This article represents the third and final installment of a series on the topic of annulments.
What God has joined together, no human being must separate (Mark 10:9). These words of Jesus are beautiful and challenging. They are beautiful because they reveal the permanence of Christian marriage. They are challenging, because permanent and lasting marriage can be tough. These words form the very heart of the ministry of the diocesan Tribunal. Above all else, we believe and proclaim the message of Christ: that Christian marriage is permanent and lasting.
Still, marriage is a contract that involves the loving exchange of persons. Because of the nature of marriage, it requires freedom, commitment and discretion. While it might be easy to say the words, “I do,” it is not always easy to live out these words. The Church understands that certain problems can exist in a person’s capacity to give consent. If consent is lacking, then valid marriage does not arise. In order to understand the work of the Tribunal, it is vital to understand this important distinction: Valid Christian marriage is absolutely unbreakable by any power on earth; yet, if certain problems can be proven, then a marriage can be declared as being invalid from the beginning.
In this article, I will answer some common questions and address some common misunderstandings that people have shared with me about the marriage nullity process.
How can I get an annulment? It is important to realize from the first that the Church assumes that every marriage is valid until proven otherwise. So, the burden of proof lies in proving that the marriage is invalid for some reason. Invalidity has to be proven by using evidence. Evidence in marriage cases is usually the testimony of the spouses, testimony of witnesses, and expert evaluations. The evidence has to show clearly that there was a problem with the consent of the couple dating to the very exchange of consent (the wedding day). If that evidence can prove there is a problem, then the judge can declare that the marriage is invalid. If the evidence is not conclusive, then the judge must uphold the validity of the marriage. So, no judge can give an “annulment”; rather, judges can declare that there was a problem from the very beginning of the marriage that caused a marriage to be invalid.
How can I make sure I have a good case? It is important to produce the best evidence. Be open and forthcoming during the interview. Find the best witnesses. Contact your former spouse and see if he/she will participate. The more evidence, the better the case.
I have started a case, but I was told my petition cannot move forward. I would suggest meeting with your advocate for more information. While it is true that sometimes it is not possible to prove that a marriage is invalid, there may be options available. Sure, these might be tough options, like changing the grounds or finding new witnesses. But, each case is different, and you should be able to find out about the strength of your case.
My former spouse will not agree to an annulment. First, the strongest cases have the testimony of both spouses. And, the Church always gives both spouses the opportunity to participate. But, the validity of a marriage can be judged even if one of the spouses does not participate. Yet, in that case, it is always best to look at the consent of the spouse who is willing to participate in the case.
It will be too painful for my children. My advice would be to talk to them about it. Chances are that the divorce was probably pretty tough on the kids. The annulment actually can give peace of mind. It is the Church’s way of letting spouses know that there indeed was a problem with consent from the beginning. While a divorce is usually a product of the demise of common life, the annulment helps to pinpoint the reason behind that demise. Everyone in the family might like to have that assurance. Also, most children want to see their parents happy. So, if seeking the declaration of nullity seems like the right decision for you, then your children will probably be supportive.
The annulment is too difficult, and it takes too much work. I will be completely honest: The annulment process can be tough. But there is a good reason for that: The Church loves and respects marriage. Christ himself teaches the permanence of marriage. So, it is hard work to prove that a marriage is invalid. And because we are looking at difficult periods in people’s lives, the annulment process can be spiritually and emotionally draining. This is why prayer and faith are so important when going through this process. Everything we do, we do it for Christ and with Christ.
My former spouse was abusive toward me, so won’t my annulment be automatic? There is no such thing as an automatic annulment. While certain features or events might have contributed to a difficulty in consent, it will still take objective evidence to prove that a marriage was invalid.
I received a negative decision, so now I’m excommunicated. Absolutely not. Even if a person divorces and remarries, he/she is not excommunicated. Now, we should be clear that if a person receives a negative decision, then he/she is not free to contract a new marriage. To do so would be to put oneself in a difficult position that John Paul II called an “irregular union.” It is also true that in an irregular union, one is not normally able to approach the sacraments of Eucharist and confession without a firm decision to change one’s life. But, John Paul II also clearly indicated that people in this position are very much part of the care of the Church.
My first marriage was not in the Catholic Church; so, it does not count. This is one of the most common misunderstandings. Two common-sense rules are involved here. First, Catholics are required to follow Catholic laws when it comes to valid marriages. Therefore, Catholics are required to either get married in a Catholic ceremony, or, they are required to get permission to celebrate their marriage in a non-Catholic ceremony. Without this permission, if a Catholic gets married in a non-Catholic ceremony, it is not valid. Second, non-Catholics are not required to follow Catholic laws about marriage. So, when a non-Catholic marries in any kind of non-Catholic ceremony, we value this marriage with every bit of respect as though it were a Catholic marriage. Even if the non-Catholic ceremony was a simple civil ceremony at the courthouse, the Church holds it to be valid until proven otherwise.
For assistance, the staff of the Tribunal is here to help. Individuals may call 260-422-4611 and ask to speak with the Tribunal office.
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