“Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“Annulment” is an unfortunate word that is sometimes used to refer to a Catholic “declaration of nullity.” Actually, nothing is made null through the process. Rather, a Church tribunal (a Catholic Church Court) declares that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union.
A valid Catholic marriage results from five elements: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they freely exchange their consent; (3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; (4) they intend the good of each other; and (5) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
There is no such thing as “Catholic divorce” but the bad news is Catholics do civilly divorce. The Marriage Tribunal of the Diocese of St. Petersburg however, and the many Lay and Pastoral Ministers, offer help, and encourage healing through the Sacraments where you will personally encounter Christ-with all His love and tender mercies. And that’s the REALLY good news.
A Time For Healing Pamphlet
The ending of any marriage is a traumatic experience. The adjustments which follow can either be positive or negative; but always difficult. The road to healing, reconciliation and rebuilding of your life and that of everyone in the family can be slow and painful. If you are willing to begin the journey, Our Lady of the Rosary is here, to welcome you into our community of faith. Requests for information or question can be emailed to AnnulmentQuestions@LadyRosary.org or leave a voice message on 813– 949-4565 extension 233. All inquires are confidential.
Annulment Information Worksheet
To begin the process, complete and return the ‘Annulment Information Worksheet’ with the following documents:
Contact the Church where you were baptized and request a new certificate of baptism (dated within the last six months) with Notations and a parish seal and;
Copies of the state marriage license and civil divorce decree for each marriage.
Place all documents in a sealed envelope, addressed to: ‘Annulment Advocate’ and drop off at the Parish Office.
Upon review of the Worksheet and documents, you will be contacted by the Parish Lay Advocates to discuss the next step in the process of preparing and submitting your Petition for a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Office of the Tribunal.
Since no two petitions presented to the Tribunal are the same, it is impossible to predict the length of time this process will take. The average length of time is eight months to one year.
No one will be refused the opportunity to submit a Petition for a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage nor denied a decision, because, of an inability to pay all or part of the cost of processing a case.
An Annulment is a Catholic Divorce.
The truth is that divorce is a civil law decree from the state, whereas an annulment is a cannon law decree from the Church. In other words:
The state issues a marriage license; and the state issues a divorce decree
The Church celebrates the Sacrament of Matrimony; and only the Church can issue a Decree of Nullity (commonly known as an annulment). The Church does not believe in divorce.
A Divorced Person is Automatically Excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
The truth is that divorce itself does not affect or alter a person’s status in the Catholic Church. Divorce is a function of the civil law an secular courts. Although it has been a widespread misconception for many years, it is a myth that a divorced Catholic is “excommunicated,” that is, not able to receive the sacraments within the Church.
If an Annulment is Granted the Children of the Marriage will be Illegitimate.
The truth is that an ecclesiastical annulment is concerned only with the spouses, and not the children. An annulment has no effect at all on the legitimacy of children, or other arrangements regarding children, such as custody or support. These are all concerns of the civil law, and an ecclesiastical annulment has absolutely no effect under civil law.
If Children Were Born in the Marriage, it can’t be Annulled.
The truth is that the Catholic Church considers openness to children to be a natural and essential part of sacramental marriage, but whether any children were actually born or not has no bearing on the possibility of an annulment. If children were born, it is important that both parents live up to their natural and legal obligations to their children.
An Annulment Costs Thousands of Dollars.
It is a myth that the process costs thousands of dollars, and in fact, one’s ability or inability, to make a contribution has absolutely no bearing upon the persons right to receive a just adjudication of their petition. No one is ever turned away because of their inability to pay a fee. The truth is that each diocese determines the fee for processing a Petitioner for a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage (annulment). The majority of the financial base for a Tribunal comes from the general diocesan funds. It is deemed to be fair and right that those persons benefiting directly from this service be asked to make a contribution, toward defraying expenditures. Effective February 1, 2015, no Petitioner, seeking adjunction of their petition for a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage (annulment) will be charged a fee.
Only Catholic Marriages Need to be Annulled.
The truth is that every marriage is considered a promise for life, a promise until death. It makes no difference whether that promise was made in a Catholic ceremony or not. No one, no matter what their religious affiliation or membership, is considered free to contract another marriage if they were married previously. Every prior marriage must be investigated and annulled before a person can enter a new marriage.
An Annulment Means the Marriage Never Took Place.
The truth is a Decree of Nullity (annulment) can’t erase history, and doesn’t try to. The Catholic Church deals only with the sacrament of marriage, and not the legal, historical legitimacy of marriage. A Decree of Nullity states that the sacrament was never present in the marriage, and not that the marriage never took place.
The Ex-Spouse Has to Agree to an Annulment or it Can’t be Granted.
The truth is that both spouses have equal rights in a Decree of Nullity proceeding, but that doesn’t mean that the Respondent (ex-spouse) of the person who starts the annulment process has to agree to an annulment. The truth is that the Tribunal judges can grant a Decree of Nullity (annulment) even if the ex-spouse is adamantly opposed to the idea of an annulment.
It Takes Three to Five Years to Get an Annulment.
The truth is that every annulment case is different, and some processes are longer than others, but few cases ever take more than 18 months from start to finish. Decades ago, it did take several years, but today the longest process is usually finished in 9 to 18 months. Some type of cases can be finished in a month or even less.
The Tribunal is like a Courtroom, With Judges, Witnesses, Lawyers and Cross-Examinations.
The truth is that the Tribunal is a Court of Canon Law for the Church, but it is very different from a civil courtroom. Depending on the type of case, the spouses may have Advocates, and there will be 1 to 3 judges, but most of the work is done in writing, and there is never an emotional courtroom scene as in television dramas. If a person appears in person to offer testimony, it is usually done in a private interview, and never with ‘cross-examination.
The Idea of an Annulment is Pure Legalism in the Catholic Church.
The truth is that a Decree of Nullity is “packaged’ in a legal environment, since that is the best way to protect the rights and interests of everyone involved, but it is far more than a “legalistic process”. The People who have gone through the process have found peace and insight into themselves and their marriage. It is a myth that the only concern of the Church in an annulment is legalism, but through the Tribunal process the Church invites you to find healing, forgiveness, and new joy.
Anyone Who Applies (and Waits Long Enough) Will Get an Annulment.
The truth is that Tribunals do give negative decisions. The burden of proving a case rests on the Petitioner, that is, the person who applies for an annulment. The Catholic Church presumes that every marriage is a valid union, and there must be sufficient grounds for declaring otherwise. The Tribunal will help the Petitioner to understand what is needed to develop a case, but there isn’t enough proof, the Tribunal will give a negative decision.
The above re-printed in part from the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Family Ministries
Try through daily prayer to remember:
If you are a single parent, ask for help when you need it.
If you are co-parenting, learn to share the children in a kind way. Do not punish the other parent. Only the children suffer with that behavior. Each time you diminish the other parent; you diminish half of your child. For your sake and sake of the children – it’s better to be kind than right.
Seek effective, professional counseling to help you manage the changes in your life; get plenty of rest and exercise, eat smart, do not drink alcohol.