Annulments and the Catholic Church: Myths and Facts
- Common misconceptions about Catholic annulment
- Why you might seek an annulment in the Catholic Church
If you’re a practicing Catholic who wants to remain in the church after the end of your Catholic marriage, you may have considered the possibility of an annulment. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there about annulments.
Here are some common beliefs that we’d like to correct by presenting you with the facts about annulment in the Catholic Church.
Belief: An annulment is basically a “Catholic divorce.”
Fact: Civil law and church law are very different animals.
Divorce is a legal process that ends a married couple’s union according to the civil laws of your state. However, a Catholic annulment, or Declaration of Nullity, is a declaration by the church that a marriage once believed to be valid fell short of one or more of its requirements for a binding marriage.
Catholic Church law takes the stance that a sacramental marriage should meet certain elements. These include the following:
- Both spouses are free to marry and consent to marry each other.
- They intend to marry for life.
- They intend to be good to each other.
- They are both open to having children.
- They must consent to all these things in the presence of a church-authorized official and witnesses.
If any element is missing, the Catholic Church could void the marriage through a religious annulment. Note that a religious annulment is very different from divorce under civil law.
Belief: After your annulment, your marriage never existed.
Fact: There are some legalities and semantics involved here.
If you were married according to state law, you are still legally married unless you become legally divorced or have your marriage legally annulled. This is true even if the church has granted you an annulment.
Notably, in the case of a Catholic annulment, there is a difference between a marriage that “never existed” and one that was nullified. Catholic annulment of marriage recognizes that both parties entered into a marriage, but an “impediment” made it invalid in the eyes of the church. An annulment corrects a voidable marriage, but it doesn’t ignore its existence in the first place.
Belief: Children from an annulled marriage are considered “illegitimate” by the church.
Fact: The church is concerned with the bond of a couple, not the legitimacy of the children involved.
The legal legitimacy of your children will not be affected by an annulment in the Catholic Church. Furthermore, state and federal laws are moving away from the term “legitimate” to describe marital status. Now, a child’s “legitimacy" is more often used in the context of paternity when parents aren’t married.
Belief: Annulments are only granted for very short marriages.
Fact: The length of a marriage isn’t a determining factor in an annulment.
What matters to the church when granting an annulment is whether all required elements of a sacramental marriage existed, not its duration. Long or short, if evidence suggests the requirements for a valid marriage in the church’s eyes were not met, an annulment may be granted.
Belief: If you’re divorced, you’re excommunicated from the church.
Fact: The church doesn’t involve itself with the legal process of divorce. But divorce can be a factor if you choose to remarry in the church.
If you’re divorced, the Catholic Church will not “excommunicate” you or disallow you to receive sacraments. But if you haven’t had your marriage annulled by the Catholic Church, you may not be allowed to remarry in the church.
Belief: Annulments are expensive.
Fact: The cost of an annulment can vary, but it’s typically not as expensive as people think.
Annulment is supposed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of financial ability. Most dioceses charge a nominal fee to cover their administrative costs, but sometimes this fee is reduced or waived for those unable to afford it.
Why would you seek an annulment in the church?
If you are a practicing Catholic, the sacramental nature of your marriage may be important to you and your religious life. While a Catholic annulment has nothing to do with your marriage under law, it may have everything to do with how you understand your moral and spiritual responsibilities.
If you have questions about annulment, most dioceses offer guidance and counseling so you can understand your situation from an official church perspective.
Remember that a Catholic annulment is not the same as a legal annulment. If you are looking to end your marriage legally, a divorce according to your state’s laws is probably the route to take. In rare instances, states grant a legal annulment, but each state has its own requirements for legal annulment.
This Hello Divorce questionnaire can help you determine whether you qualify for legal annulment in your state.
The legal divorce process differs from state to state. If you need more information, we can help. Hello Divorce offers knowledgeable support and guidance. See the questionnaire about legal annulment in the link above, or schedule a free call to learn more.
SourcesMarriage and Family Life Ministries: Annulment. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
12 Myths About Marriage Annulments in the Catholic Church. The Diocese of Harrisburg.
Null and void, validity and invalidity; what does it all mean? Archdiocese of Detroit.
Information for Separated and Divorced Catholics. Waterloo Catholics.