November 15, 2019

Woman finds hope, healing after seeking ‘declaration of marriage nullity’

By John Shaughnessy

When her marriage of 26 years ended in divorce, Barbara Clisham longed for two possibilities to return to her life.

The first one was healing.

“My husband left after 23 years. It took me three years to accept there was nothing more I could do to save the marriage,” she says. “Especially being a lifelong Catholic who holds marriage in the utmost esteem, it’s very difficult to go through. I believe that healing makes the difference in proceeding in life in the way God wants us to.”

The second possibility she longed for was tied to hope—the hope that one day she would no longer feel she was in a state of limbo, that she could get on with her life, have the freedom to marry in the Church, and establish a closer connection to her Catholic faith.

“No one made me feel I was in limbo,” she says. “That was strictly internal. Every contact I had with the Church has been supportive. I needed to be whole within myself.

“I was Catholic and divorced, and I felt I would be in that limbo forever. That was difficult to me.”

Her first step toward healing and hope was participating in an archdiocesan retreat for separated and divorced Catholics. She says that retreat helped her prepare for the second part of her comeback—seeking a “declaration of marriage nullity,” commonly referred to as an annulment.

“My initial idea of an annulment was that it was for people who were young, who weren’t prepared for marriage,” says Clisham, who married when she was 39. “But I came to see my situation fell into one or more areas which would be eligible for a review.”

She symbolically started the process on New Year’s Eve of 2016. Within two months, she submitted her request to the archdiocese’s tribunal, so her petition could be reviewed.

“I felt a good level of healing through the annulment process,” says Clisham, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. “It made me look at every aspect of entering into a marriage that I believed would last forever. I found I couldn’t do it quickly.”

She also found it was easier to not go through the process alone. She received help from a Holy Spirit Parish support group made up of members who had gone through the process previously.

“Often when I was with friends, they were loving and supportive, but there was no way they knew what I was going through. Knowing that once every month I would be with people who had this common experience, I could really breathe.”

She had the same reaction in dealing with the tribunal staff.

“The tribunal has a very thorough process, and I respect that process,” she says. “They very clearly lay out what is involved in the process, which really helped dispel many misconceptions. They take such care with it. I felt very positive about the communication during the process. When I had a question, it was treated kindly and professionally.”

After 22 months, she was informed her marriage nullity case had been decided. The tribunal judge declared the marriage was invalid, and she was free from that bond of marriage.

“I felt many things—sorrow for the loss of the marriage, and relief at no longer feeling in limbo, and extreme gratefulness for the very detailed, insightful decision that I read,” she says. “That helped me heal better. I read the decision carefully, and I thought, ‘How did these people understand to that depth what happened in those 26 years?’ I felt there had been someone who had experienced what I had experienced.”

She finally had the healing and the hope she sought. She also has started dating.

“I’ve come to see the things we gain from the things we lost.” †


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

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