Dear Mary Beth: Do I Need An Annulment?


Dear Mary Beth,

I’m new to this singles thing and not even sure how I feel about calling myself single. My husband moved out a year ago, and our divorce will be final next month. My problem is that everybody keeps telling me I need to start working on an annulment right away. It makes me sick just to think about it. I’ve just lost my marriage, and now the Church is going to tell me it was never real at all?

Sorta Single


Dear Sorta,

I’m so sorry for your loss. You’re going through a lot right now, and while this might be a good time to start learning more about annulment, it doesn’t strike me as the right time for you to make a decision about whether or not you should go through the process.

Let’s talk about annulment – what it is, and more importantly, what it is not.  Annulment is not “the final step in a Catholic divorce.” Unfortunately, this has become the mentality in certain Catholic circles – that Catholic marriages can be ended just like anyone else’s marriage, we just have to go through a slightly different process.

This could not be further from the truth.

As Catholics, we start with Christ’s words, that “what God has joined together, no man can separate” (Mark 10:9). We believe that, in a valid sacramental marriage, God joins two souls together in a way that cannot be separated except by death.

So what is annulment if it isn’t “Catholic divorce”? Quite simply, it is a process whereby Catholics ask the Church to investigate the circumstances surrounding their marriage, to make a determination as to whether that sacramental bond ever actually occurred.

Committing to marriage means committing to a very specific type of union – one that is permanent, exclusive and open to life. If one of the parties isn’t agreeing to those specific terms, or if their consent is impaired or not freely given, then a sacramental marriage never took place.

It is, however, true that a legal marriage took place – a type of contract, overseen by the state, in which the parties make certain commitments to each other. That agreement was created by the state and can be dissolved by the state. That’s what a legal divorce does. (That agreement, by the way, is what makes children “legitimate” as far as the law goes. In God’s eyes, the distinction is meaningless; there’s no such thing as an “illegitimate” child.)

So someone who is legally divorced but has no annulment is presumed by the Church to be sacramentally married. Which means that person isn’t free to marry someone else.


Taking your time

Here’s the main thing you need to know: You don’t have to pursue an annulment ever. Right now, as far as the Church is concerned, the sacramental bond between you and your ex-husband is presumed to be intact.

Many, many divorced Catholics presume that bond is there and live accordingly.  They don’t date, they don’t remarry. They just live their lives as married people separated from (or often, abandoned by) their spouses.

Here’s the rest of what you need to know: If at any point you want to start dating again, then you need to pursue an annulment – immediately. Before you can explore the possibility of re-marriage, you need to ask the Church to investigate, to make sure you are actually free to marry.

I strongly advise divorced Catholics who believe their first marriage may be invalid to go through the annulment process before opening their hearts to any new relationships. Otherwise, you run the very real risk of falling in love and then discovering that you aren’t free to marry.

Whatever you decide and whatever determination may be made about your first marriage, nothing can change what was real about it and about the family you may have created.

Annulment isn’t a statement about the intensity of the love between two people, or the “legitimacy” of the children resulting from the union. It’s simply a determination that the conditions didn’t exist for a sacramental union.

So don’t worry. Deal with what’s in front of you right now, continue to pray and to seek God’s will. He will take care of you!



  1. Elizabeth-753085 August 23, 2012 Reply

    Great article, thanks!!

  2. JaneMarie-412669 June 20, 2011 Reply

    Good Article. I am Sorta Single also. My divorce will be final 2yrs in August. I am Seeking an Annulment. My Faith and siblings got me through the very difficult time. My concern at the time was being a practicing Catholic, and doing a lot of soul searching. Just requesting the annulment papers and reviewing them really makes you think. It is a emotional and metal process. Most Definitely a necessary part of the healing process. Get through the divorce. Request the papers, this is a major in your own healing process. Seek friends you will know when your are ready to take the next step. Just becoming single and realizing you are aloud to be happy and ready to move forward into your own life will make the difference, thus, help you make your own decision. My recommendation is still think about starting the process just by requesting the papers and reviewing them. It is a long process that is about healing. Healing is hard enough, don’t blame yourself Forgive yourself and move on. The annulment is about moving into a new chapter in your life as a Practicing Catholic, and not saying the marriage did not happen.
    Close that chapter in your life and start the next chapter a different person. Have a good support group to get you through the transition. When you are ready you will know.

    Dear Mary Beth. So tell me what you think. Please!

  3. Cristine-566841 June 17, 2011 Reply

    I agree with the above article but it is not thorough and not completely accurate. If you read the CCC 2380-2385 you will see that you should not even be pursuing a relationship other than friendship unless your marriage has been annulled. Although this is very difficult and painful to hear it is the teaching of the Catholic Church and I have had several priest in my diocese confirm this understanding of those passages. To not have your marriage nullified means you are married. To be married and pursuing a relationship other than friendship is considered adultery.

  4. Barbara-677561 June 16, 2011 Reply

    The church is giving these annulments out like candy. Once you have consumated your union, had children, have been ith someone for 30-40 years, how can you ask for an annulment unless there was physical abuse and/or other situations. Get married at city hall and live a christian life.

    • Joan-529855 August 26, 2012 Reply

      Good answer…The Unted States Tribunals ARE handing out annulments like candy.

  5. Lynn-178898 June 16, 2011 Reply

    I believe there are more reasons, than what was listed in the article, to get started on an annulment as soon as possible. One, the process is therapeutic and the sooner it is started, the sooner you start on your recovery. Also, your memory is fresher the closer the past incidents in your marriage are to your start on annulment. Two, you need witnesses to what happened, and people die, move away, or become uninterested over time.

    I started my annulment the day my civil divorce was final and I’m glad that I did. That may not be the best way for everyone, but the longer you wait, it seems the harder it is.

  6. Mark-687718 June 1, 2011 Reply

    While I accept that if you are divorced and found ineligible for annulment, you are still married in the Church and cannot remarry, I have a really hard time accepting the notion that you cannot date and have a non-sexual relationship with someone. How can God expect people unfortunately in this situation to never be able to love and feel love ever again in their lives? That would be incredibly cruel, and God is anything but cruel! God is Love and all Love is from God. I can’t believe God would expect divorced people to spend the rest of their post-divorce lives alone and miserable.

    • Clement-669539 June 1, 2011 Reply


      What I believe Mary Beth means by being divorced and starting to date without an annulment is that one would be walking a very fine line that can quickly lead to falling in love and that could lead the divorcee into an adultorous relationship, which strongly needs to be avoided. She never said, nor does the Church state a divorced Catholic cannot have a friendship with anyone. That “friendship” shall not be interpreted loosely. They need to be very careful in how they handle their relationships with those of the opposite sex. Some of the churches teachings are hard to accept. I think many people in these situtations keep “looking for an out in life” with the church. Thankfully, something in this world of ours doesn’t budge on its teachings. Think about Christ and the sorrowful mystery of His “Agony in the garden”. Which I understand is not so much about Christ pondering the pain of His own death but about all the millions of souls that would not be saved after allowing himself to be die. Now that’s agony. I have preparing myself to accept this in my own life, as I am currently going through the annulment process, and understand that there is a possibility that it I may not receive it.

  7. Peter-449116 May 25, 2011 Reply

    I was raised Catholic but as a young adult fell away from the Church. I later married in the Episcopal church, divorcing fourteen years later. Shortly afterward I began practicing my Catholic faith again, and have been doing so for over twenty years. Since I never married in the Catholic Church do I still need an annulment? Also you’re telling me that after my divorce, my having dated means I’ve been cheating on my ex-wife?

  8. Palma-725757 May 23, 2011 Reply

    Dear Sorta Single,
    I would like to mention that in order to marry again in the church you do need an annulment. You are free to marry but not in the church if divorced. I recommend an annulment. I am currently seeking one. It brings closure and is part of the healing process.
    People need to move on. Follow your heart and keep your faith in God. Prayer, support and time will heal. You are currently single in your mind but not on paper nor in the eyes of church. Best of luck!

  9. Patrick-606389 May 18, 2011 Reply

    What’s left to sy Mary Beth . . . never having faced the challemges of divorce. this was clear, truthful and gentle and wise —

    I think you should treat yourself to a milkshake . . . and me —- joshing of course. Am I?

  10. Patricia-707403 May 17, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the information. As much as I dislike the process of annuling my mairrage I know that it will be part of the healing process. I was not aware of the churches stand on dating after my divorce.

  11. Dino-72346 May 16, 2011 Reply

    Mary Beth,

    Thank you for your article about annulment……as, it seems to be one of the most divisive and confusing issues in the Catholic church.
    I have received an annulment from the church, and it is such a wonderful blessing……almost as if I were baptized all over again.

    The process the church has in place can be very difficult, but the reality is that it helps the healing process and helps one to understand the mistakes of their marriage choice.

    One thing that you failed to mention, is that if you have not received your annulment…….the Catholic church still considers you to be married. Therefore, dating someone seriously would be considered cheating on your marriage, and could lead to adultery. Even Catholic Match had us agree contractually when signing up here that we were free to date by the church, however over the years they dropped it to seek greater membership.

    I see many members here also that say that they don’t know if they are free to marry, but if you were married in any form…… must seek some degree of nullity from the Catholic church to re-marry.

    Thanks again, Dino

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