Special Considerations for a Catholic Divorce or Annulment

Divorce is hard. It can be even harder if your religion teaches against divorce or attaches a negative stigma to it. If you’re a Catholic person going through a divorce, you can probably relate. 

The Catholic Church discourages divorce, but it does not shun or turn away parishioners who have gone through divorce. If you are a Catholic who is thinking about getting divorced, you can do so. You can continue to be involved in your church as well.

However, if you choose to remarry after your divorce, things get a bit more complicated. The Catholic Church requires you to go through something called the “tribunal process” before remarrying in the faith. We explain the tribunal process in more detail later in this article, but basically, it is a formal consideration of the divorce in which a bishop decides whether to apply a declaration of nullity to the end of the relationship.

If the bishop awards you a declaration of nullity, you will be free to remarry in a Catholic Church. If you do not receive this declaration, you can still get married, but you would have to do it in another place.

What is the Catholic Church’s view of divorce?

The Catholic Church does not formally recognize divorce. In the eyes of the church, the Sacrament of Marriage is a lifelong bond. But Catholic people do get divorced sometimes, so how does this work for them?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges that separation of married couples may be necessary, especially if the well-being of spouses or children is threatened. Therefore, if you are a Catholic who is considering divorce, it may be possible to have your marriage annulled by the church. 

Annulment in the Catholic church differs from civil annulment in many ways.

Civil annulment vs. Catholic annulment

Whereas a civil annulment declares that the marriage never existed, a Catholic annulment acknowledges that the marriage existed but failed to thrive. 

To get a Catholic annulment, you must go through the tribunal process. We expand on this process a bit later in this article but know this now: Some divorces are “approved” by a Catholic bishop in the tribunal process, and some are not. The outcome of your tribunal process will affect your ability to marry in the Catholic Church in the future, should you choose to remarry.

The Catholic Church recognizes that the moral “failing” of civil divorce varies according to individual circumstances. For example, the spouse who leaves their marriage because they engaged in an adulterous affair is more “at fault” in the given situation.

How many Catholic marriages end in divorce?

According to the Pew Research Center, about 34% of American Catholics who have ever been married have divorced. Among Catholics who report attending religious services every week, those numbers are lower. 

Compared to Americans of other religious affiliations, including evangelical Protestants and mainline Protestants, Catholics have lower divorce rates. Further, about a quarter of divorced Catholics (26%) or their former spouses have sought an annulment.

What is the difference between divorce and annulment?

For Your Marriage, a ministry of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), explains that a declaration of nullity, commonly referred to as an annulment, is somewhat of a misnomer. Many Catholics mistakenly assume that obtaining an annulment will declare that the marriage never existed or that children from the marriage would be considered illegitimate.

In reality, an annulment is granted by a Marriage Tribunal (Catholic Church court) when it is determined that one or more essential elements were missing at the time of the marriage. Therefore, an annulment essentially says the relationship in question was not a valid marriage.

For a Catholic marriage to be considered a valid marriage, it must have all the following characteristics:

  • Both spouses are free to marry.
  • Both are capable of giving their consent to marry.
  • Both freely exchange their consent.
  • Both spouses intend to marry for life, to be faithful to one another, and to be open to children.
  • Each respects the other and has the spouse’s best interest at heart.
  • Their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.

The Catholic church views marriage as a “lifelong bond,” according to the United Conference of Catholic Bishops. Therefore, a “declaration of nullity” must be obtained to officially end the marriage. A Catholic person who has been divorced and wishes to remarry must, therefore, get the marriage annulled by the Catholic church.

The Catholic annulment process

If you are Catholic, you have the option of petitioning to have your marriage annulled in the eyes of the church. This is not a requirement for you to obtain a civil annulment, however. That is an entirely different process.

As a divorced Catholic person, you can continue to participate in church activities. But if you wish to remarry in a Catholic church, you will first need to go through the Catholic annulment process, also known as the Tribunal process.

Steps of the Catholic Tribunal process

  1.  The person seeking a Catholic annulment “petitions” the church by submitting a written statement explaining the reason for the divorce. In their statement, they supply the names of people who can corroborate the marital conditions that led to divorce. (The other spouse, the respondent, does not have to be involved in the Catholic annulment. However, the church will attempt to contact them.)
  2.  A “defender of the bond” is established by the church. This person represents the Catholic church and is tasked with defending the marriage in a church court setting.
  3.  In front of select diocese members (priests, deacons, etc.), the petitioner and defender of the bond each present their case.
  4.  A bishop or other church official presides over the judicial process. They decide whether the divorce is deserving of a declaration of nullity. If so, the divorced person is free to remarry in the Catholic church.

Can a Catholic remarry after divorce?

American Catholics are subject to the parameters of their jurisdiction. Civil marriage after divorce is a possibility. However, without first obtaining an annulment by going through the Tribunal Process mentioned above, a divorced Catholic cannot have a sacramental remarriage in a Catholic Church. 

An “annulment” in the Catholic church is not the same as a secular, legal annulment. Instead of taking the position that the marriage never happened, the Catholic church asserts that a marriage “fell short” in some way, thereby explaining the divorce.

Can a divorced Catholic receive Holy Communion?

For many divorced Catholics, the question of remarriage is not as pressing as the immediate concern about whether they can receive sacraments such as Holy Communion. According to Father Leo Walsh, it is entirely possible for a divorced Catholic to receive Holy Communion after divorce. He adds, in his August 2021 blog for the Archdiocese for Anchorage-Juneau in Alaska, that many Catholics unfortunately believe something other than this due to misinformation.

How to tell your church community you’re getting divorced

A major milestone in the divorce process is the sharing of your divorce news with your children, family, friends, and religious community. This Hello Divorce article offers some great tips on how to strategize your communication: who needs to know when, and how to share the news. 

Be gentle with yourself. Some conversations might be more emotionally draining than others. If you can, intersperse them with conversations with people you know will be supportive. Do not be afraid to seek Catholic resources or support programs through ministries like Divorced Catholic.

If you’re worried about your religious community’s reaction to your divorce, consider being frank with them about your own struggle with the tension between your decision to divorce and the Catholic Church’s teaching. Some divorced Catholics joke about feeling like they walk around with a “big D” on their chest for divorce. 

Life after divorce: Church involvement

After divorce, a Catholic parish member is free to continue participating in church life as they did before. Each church is different, but generally speaking, a person who has gone through a divorce is met with compassion by church elders. They recognize that divorced parishioners require and deserve pastoral care and support.

As we’ve mentioned, it is only if a parishioner chooses to remarry in the Catholic church that they must jump through some “hoops” (the Tribunal Process).

Here are some tips for divorced or divorcing Catholics who wish to remain actively involved in their parish life.

  • Continue participating in Mass, confession, and the Eucharist. Speak with your pastor if you have any doubts or questions about your eligibility for any of these Sacraments.
  • Find out if your church offers counseling or a support group for divorced persons. If it does, consider participating. 
  • Participate in parish activities. You might join certain special interest groups within the church, participate in volunteer activities, attend retreats or workshops, or do other things to stay involved. These events can provide spiritual enrichment and a sense of community.
  • Consider an annulment. Whether you want to remarry or not, you can pursue an annulment through the aforementioned Tribunal Process. Not all petitions for annulment in the Catholic Church are granted, but you won’t know if you don’t try. 

Overcoming divorce-related guilt

Many Catholics were raised with a keen sense of guilt or shame – but Christian divorce doesn’t have to be this way. Recognize that you will grieve the loss of your marriage whether you instigated it or not. Dealing with the effects of divorce, including any relational losses and the emotional stages of grief, can be overwhelming at times.

To cope, some divorcing Catholics put distance between themselves and their church or its traditions. Others use their divorce as an opportunity to lean into their faith and spiritual life. They might start attending Mass or praying more often, or they might attend other religious services or retreats. 

Ultimately, people who are grieving the loss of a marriage while also grappling with divorce guilt benefit from channeling their energy into their healing.

Forgiveness, healing, and growth: A Catholic perspective

The Catholic faith emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. In an article titled, The Spiritual Life: Finding Healing Through Forgiving in Catechetical Review, author Dominik Gnirs cites various Biblical parables that support this teaching, such as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant when Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive another who sinned against him. Peter asks if he should forgive seven times, to which Jesus replies, “Not seven, but seventy-seven times.”

Gnirs cites the “necessity of forgiveness” by also citing the Parable of the Prodigal Son, stating that it points to Jesus’ compassion for the “lost” and the “repentant sinners.”

If you are experiencing divorce guilt, consider taking refuge in support texts like this from Gnirs and others. Although the Catholic Church’s stance against divorce may seem harsher than that of some other denominations, there is forgiveness to be found in the church itself.

Strategies for coping with the emotional and spiritual aftermath of divorce

Hopefully, you are already involved in a Catholic Church that supports you in your divorce journey. If you don’t feel supported, it also may be that you haven’t found the right people or the right group within your church. 

Regardless, it is important to take care of yourself during this time. Here are some coping strategies you may find helpful regardless of your church involvement.

Seek professional counseling

The emotions accompanying divorce are layered and complex. For some people, the religious aspect of divorce adds yet another layer of difficulty. Find a compassionate professional to speak with. It could be someone recommended by your church, or it could be a secular professional outside of the church.

Read: Guide to Therapy during and after Divorce

Build a support system

Now is the time to surround yourself with friends, family, or whomever you consider to be the supportive people in your life. If you can’t think of people you already know who would be understanding or with whom you would feel comfortable, consider joining an online support group like Circles.

Take good care of yourself

This practice is known as “self-care” by some. Whatever you call it, it’s important right now. Look after your physical health and your emotional well-being. You probably are familiar with the basics of self-care, such as eating well and getting enough sleep. But it goes beyond that. Check out our list of 101 self-care ideas, created by licensed marriage and family therapist Annie Wright, here.

Journal your thoughts and feelings

It might be hard to get started, but once you start writing down your thoughts and feelings regarding this divorce journey, you may be surprised at how much it helps.

Healing from a divorce is a gradual process, and everyone's journey is unique. Try to get what you need, both emotionally and spiritually, and have patience with this process and yourself.

FAQ about the Catholic religion and divorce

I am a divorced non-Catholic who wants to marry a Catholic person in their church. Can I do so?

If you are a non-Catholic divorced person who wants to marry a Catholic person, note that the Catholic Church requires you to go through the Catholic Tribunal process first. This can be difficult to understand and a tough pill to swallow, especially for someone who does not come from a Catholic background.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, you must not set a Catholic wedding date until you go through this process. Moreover, if the church does not view your divorce as valid under their laws, you will not be able to marry in the Catholic church at all.

How can I get started with the tribunal process?

If you want to go through this process, you will need to file a petition with the church. The best source to consult is your parish office or local diocese; they can point you in the right direction.

Are children born of a Catholic marriage that is later annulled considered invalid?

No. Children of Catholic annulment are not considered invalid. The reason: The marriage is not viewed as something that didn’t occur. Rather, it is viewed as a union that fell short and failed to be valid.


At Hello Divorce, we understand that your religious beliefs may add a layer of complexity to your divorce process. If you’re getting divorced or even thinking about it, we invite you to check out the many resources we offer for people in your position. And, if you’re interested in chatting with one of us to learn more about what we offer, you can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation by viewing our calendar here.


Annulment. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Annulments (Declarations of Nullity).
Chapter 3: Family Matters. Pew Research Center.
Ask Father Leo: Can a divorced Catholic receive Communion? The North Star Catholic.


Divorce Content Specialist
Communication, Mediation, Coparenting
Janelle is a multifaceted professional with leadership experience in theological, educational, nonprofit and legal sectors. Janelle is the Associate Director of Separated & Divorced Ministry, and her writing delves into topics where purpose and passion can intersect. Her blog, Faithfully Irreverent, was launched in 2020 and its topics include faith, family and parenting, social justice, food, travel & relating. Since then, her pieces have been featured in publications as diverse as Verily, Grotto Network and Janelle lives in California.