The annulment process is the Church’s effort to be faithful to Christ’s highest ideals (“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6) as well as treat individuals with the compassion of Christ (“Be compassionate, as your Father has compassion.” Luke 6:36). Because of misinformation and misunderstanding about the annulment process, many people fail to make use of this healing ministry. This information is provided in the hope that some people may take another look at annulments.
Please read the questions/answers below and contact us.
What is the difference between a civil divorce and a Church annulment?
Anyone who marries in the United States must obtain a civil license to legally contract the marriage and cohabit with all the privileges the law provides. In most cases, the civil divorce states that the above did take place, but the contract is severed and each party is free under the law to remarry. The legitimacy of children is not affected.
The Church is committed to upholding the marriage bond, but one has the right to ask the Church to examine a previous marriage to see if it mirrors what we teach of marriage and the relationship, which is at the heart of that lifestyle.
An annulment is a declaration from a Church Tribunal that the marriage bond did not and could not come to be – that is, one or both parties may have entered the marriage with good will, but lacked the openness, honesty or emotional stability or capacity to establish a community of life and love with another person. If an annulment is granted, then both parties are free to remarry in the Church. However, for pastoral reasons, counseling may be required prior to marriage.
Who can petition the Tribunal for an annulment?
If you are divorced, you may have grounds for a declaration of nullity. Anyone – Catholic or not – may ask the Church to examine his/her former bond of marriage so they may, if possible, remarry in the Church. The purpose is not to blame either party, but simply to see what led up to the marriage and what caused it to end.
The Church recognizes the first marriage of any two people – Catholic or not – as a binding marriage until proven otherwise. Just as there are different grounds upon which to base a case, there are also different processes depending on the circumstances in question.
How do I go about getting started?
Contact us, or you may contact the Tribunal of the Peoria Diocese at 309-671-1550 to obtain guidelines for writing your marital history. The period of time PRIOR TO the marriage (family background, courtship) is especially important because the Tribunal must judge if the union was valid AT THE TIME you exchanged vows.
After you return your marital history to the Tribunal, you will receive a letter indicating the next step in the process. A member of the Tribunal staff will be appointed to work with you in the process.
The former spouse must have the right to offer his/her insights regarding the union. If there are grounds for processing and your former spouse cannot be found, or he/she does not cooperate, your case will be processed to a just conclusion. There is no need for you to speak with your former spouse during the process.
Who else is involved in the process?
To gain a complete and objective picture of your marriage, witnesses who knew you before and during the marriage will be contacted for testimony. (These may be parents, friends or knowledgeable relatives.) Strict confidentiality is always upheld in reviewing all testimony.
How long does the process take?
Each case is different. Some are more complex than others. As a result, it is difficult to give an exact time. Once the Tribunal has received your case history, it will generally take 1 to 1½ years to complete the process. (NO PLANS FOR A FUTURE MARRIAGE SHOULD BE MADE UNTIL YOUR ANNULMENT HAS BEEN GRANTED.) Generally you will visit the Tribunal from two to four times.