The annulment process begins when a party petitions the Tribunal for a declaration of nullity by challenging the validity of his/her marriage. The party who initiates the process is referred to as the Petitioner; the other party is referred to as the Respondent.
The Tribunal then conducts an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the marriage, most especially when the couple exchanged their vows. The investigation seeks to establish whether there was ever a marital bond as understood by the Catholic Church. If not, the marriage is considered invalid. A declaration of nullity does not dissolve a bond which already exists. For this reason, an annulment cannot be considered a Catholic divorce.
For information on the annulment process and how to begin, contact Deacon Gary Johnson to schedule an appointment.
What is an Annulment?
An annulment is a declaration by an ecclesiastical tribunal that a marriage between two parties was not valid according to the laws governing marriage in the Catholic Church. It is a statement that the bond of marriage was not formed at the time of consent, or at the time the vows were stated at the wedding. It is the time of consent that determines whether or not the marriage is valid. The process of determining whether or not this bond was formed is an investigation which requires witnesses, evidence, and other testimony. Because the time of consent is the determining factor of the validity of the marriage, the evidence must focus on that time and the time surrounding the moment of consent.
The reason the Catholic Church conducts investigations into the validity of marriage is because the Church does not believe in the possibility of divorce, but does recognize that there could be circumstances that could have resulted in an invalid marriage, or that the bond of marriage was never formed. In the tradition of the Church, there are several causes, or grounds, that render a marriage invalid. Through jurisprudence and other factors, it has been determined what evidence is needed to prove that one of those factors, or grounds, were present. It is important to note, however, that a marriage is presumed valid until proven otherwise. Also, there is a high burden of proof in marriage nullity cases. The judge(s) must have moral certainty that the marriage bond was never formed. That means that in their conscience, the judges have no doubt that the marriage between two parties is invalid.
The effects of the annulment process are thus:
Affirmative: If through the investigation of a marriage the judges find in the affirmative, which means that the evidence has proven that the marriage is invalid, or that the bond of marriage was never formed between the parties. Therefore, the parties are now free to marry. However, it is important to note that the children of this marriage are not illegitimate. The annulment process has no effect on the status of children.
Negative: If through the investigation of a marriage the judges find in the negative, which means that the evidence has not proven that the marriage is invalid. Therefore, the parties are still married and are NOT free to marry another.