • Rob-362135 February 26, 2014

        To me, never married should never be used in place of annulled. Annulled is clearly the proper status for someone who was married, then divorced and received an decree of nullity. I listed my status as never married as I have never said “I do” during the sacrament of matrimony.

    • Kate-948947 February 26, 2014

      Hi Mark,
      In the United States and Canada you must have a civil divorce decree before you can begin a petition for a decree of nullity (this is because of the separation of church and state…in some other countries where such separation does not exist, a decree of nullity may also have civil divorce effects–property division, child support, etc.)

      Kate

  7. Michael-369664 February 20, 2014

    I find many Caholics divorce and then don’t bother to get annulments at all.
    Too many Catholics need to know you are not FREE to date or marry again unless you do this. It’s also very critical all Catholics realize how serious a step marriage is. It is a sacrament, and unless you are truly committed to making it work, don’t marry.
    You cannot be lukewarm or passive about marriage vows. America today is a culture of divorce, and it won’t change. Know yourself and your partner very well before you
    do this, and be sure it’s what you really want.

    • Rob-362135 February 26, 2014

      I concur with you Michael, if someone is legally divorced but has not received (or even applied) for an annulment is not free to date or marry. My take on this is that if the church still views a divorced (with no annulment) person’s marriage valid, I should view this the same way. Annulments are not guaranteed, so I do not want to date someone who may be in a valid, sacramental marriage.

      I can be their friend, but that is all I can do.

      If I were in their situation (divorced), I would apply for a decree of nullity as soon as possible. I pray that those who are confused about annulments find knowledge from this article or other people and/or sources.

  8. Richard-137949 February 20, 2014

    Thanks for this article. It’s helpful to understand this better.

  9. Andrew-1040810 February 21, 2014

    Dear Lisa, I’m so sorry those boys up there in Nashville did you wrong, but they obviously didn’t know the first thing about snipes or snipe hunting. First of all, there are no snipes in Tennessee…..they migrated to Arkansas when the Smoky Mountains popped up out of the ground…and the snipes in Arkansas are different than the snipes in England. Second, you never use a pillow case for snipe hunting….unless of course they’re imported from Venus–where all the prim and proper ladies come from. After years of research and extensive field testing in the Ozark Mountains north of Mountain View, Arkansas, we discovered that Snipes preferred large paper grocery sacks. There are certain words you can whisper sweetly to coax them into your sack, but on moonless nights they’ll walk right in if you just smile at them. So, if you’re ever lost down here in my neck of the woods, give me a call for the most exciting snipe hunt imaginable and I promise I won’t leave you in the woods alone. The woods over there in Hillary Clinton territory are full of little strange creatures from another galaxy, but I’ll save that story for when we’re snipe hunting. Now can you tell me when the Catholic Church first got in the business of annulling marriages? Thanks…and a dozen snipe bags are waiting on you!

    • Lisa-727959 February 21, 2014

      LOL! Andrew, that was great. Nice to know there are gentlemen hunting snipes and not just good ‘ole boys :)

      To answer your question, St. Paul was the first person to grant annulments. In 1 Corinthians 7, he discusses marriage protocols and says:

      To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace.

      This is where we get the Pauline Privilege, a shorter form of the annulment process. I hope this helps!

      Sincerely – Lisa

  10. Carrie-529869 February 21, 2014

    The Pauline/petrine privilege is NOT an annulment. It is a dissolution of a presumed valid (but non sacramental marriage).

    The ends are the same– deeming someone free to marry, but they are 2 different things.

    • Lisa-727959 February 21, 2014

      Hi, Carrie,

      Technically, you are correct that it is not the usual form of annulment. However, it is often referred to as a short form of the annulment process.

      Sincerely – Lisa

  11. Andrew-1040810 February 21, 2014

    Thank you, Lisa, for your grace filled answer. I love Paul, the most pragmatic writer in the New Testament, but I think you need to recall what God earlier said in Genesis and Malachi and what our merciful Lord said about divorce in the Gospel of Matthew. There is simply no biblical nor theological basis for the current annulment procedure whatsoever and it is such machinations of the mind that gives our protesting Protestants more ammunition for their meaningless diatribes. I love’em and dance with them here in Memphis, but they’re hopelessly lost in the trees of endless psychobabble and will never see the forest of God’s endless love. In general and over the past hundred years, women have empowered them selves…and I’m sure you’re a sterling exception!…with all kinds of fanciful ideas and magical thinking. The fact is, a woman was God’s final creation (and in my opinion his finest!) and God had a special place for all his Eve’s in his grand scheme of creation. Considering the accepted theoretical age of our universe and planet earth, what God plainly stated was just a few seconds ago and should still be ringing in our ears. I don’t know about you, but I understand what I read in the Bible and spend my time living our Lord’s summary of The Law. Men and women today can freely do whatever they want to do inside and outside marriage, but God himself is the author of marriage and I am absolutely, ABSOLUTELY, certain that he has never changed his mind. God didn’t didn’t speak through the prophets to amuse their followers nor did he did he stutter when he gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Poor Moses didn’t make it to the Promised Land, did he?, nor will men and women today who forgo God’s supreme blessing on marriage or forsake their marital vows to him for whatever pretentious reasons. I hope I’m not upsetting you, or what I jested earlier about snipe hunting may have done to your sensibilities, but the past has always been prologue for the future and what men and women have been doing in recorded history has been quite contrary to God’s Will (I believe Pope Francis would agree) and even to common sense…the so called will of man spun in the magnificent tapestries of all the recorded “isms”. I think it’s about time for this country pumpkin to go snipe hunting before they’re abducted by aliens from another galaxy. Think I will ever find a soulmate on CatholicMatch.com?

  12. Lisa-727959 February 21, 2014

    Andrew,

    No you are not upsetting me in the slightest. I enjoy these conversations and everyone’s responses to them. I agree with you whole-heartedly that God has never changed his mind about marriage. I do, however, beg to differ with you when you say there is no biblical basis. My explanation comes from a previous article of mine:

    “The Catholic Church upholds all the teachings of Christ, from whom she gets her authority. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us about divorce and it’s consequences:

    “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (Mt 19: 9).

    “Jesus uses two important words in this passage; “unchastity” and “adultery.” The original Greek translation uses the words “pornea” (unchastity) and “moichea” (adultery). Why did He use these two words instead of just “adultery?” Because adultery is committed by spouses, and unchastity by people who are not married. The Catholic Church upholds all the teachings of Christ, from whom she gets her authority. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us about divorce and it’s consequences:

    And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery (Mt 19: 9).

    Jesus uses two important words in this passage; “unchastity” and “adultery.” The original Greek translation uses the words “pornea” (unchastity) and “moichea” (adultery). Why did He use these two words instead of just “adultery?” Because adultery is committed by spouses, and unchastity by people who are not married. So, how can a wife commit unchastity? If the marriage is unlawful, or invalid (having the appearance of being married but not having a valid bond). This is why a tribunal looks at the dating, engagement and marriage periods of the relationship and takes great care in getting as many details as possible so an informed and appropriate decision can be made about whether or not a valid bond existed.”

    “Unchastity” refers to an unlawful, or invalid (having the appearance of being married but not having a valid bond) marriage. Unfortunately for the Church and society, there are many couples approaching the altar who are incapable of creating a valid/sacramental bond and who receive a decree of nullity (if they even bother with the annulment process).

    Our Protestant brothers and sisters have no leg to stand on when it comes to this issue. Their bibles use the word “immorality” which is their excuse for allowing couples to divorce and remarry without any consequence. Living in the Bible Belt, I’m surrounded by people who believe infidelity is grounds for being able to remarry.

    I think there are definitely some wonderful women out there who could be your soulmate, Andrew! CatholicMatch has a great track record for helping people find theirs. P.S. Do you eat the snipes when you catch them? I wonder if they taste like chicken?

    - Lisa

  13. Carrie-529869 February 21, 2014

    Lisa, I disagree. The term “short form” actually refers to those marries outside of form. This is also saying that a valid marriage didn’t exist.

    Privaledge actually dissolves a valid but not sacramental marriage.

  14. Sally-1011334 February 22, 2014

    I have been told by 3 separate priests (from different Orders) that I will get an annulment (I’ve been separated for about 6 years and divorced for about 2 years) but I haven’t even started the process because it sounds full-on. My profile makes a big point that I’m only interested in online friendship because I know that an annulment is a must before a practising Catholic can re-marry.

    Seriously, what is it like going through the annulment process?

    • Lisa-727959 February 23, 2014

      Hi, Sally,

      Thanks for sharing your situation. I hate to say it, but even if your case is fairly cut and dried, no one can give you confirmation of receiving a decree of nullity except for the tribunal and only after your case is heard and a determination has been made. I encourage you to follow through with it. It might be a heavy experience, but it’s one that I believe will bring you much peace.

      I commend you for your prudence in letting CM members know you are only available for friendship! It would be great if others would follow in your footsteps.

      Sincerely – Lisa

  15. Jacqueline-1061403 February 22, 2014

    Sally, as I am ahead of you in the annulment process I still have questions. I have been divorced for 17 years. In 2006, 9 years after my divorce I went to my Parish priest and initiated my annulment process, completed two interviews and was given instructions and paperwork as to what my next step would be…I thought to myself at the time… wonderful you can do this!!!!! However I did not think that writing the events that occurred within my 17.5 year marriage was going to be that painful… So I am, in essence, in a cocoon created by my own doing until I complete my paperwork and submit it to my Diocese the process lingers. My ex husband has remarried and had additional children… So what’s wrong with me you ask??? It is an emotional journey, and I am certain I will come out on the other side of this victoriously. So if I had to give you an answer to what it is like???? Emotional would be my answer. I have never been one to venture into the social networking trend especially a dating website, But like many I would always see the Catholic Match advertisement on the back of our Sunday Bulletin and remember thinking to myself ‘nah not for me’. But I have come to see that it is a community of support that provides articles, feedback, and thought provoking questions that has a way of appealing to many if they reach out and join the discussion threads and post comments. I wish you the best when you do finally start the process.

  16. Meg-920823 February 23, 2014

    I use this example when explaining annulments: business contracts that are signed and sealed when one or both parties do not have adequate understanding, pertinent facts concerning the situation or the other party, or if there is deception, the contract is often contested in court or the sale rescinded.

    I loved your blog; do you think my example is an accurate way to explain annulments to those totally confused?

    Thanks…

    • Lisa-727959 February 23, 2014

      Hi, Meg,

      Thanks for sharing your explanation and your kind words. I think that’s a good way of making it easier to understand.

      God bless!

      - Lisa

  17. Andrew-1040810 February 23, 2014

    Thank you Lisa for another very kind and considerate response . We will never know the exact words our Lord spoke to the Pharisees concerning divorce , but I seriously doubt if he spoke in Greek. Furthermore, Christ never taught anything about an “annulment process” nor can it be found anywhere in the Old Testament or New Testament. Do you know when the Roman Catholic Church initiated the “annulment process” and when the first tribunal was convened?

    • Lisa-727959 February 23, 2014

      Andrew,

      Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but the original translation of the bible is in greek. It’s what all theologians refer to (or should refer to). I know you are challenging the idea of the annulment process, and I have given you biblical evidence of such, so if you disagree that’s okay. Maybe you can provide the info you are alluding to?

      Sincerely – Lisa

      • Chelsea-743484 February 23, 2014

        Actually, Lisa, the original translation of the sacred Scriptures was into Latin, by Saint Jerome. Before that, the Old Testament had been fully translated into Greek, and the New Testament books were each originally written in various languages (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic). The only canonical Scriptures which we have available to us are the old Latin Vulgate Edition of the Scriptures. The First Vatican Council teaches “The complete books of the Old and the New Testament with all their parts, as they are listed in the decree of the said Council and as they are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition, are to be received as Sacred and Canonical.” (the “said Council” being the Council of Trent). There is no such approbation anywhere in the Church for a contemporary Greek translation of the sacred Scriptures, and there is no evidence that the scriptural sources which were in Greek, from which Saint Jerome made part of his entire translation into Latin, are yet extant.

        • Lisa-727959 February 24, 2014

          Hey, Chelsea, thanks so much for your clarification!

          - Lisa

  18. Lisa-727959 February 23, 2014

    Andrew, Chelsea and all,

    Thanks for your input and opinions on this issue. Luckily, the good folks at the CatholicMatch Institute hold my feet to the fire when I write, so I in addition to the learning about canon law and the annulment process I’ve done over the last 20 years, both through personal and professional experience, I check my facts with canon lawyers. My goal is not to win an argument, but simply help people understand what happens a little better.

    I always appreciate the conversations that commence. Thank you :)

    Sincerely – Lisa Duffy

  19. Donald-1062010 February 25, 2014

    As one who went through the annulment process, I can honestly say that it is at least, in large part, cathartic in nature as if forces one to look into not just the marriage, but into oneself. This is a good thing since it greatly helps avoid some of the same mistakes in a subsequent marriage. While my second marriage also had ups and downs, we were both able to deal with issues that arose and it can honestly be said that this marraige of 22 years, was, until she passed away, a success. My advice to any who are considering the annulment process, even if no susequent marriage is contemplated, to go ahead as it provides a great foundation to move forward from.

  20. Patty F. February 25, 2014

    I started my annulment the same day my divorce was final. What a tough day. Somehow I found my inner strength. The annulment was just as painful as the divorce and took longer than my divorce. And I too had been married for 17 years. Although it was so very hard to do, I felt I needed to do this. Sometimes the “right road is not always the easy road. And God brought me thru my divorce, and I said if it is the right thing to do, God will get me through this too!!!

  21. Jeannie-822585 March 2, 2014

    I’m not an expert in Canon Law by a long shot and willingly admit, or in need of an annulment, but I am always concerned that lay people, Lisa in this case, is speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church about something extremely important to get right so I think it is best that CM realize its responsibilities to its subscribers and have only individuals in the Church to convey this type of information.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way of what CM allows posted. This is far too important a topic and by reading the comments, many disagree which led me to post this note that people need to hear the truth not about a lay person’s take on things.

    God bless,

    Jeannie

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