November 15, 2019

Answers to common questions and concerns about the process for a declaration of marriage nullity

On its website, the archdiocese’s tribunal has a list of “frequently asked questions” for people seeking information about the process toward a “declaration of marriage nullity”—commonly referred to as an annulment.

Here is a selection of the most common questions and concerns of people, a selection chosen by Daniel Ross, a judge instructor for the tribunal. (For the full list of frequently asked questions and other information about the process, visit the tribunal’s website, www.archindy.org/tribunal.)
 

Q: Does a declaration of marriage nullity “erase” or “wipe away” a marriage?

A: No. When a marriage is declared invalid by the Church, it is not a conclusion that no relationship of any kind existed. Naturally, there was a wedding ceremony and a civil marriage that did, in fact, take place. If the wedding in question took place in a Catholic church, it remains recorded in the parish’s official marriage register even after a declaration of nullity is granted, followed by a notation of the declaration of nullity entered alongside of it. Furthermore, no one can deny that two people did experience some kind of life together for the duration of their union. Nothing is “erased.”

What people often call an “annulment” is more accurately understood as a “declaration of nullity.” In other words, it is the recognition by the Catholic Church that some essential element was missing at the time the parties said, “I do,” which prevented the wedding from resulting in a perpetual, binding union that can be dissolved only by the death of one of the parties. It is no longer considered a sacred bond, or a sacrament for Christians.
 

Q: Does the marriage nullity process make it too difficult for people to remarry?

A: Some people say that the process makes it too hard for people to “move on” with their lives. While the Catholic Church does believe in upholding people’s natural freedom to marry, this freedom is not absolute and is not acknowledged to exist when there is already a prior marriage that has taken place. To hold otherwise would be to contradict the Church’s own position on the indissolubility of marriage and the teachings of Jesus.

Generally, by publicly exchanging wedding vows, people create a presumption that a valid and indissoluble marriage bond has been formed. It is their burden to prove otherwise. Because this exchanging of vows is not only a public event, but a sacred and solemn one as well, it is only reasonable that an equally serious judicial process investigate any contention that this exchange did not result in a valid or sacramental bond.
 

Q: Does a declaration of nullity make children illegitimate?

A: No! This is one of the most common misunderstandings among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. “Illegitimacy” is, in the modern world, a civil legal term. If the parties entered marriage by observing all the legal requirements of the state, then any offspring born of the marriage are “legitimate.” Neither the civil divorce nor a declaration of marriage nullity change the status of the children born to parents who met all legal requirements at the time of marriage.

In fact, if a marriage that produced children is declared invalid, both parties will be reminded of their continuing obligations and responsibilities toward the care and upbringing of all children born in the prior marriage.
 

Q: Why does the marriage nullity process apply even to someone who is not Catholic?

A: All parties who approach the Catholic Church for marriage must be free from any prior bond of marriage—both Catholics and non-Catholics. The Catholic Church has profound respect for all marriages. We view all marriages between validly baptized people (not just marriages that took place in a Catholic church) as a sacrament—a sacred bond sealed by God and a visible sign of His grace.

Therefore, given the Church’s deep respect for the sanctity of marriage, which includes the indissolubility of marriage a serious investigation of any prior marriage of any person wishing to remarry in the Catholic Church, must be undertaken. For marriages between persons at least one of whom is not a baptized Christian, while the Church does not recognize that marriage as a sacrament, it is still presumed to be a valid natural marriage.

Understandably, this may be a very difficult task for a non-Catholic. Most often the non-Catholic party approaches the nullity process with the understanding that it is necessary in order for his or her Catholic intended to be able to marry in the Catholic Church. For the non-Catholic, participation in the nullity process is often an act of self-giving and respect for the Catholic intended’s faith practices. This being said, it can also be a powerful experience of healing and closure for a non-Catholic, just as it can for a Catholic who is going through this process.
 

Q: What is the status of a divorced Catholic?

A: This is a commonly misunderstood issue. Because the Church does not recognize civil divorce as terminating a bond of marriage (but only as terminating the civil effects of marriage), the Church regards divorced people as only separated from their former spouses. In the eyes of the Church, these people are not free to remarry. However, a divorced Catholic who has not remarried is free to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church (including Eucharist and penance/reconciliation). It is only when a divorced person remarries without some resolution in the Catholic Church of a prior bond of marriage that participation in the sacraments is not permitted.
 

Q: Can a person buy his or her annulment?

A: There are no fees of any kind charged by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. †

 

Related story: Group’s support leads to hope and healing in the soul-searching journey of annulment

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