There are so many myths and stories surrounding the annulment process that much time is spent addressing all the misconceptions and misinformation surrounding one of the Church’s most serious endeavors, determining the sacramental validity of a marriage. The following are some of the more common statements received by Tribunals:
- I’m shocked! How could the Church possibly annul a marriage that produced such beautiful children?
- I’m appalled that the Church would even consider annulling my marriage; doesn’t “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” mean anything?
- I’m devastated that the Church wouldn’t annul my marriage; and I think it’s unfair that it was determined by one person.
- It’s been almost two years since I filed for an annulment; my divorce took less time! What’s the delay!
- She put up with a lot of grief from him all through their marriage; she should be able to get an annulment and move on with her life.
- He was an altar boy and still goes to church every Sunday; he deserves to get an annulment if that’s what he wants.
- Why is the Church keeping me from practicing my faith? Don’t they want me to continue being a Catholic?
- If I don’t get an annulment I’ll just leave the Church.
- He cheated on me and had an affair; isn’t adultery grounds for an annulment!
- I was told by someone who is familiar with church law that I definitely have grounds for an annulment.
- I know of someone in my parish who got an annulment, so why didn’t I get one? It’s who you know, isn’t it?
- I told you not to get in touch with me again; the next letter you get will be from my lawyer.
- I do not believe their marriage should be annulled, so I am not going to respond to your questions.
…And the most frequent and outstanding statements are:
- This annulment shouldn’t take as long as my marriage was.
- As long as you pay your money you can get one.
Time and money. These two elements seem to enact an erroneous mind-set that is counterproductive to the process, one which many confuse with the civil divorce process.
Some may express shock for receiving an annulment, devastation for not receiving one, or perhaps may be appalled for just being part of a long personal process. Many, however, are all three if they feel the Tribunal is taking an inordinate amount of time to reach a decision on their annulment, or the annulment of their intended spouse. However, this is usually because a wedding date has already been arranged and the invitations are being held up awaiting the final outcome.
Regarding those frequently heard objections and genuine concerns:
The creation of beautiful children within a marriage has no bearing on the ecclesiastical validity of that marriage. As previously stated, the marriage had indeed taken place and the children are indeed legitimate since legitimacy is always a civil designation. The Church recognizes that there was indeed a marriage. The annulment simply states that the marriage is no longer binding in the eyes of the Church.
Suffering through a marriage is regrettable, however it is not in itself a cause for annulment. The same for a Petitioner who had always been pious throughout life; an annulment is not a reward for piety. Adultery may be grounds for divorce, but only one factor within the total marital investigation. It is not, in itself, a cause for annulment.
Those familiar with Church Law, but not a part of the actual process, may be too quick to point out grounds. Such a presumption by anyone outside the process to indicate grounds will serve only to create false hope in a serious matter.
It also doesn’t matter who you know. Canon Law can not be altered. A case is usually reviewed by six to ten canonists in two different dioceses. If the canonical procedure is not followed, for whatever reason, the process is compromised and the Affirmative decision, itself, becomes null and void.
What God has joined together… The purpose of the annulment process is to determine whether that was, indeed, what had occurred.
Those who do not believe in annulments, or do not feel the Petitioner should be granted one, usually refuse to cooperate in the process. The process will continue without their input. The process also continues in spite of legal threats. Natural Law is the basis for Canon Law, which is the basis for both British Common Law and Napoleonic Law, which is the basis for American Civil Law. Civil lawyers acknowledge this law and have respect for Church lawyers following Church law and will not interfere with the process.
Although these feelings are indeed genuine, the officers of the Tribunal have experienced first-hand the devastation of broken marriages, shattered relationships and damaged self-esteem. During the course of a very personal and probing interview the officer is not only taking formal judicial testimony but is also accompanying that individual through a number of experiences which may have been sad, or empty, or traumatic, or bitter, or hostile. These are very personal experiences and, hopefully, the process will afford that person an opportunity for closure where it is most needed.
The staff of the Tribunal has also experienced the anxiety and anger vented by Petitioners, as well as those not associated with the case, who feel there has been an injustice with regard to their case. Sometimes this is because the petition is lacking any substantial basis for finding proof or establishing grounds and has been denied any further consideration. Most often, however, it is because time seems to be closing in on a wedding date which is already set by the Petitioner or the Petitioner’s intended spouse.
No plans for any future marriage are to be made until an Affirmative decision has been given by the Court of First Instance – the Camden Tribunal and ratified by the Court of Second Instance – the Paterson Tribunal
Once a petition is submitted, the Tribunal is bound by church law to contact the former spouse and allow a certain time for a response to the petition, as well as a certain time for witnesses to submit statements or appear in person to give testimony. Although the least amount of time for a civil divorce, such as a non-investigative no-fault divorce, is 18 months, this same amount of time for a full investigation into a marriage for an annulment often seems unacceptable. The reason for this is that many do not seek an annulment immediately after their divorce but prefer to wait until they are engaged to marry again. Time will then become an issue and the process will become stressful for both the Petitioner and the intended spouse.
The Camden Tribunal is in line with the other dioceses in the region regarding the time it takes for an annulment. These other dioceses will quote “approximately eighteen months” to “two years” when asked how long. The same holds true with expenses. The fee for opening a case is $100. Should the case reach the next level, a fee of $400 is then charged to begin the investigation; if the case does not reach that level, the fee is not applicable. When the investigation is completed and the case is ready to be put on the docket for a decision, there is a final fee of $300. Again, if the case does not reach that level, that fee is not applicable. If an annulment case goes through the entire process, the total amount for that process is $800. However, there is still no guarantee that it will be granted. Compared to the amount of time spent on a civil divorce, and the thousands of dollars paid for lawyers and court costs, time and money should not be factors in the annulment process.
An annulment is a decision by the Church, proven by the evidence, that on the wedding day a particular union lacked some essential element which made the marriage non-binding.
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Favor of the Faith cases involve the proven non-baptism of one party. Pauline Privilege cases involve the proven non-baptism of both parties. Lack of Form cases involve a Catholic party who attempted marriage civilly. Ligamen cases involve a party who was not free to marry because of a previous marriage which is still recognized by the Church. For these cases, the Formal investigation described in this booklet is not required. Please call the Tribunal for further information.