The 3rd Biggest Mistake: Dating Without An Annulment


I had to laugh at myself as I walked to the mailbox this morning.

My bank account was recently hacked and money stolen. I was on the phone with my bank for long periods of time as well as on the Internet filing claims and speaking with fraud specialists seeking refunds of the fraudulent charges.

The bank refunded the nearly $1,000 that was stolen from my account and as part of their investigation, I was mailed multiple forms to fill out and send back for each of the 15 unapproved charges. If I didn’t fill them out and return them by a certain date, my refunds would be reversed and I would end up losing all that money.

What a pain!

Who has time to fill out forms and stick them in the mail? Why can’t this all be done over the Internet or taken care of in the phone calls I made? And that’s why I had to laugh at myself. I, and most people for that matter, am spoiled by the instant gratification society I live in.

This type of attitude spills over into everyday life, including, for many, their attitudes toward the annulment process. Just as getting my money refunded was critical to me, so is the annulment process for people who want to date and remarry again (only much more critical).

But there are always excuses or negative feelings about the process that get in the way, much the same way I let those forms sit for a week before I actually filled them out and put them in my mailbox.

“I’ve heard it takes five years to get an annulment! What am I supposed to do in the meantime, live like a hermit?”

“My aunt went through one and said it cost her thousands of dollars there is no way I can afford that!”

“I’ve already been through a civil divorce and that’s enough for me. If the Church says I can’t date unless I do their ‘Catholic divorce,’ well, that’s their problem, not mine.”

These are all comments I’ve heard over the years and really, they are all based on mistruths and misunderstandings about which people rarely bother to find out the truth.

But truth be told, you shouldn’t be dating, in a serious relationship, or engaged unless you have a decree of nullity in hand.

Those are the facts, my friend.

But you may wonder why this is so? Why is that little piece of paper so important? Why does the absence of that little piece of paper mean you can’t receive the sacraments if you have already remarried? Why is the Church trying to make things difficult for you?

Last week I wrote the analogy of protective borders around a playground on a busy city street and this applies here, too. The Church, upholding the teachings of Christ, has these parameters in place to keep you safe.

Allow me to explain…

Canon Law teaches us that for a sacrament to be a sacrament, two things MUST be present; matter and form. So you can have a validly ordained priest (form) pray the Epiclises or words of consecration (form) over an Oreo cookie (matter) but you will not get the Eucharist. The matter must be a host that is made within the specifications of the Church (unleavened, wheat bread). And you can have the specified host on the altar, but I cannot pray the Epiclises over it and render the Eucharist. I (the form) am not an ordained priest. Another example would be that you cannot baptize a baby with Coca-Cola; it must be water and the appropriate blessing said during the pouring of the water.

Likewise, you can have all the appearances of a sacramental marriage – the service at the church, the dress, tux, ring and certificate, the limo and the reception, etc. but if the matter or form are lacking, you don’t necessarily have a sacrament.


Not bad news

So what the annulment process does is investigate the dating, engagement, and marriage relationship of the couple with specific emphasis on the day of the wedding so a determination can be made as to whether or not a sacrament took place on the day of the wedding.

If the verdict is there was no sacrament, you receive a decree of nullity (commonly known as an annulment). If the verdict states a sacrament did take place, then you are bound to your ex-spouse until one or the other dies. And this means you are not free to date.

I know, I can hear you saying, “Thanks a lot for the positive feedback, Lisa. Sure glad you write for CatholicMatch.”

But please don’t feel this means bad news for you and I’ll tell you why.

There is great healing in the annulment process and that alone is worth more than you can imagine. But moreover, when it is approached without the demands of needing to be free to be in a new relationship, it becomes your true compass. Going through the annulment process helps to close that painful chapter of your life, but also gives you a clear sense of direction for your future and this is a freedom that is priceless. It gives you the freedom to give yourself without reservation to your future spouse. It brings such joy into dating relationships because there is no hesitation about whether you should or shouldn’t. God has sanctioned your search for a new spouse.

If the declaration you receive states you are bound to your spouse despite your divorce, you still have a clear-cut direction, meaning you know a new relationship is not in the cards so your future is wide open to whatever great things God has waiting for you now. And I guarantee you, if you open yourself to Him, He will give you great things.

If you want to date and haven’t received a decree of nullity, I encourage you to go through the annulment process and put this period of your life it entirely in God’s hands. Don’t go into it with a demand or a purpose, wanting to be free to date and remarry.

I encourage you to enter into it with the desire of finding what God’s plan is for your life. What direction does He want you to take? Enlist the Holy Spirit as your guide and pray for the direction to understand the past, clarify the future, and fortify you for the long haul.

And if you already have your decree of nullity, my best wishes to you in your search for the right one!



Further reading

Don’t miss the first two parts of this series:



  1. George R. August 31, 2015 Reply

    A monitum is warning that a person may need to deal with certain issues in their life that were revealed during the process. It doesn’t prevent a marriage “in the church”. Its a recommendation to change or correct behavior before marrying again. The church may grant an annulment but has a vetitum attached : a more strict policy that requires one to do certain things before they can again marry “In the church”(counseling , therapy, drug or alcohol rehab are examples)

  2. Rene-747300 May 29, 2015 Reply

    Is dating okay with an annulment but without Decree of Nullity?

  3. Eric-910290 April 27, 2014 Reply

    I have a question. I have received a decree of nullity from one diocese, but not the second. Can I date now or do I need to wait for the confirmation from the 2nd Diocese? I’ve been told that the 2nd diocese almost always grants the decree from the 1st. Also, I received a Monitum. Does anyone know what that is?

    • Rene-747300 May 29, 2015 Reply

      warning or something, by simple google search…asking the chancery or tribunal might get a clear answer

  4. Roy F. October 21, 2013 Reply

    what church (denomination) do these processes and gives a decree of nullity? are the churches who does not do these…?

  5. Theodoric-68091 August 17, 2013 Reply

    It’s a bit of an oversimplification, Lisa, from a pragmatic perspective. If an Oreo cookie were consecrated one would not be expected to show adoration and veneration while they waited for an official pronouncement stating that the cookie was not not, indeed, a validly consecrated host.

    I agree that the Church provides a safety barrier in unclear cases where the conscience is not certain. What I suspect may exist is some kind of ecclesiastical law stating one who was civilly married but has not received a decree of nullity from the Church is obligated to wait before dating until they receive such decree, as a matter of discipline. Or is the decision to date left to the conscience, as in the case of someone that finds themselves at Mass where the words of consecration are possibly deficient in form?

    The reality is that we are not children on a playground, but adults. If there has never been a valid marriage why would we pretend that there has been? If it’s uncertain, then yes, we should exercise caution. But if it is clear, why would one wait? All we do in life involves a judgement call. Wilful blindness does not exculpate us from sin, but reasoned and moral judgements are what make us persons of virtue.

    • Rene-747300 May 29, 2015 Reply

      The form of a Sacrament falls under the external forum of the Church, the internal which is also important is the investigation from without establishing the reality of both. Hence, the truth binding on conscience is the simple judgement of the Church. Since the form of the Sacrament is to be self-evident to the Church and marriage is a Sacrament the need that the contrary be proven true. Otherwise, the sacramental theology of the Church is merely lacking also in matter. So matter and form for each sacrament needs to be in accordance with the Divine Law and in the case of marriage, the natural and ecclesiastical law; hence, the need for evidence to prove for or against and the judgement therefrom. Word alone suffices not before a Tribunal of government that falls under the Office of Sanctifying and Governing the Church and this is is accordance to the triple office of Christ- the bishop and hence, the faithful baptized as king, prophet and priest. ~

  6. Alvaro-972472 May 15, 2013 Reply

    I’d like to clarify that for those who underwent a Catholic marriage, but were of different “religions” each, and did not get a dispensation (permission), do qualify for annulment. Also, if the marriage was a civil one (no religious Catholic ceremony/sacrament), don’t need an annulment. These are “only” guilty of fornication, and confession should resolve the matter. No judgement here, only stating the facts. Those who were married in a valid Catholic ceremony, who knew exactly what they were doing, cannot get an anulment and cannot remarry within the church.

    • Rene-747300 May 29, 2015 Reply

      “…stating of facts”=Defect of form…canons 1075; 1107…

  7. Alvaro-972472 May 15, 2013 Reply

    Would you like to share on what grounds you got the annulment? I am assuming that you and your ex-husband knew what you were doing and the marriage was valid. Is it your contention that when you married either one of you had serious grounds for not getting married by the church? The majority of couples marry freely. There are no valid grounds for an annulment and these couples cannot remarry or belong to the church, (ie, can’t take communion, etc).

  8. Rodney-959694 April 5, 2013 Reply

    Im not too sure if I even need to go through the process of annulment? I married a non-Catholic in a Protestant church. She refused to get dispensation from the Church, no Catholic blessing…nothing at all. I did some research and found a process called Lack of Form…any thoughts?

    • Rene-747300 May 29, 2015 Reply

      Lack of Form indeed, this paperwork establishes once again your freedom to marry in the Church again. After the reply from the Diocesan chancery or tribunal with your parish there should be greater light. WIthout a defect of form granted and the pre-nuptial investigation one cannot marry canonically, etc

  9. Cathleen-888944 August 22, 2012 Reply

    Does one need an annulment from the church if the marriage was a civil ceremony? Thank!

    • Rene-747300 May 29, 2015 Reply

      if the partner remains, seek a Convalidation after your Pre-Nuptial Investigation after you have consulted with a Catholic priest or seek aid from the Tribunal or Chancery from your diocese. If the partner is not the same, then by Defect of Form, the freedom to marry canonically needs to be established via this paperwork…again seek the aid of the hierarchy and yes then when Convalidation in the former case is imminent, or in the latter case seek the Sacrament of Penance. But first seek guidance so that you are aware of your status before the Church.

  10. Kathleen-873055 July 9, 2012 Reply

    Hi Lisa, I’ve been divorced for a year, but separated for five. I am in the process of annulment, but had a falling out with my sister – the last witness I need for my annulment. Both my pastor and tribunnal representative support the anulment, and my ex-husband has indicated that he does not plan to contest. I am hoping to find a different witness, but I’m not sure. My brother was so young and my father is now so old. The tribunnal has two tesitmonys in addition to my own. Aren’t I free to date?

  11. Angela-559424 June 27, 2012 Reply

    for me…I do not believe in annulment…it is still the same like a divorce…I have not married yet but then I do feel that a divorce or annulment is just a piece of paper….yes I knew there are considerations taken before the annulment…but how could 2 hearts, 2 souls that had been joined for years…by Lord…could be separated by human..a pastor is still a human….for me…it is a joke that one can re-marry after getting a piece of annulment paper….when u decided to get marry…stay faithful forever….do not take annulment for granted….

    • Amy-952196 April 6, 2013 Reply

      Angela, I agree with you 100% about getting an annulment–or a divorce for that matter. It is not something you plan on doing when you get married to your true love. Having been divorced–and having my marriage annulled–I’ve been called to walk a life I never planned on walking.
      An annulment is granted when the Catholic church determines the marriage was not a sacramental marriage. That is why a marriage with a civil union or a marriage to a non-catholic can be annulled pretty easily. Provided there was not an error with the sacrament or some other circumstances (marrying your 1st cousin or being 14 when you married), the church determines if the couple had any pre-existing concerns that made the marriage not truly united in the eyes of the Church. Please note, these issues need to have been apparent BEFORE the sacramental marriage.

      What I learned through my process of the annullment is the blessing of a sacramental marriage should not be taken lightly. It is a calling for a vocation–of married life. Similiarly, being called to religious life–it is a calling. In our day, we believe marriage is something you do–like getting the other sacraments–Baptism, Communion, Reconciliation, Confirmation and Last Rites. Therefore, I have learned that annulments are not a “get out of jail for free”, but if truly experienced is a chance to reflect on–and grow from–what is your vocation?

    • Rene-747300 May 29, 2015 Reply

      Practically I too do not “believe” in annulments as Catholic divorces because that is not Church teaching. What I do believe in Sacramental marriage as indissoluble and permanent when valid, etc; but in addition I do believe the Church per her teaching and authority has jurisdiction over the declaration if no sacrament occur if and only if by appearance, but every marriage is considered valid until proven the contrary. Hence, the need to investigate. But when a marriage is valid, no authority on earth or heaven can erase the bond. Only death. With the exception of the Petrine and Pauline Privileges…Every valid sacraments is binding for life until death since God himself via the spouses before the Church entered freely into it without any impediments in the natural law, divine law, or ecclesiastical law.

  12. Derek-481265 August 11, 2011 Reply

    Beautifully written, Lisa. I think I’ll make one of my CM interview questions, “Have you read Lisa Duffy’s ‘The 3 Biggest Mistakes When Dating After Divorce?”

    In 2007, I met a lady who had been married in the Catholic church and then divorced some 20 years ago (husband walked out on her and two young girls). Rather than seek an annulment, she remarried outside of the church and remained so until around 2005 (that marriage also ended in misery – and she said she was bitter that she had not baptized and raised her son from that marriage as a Catholic). When I met her in 2007, she made it clear to me that she was desparate to be married and said, “I should pursue an annulment” (but she never did while I was friends with her). I don’t know if she ever obtained her annulment, but I know she’s now engaged to be married to a Catholic man. I pray she has at least received an annulment.

  13. Careese-449851 August 11, 2011 Reply

    Excellent, and this was my favorite part of the article, “If the declaration you receive states you are bound to your spouse despite your divorce, you still have a clear-cut direction….. your future is wide open to whatever great things God has waiting for you now.”

    There is hope…

  14. Mary-248027 August 8, 2011 Reply

    The annulment process for me was healing, gentle, thorough and authentic. It gave me an opportunity to work with knowledgeable and spiritual mentors in a therapeutic environment. I left the process knowing that I had a much deeper comprehension of, and appreciation for the beauty of the sacrament of marriage. True, committed Catholics should not be dating unless they have received the decree of nullity of the marriage. Without this, they are dating while married. This is our faith…the Catholic, Christian walk demands much, but the returns are astonishing!

  15. Richard-646024 August 4, 2011 Reply

    I haven’t sought an annulment. I didn’t want to divorce. Now I find myself alone. I have two daughters, aged six and eleven. I don’t want to go through the process and have to explain that their family was null in the eyes of the church.

    • Lisa-727959 August 6, 2011 Reply

      Dear Richard,

      You are going through an incredibly painful situation, I know, especially because you do not want to divorce. I’m sure you would do whatever you could to save your marriage and spare your children this pain.

      Please know that the annulment process does not nullify the family relationship. As a matter of fact, the Church (and God, of course) recognizes that, although there may not have been a sacramental bond between the spouses, there certainly was a natural marriage bond and a REAL family. There is no attempt to belittle the family or state that the familial relationships were null in any way.

      I will pray for you and your family as you battle through this difficult time.

  16. Nancy-640021 July 15, 2011 Reply

    Okay, this topic is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine…be forewarned:

    Matthew 3:27 says “You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I am indeed saying to you that every one who looks at a woman to want her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    Just because a person whose annulment has not been granted chooses to date, that does not mean they are sinning any more than a single person. ALL PEOPLE are called to have purity of mind and heart!

    Furthermore, unless you have been in the shoes of those undergoing an annulment, you have absolutely no idea how difficult it is especially when you did not choose to give up on your marriage in the first place. You have no idea the scorn one endures by their “friends” who abandon them because they are divorced and in their ignorance say they “don’t want to be a party to adultery” as if they can see into the heart and mind of another.

    What makes one think they can sit on the judgement seat without knowing the facts? While I agree that there are those who simply choose not to seek an annulment, there are also those who literally put themselves in physical danger if they do. There are many variables.

    And while ideally, annulments provide healing, it is one of the most painful and upsetting things to do. That’s a fact and not all Tribunal officers see their job as a ministry. Three of us in our office are undergoing annulments and are compiling notes of our experiences and that is a major thing since we all work for the church. Believe me, we receive no special treatment or favor as employees of the Diocese.

    Is it worth it? Absolutely! Because even though it has been difficult it is vindication and a chance to tell my story – for the church to review all the facts and see what everyone else in my life saw – a sacramental marriage did not exist.

    • Lisa-727959 July 16, 2011 Reply

      Dear Nancy,

      I can see this is a sensitive issue for you, as you stated. Please know that I have been through the entire process – my ex-husband walked out on me 18 years ago this month and I had to go through the divorce and annulment process. I do understand your pain. I do speak from experience. I know how hard it is.

      You are correct in stating the annulment process is painful to go through, and in my experience, it was cleansing pain that helped me face the facts and mature as a person and in my relationship with God. I hope this was your experience, too.

      It’s important to be prepared for a new relationship if you put yourself out on the dating market, which is why having an annulment is so important. Otherwise, there are only hurt feelings and lots of trouble waiting in the future if you don’t.

      • Diana-432592 July 20, 2011 Reply

        Lisa, I so agree with you. I dated post divorce and prior to annulment and feel that it was unfair to the man that I dated becaused I was really not ready or healed enought to truly commit myself to a new relationship. The annulment process for me was very healing. Later after my annulment I dated someone who was divorced not annulled and it was really difficult to have dated someone for over a year and then find out that they are unwilling to do what is necessary to get an annullment. My preference now is to date only people who are truly free in the eyes of the Church. I have friendships with people who are divorced and do not exclude them from my life, but participate with them in group activities not individual dates. Finding your way post-divorce is no easy process. Thanks for writing this excellent series, I wish it had been available in my early post-divorce years.

    • Jerry-1347089 July 21, 2016 Reply

      Amen, Nancy! Those who shouldn’t judge until they have walked a mile in their neighbor’s shoes….

  17. Angie-584510 July 15, 2011 Reply

    Beautifully said Lisa. When my divorce was final, I truly believed that I was destined to remain sacramentally married to my ex and my wedding vows for the rest of my life. Yet, my parish priest prompted me to initiate the annulment process. He said: “File for annulment and accept the verdict as coming from the very hands of God”… and that’s exactly what I did. During the time being, I prayed frequently. I prayed to God for me to accept his Holy will. The process was long and full of tears. However, it was a healing experience. After the paperwork was submitted, it took about nine months to hear back from the church tribunal. I really had no idea what the outcome was going to be. I had prepared myself to accept it as coming from the very hands of God. The day I was notified that it had been granted, it was the confirmation I needed from God that I could start dating and moving into a new chapter of life. With that it comes the peace of mind that it is Okay for me to get romantically involved with a man and marry him at the Altar if I wished so as a never married person(sacramentally speaking) in the eyes of God.

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