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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter at @lisaduffy.