Many marriages are not successful even with the good intentions of both spouses. This can be true even when the family is well established and the marriage has last many years. Once a marriage is entered into by two people, Catholic, Protestant, or non – Christian, it is presumed to be a valid and binding union until the opposite can be proven.
The Catholic Church has established certain procedures that a couple must follow when petitioning for an annulment. Primarily, a civil court must divorce a couple before they can attain an annulment. Below are the steps one takes to have their previous marriage nullified.
- Who can apply for an annulment.
Usually, a person seeking an annulment is someone who has been married, is now divorced and wishes to marry again, specifically in the Catholic Church. Anyone married in the Catholic Church and now divorced can request an annulment whether they are wishing to marry again or not.
- Involvement of former spouse.
Yes, the Church requires that the former spouse be notified that the annulment process has begun and to offer him/her the opportunity to make a response. Your ex spouse will be sent a letter explaining the process that was initiated. Your ex spouse does not have to agree to the annulment. They also don’t have to agree to participate in the process.
- Documents you will need.
- Copies of the baptismal certificates of all Catholic parties involved.
- Copy of the civil marriage license.
- Copy of the church marriage certificate.
- Copy of the divorce decree certified or signed by the Judge.
- Submitting your case.
If the case begins on the Parish level, the priest, deacon, or pastoral associate will submit it to the tribunal. If you choose you can go straight to the tribunal and not begin at the Parish level.
You are asked to contact two or more people who are willingness to help with your case. They should be people who know something about the marriage in question, especially the period right before and right after the wedding. These people usually are friends or family members. You should tell all the witnesses that they have your permission to speak freely.
- When to expect a decision.
After all the information is gathered, a judge or panel of judges will write the decision. They will decide whether or not the marriage was indeed invalid from the start. Another person who is known as the Defender of the Bond also participates. The Defender of the Bond represents the marriage itself, speaking in favor of all the facts that support the validity of the marriage. After the judge reaches a decision, both you and your ex spouse will be notified of the decision, unless the former spouse does not wish to be notified.
- How much time it takes.
There is no way to put a time line on the process. However, it normally takes approximately 16 months. The period for a declaration of nullity depends on many factors. For instance, if the petitioner does not complete the necessary document gathering in a timely fashion, the annulment is delayed.
- How much it will cost.
The cost can vary from church to church. The average cost is around $500 with a portion due at the time the case is submitted. The rest can be paid in monthly installments. If you cannot pay the full amount, arrangements can be made, through the church to defray some of the expense. No case is turned down due to a person's inability to pay the fee.