Strictly speaking, the term 'annulment' is an incorrect description of what the a Marriage Tribunal does because the Catholic Church does not 'make' a marriage null; the Church merely recognizes - by means of a judgment - the fact that a marriage was null from its beginning. This is a very important distinction, and it is similar to the declaration of the Catholic Church that a certain person is a saint: the Church does not 'make' the person a saint or place the person in heaven, rather the Church recognizes the fact that the person is already in heaven. Hence, the Church does not grant an annulment, but issues a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage, that is, a decree that - for some reason of Church law - a marriage was invalid from its beginning. However, most everyone uses the term 'annulment' for every 'type' of annulment petition: a Formal Petition, Lack of Form, Pauline Privilege, Ligamen, and Favor of the Faith.
In Catholic theology, the valid consent of both bride and groom make a valid marriage. Conversely, if the consent of either party is defective/invalid, then the marriage is null/invalid. God knows if valid consent was given, whether the spouses know it or not. Before anything else, an annulment is a search for the truth, an investigation into whether or not valid consent was given by both parties, or whether the consent of either party was defective. Consequently, just because one applies for an annulment does not mean one will receive an affirmative decision (a declaration of nullity). Every marriage is presumed to be valid, and it is the duty of the petitioner to prove that either or both parties gave invalid consent.
For more information regarding the difference between a divorce and an annulment, the reasons why a marriage can be declared null, who is involved in the process, what are the steps in the process, why non-Catholics need an annulment from the Catholic Church, and other issues, please see the section on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's).
Please continue reading for basic information on how to begin the process for filling out a Formal Petition for a Declaration of Nullity of Marriage.
Since August 2014 there are no fees or costs for any kind of annulment. An annulment can never be bought, and the removal of fees makes an annulment petition available to both poor and rich.
The Petition (that is, application) for certain 'types' of annulments can be found below, along with a brief description. No Petition is to be sent to the Office of Canonical Services unless accompanied by each of the documents mentioned below. The absence of any of these documents will prevent the case from being processed. In such a situation, the Office of Canonical Services reserves the option of returning the Petition to the Advocate without further action.
No Petition is to be sent to the Office of Canonical Services without completing that portion of the Petition concerning the current whereabouts of the Respondent. If an address for the Respondent truly cannot be provided, the Petitioner, with the assistance of an Advocate, must supply a complete written and sworn explanation for the inability to provide the address. The Petitioner does not need to contact the Respondent (the Tribunal will do that); however, in all cases, having the participation of the Respondent always makes the case move more quickly and helps the judges come to know the truth. The Petitioner should want the Respondent to participate.
No Petition is to be filled out and mailed to the Office of Canonical Services without first having met with an Advocate from your parish. All types of annulments begin with the Petitioner going to his or her parish in order to meet with an Advocate. There the Petitioner must fill out the Petition and gather the necessary documents so that the Advocate (not the Petitioner) can submit the Petition to the Office of Canonical Services.
Regardless of the 'type' of annulment, all Petitions must be accompanied by the following:
A copy of the Catholic party’s baptismal certificate issued by the parish of baptism.
A copy of the civil marriage license for the marriage for which a Declaration of Nullity is sought. Each state or nation will have a different form. We are looking for the form that provides statistical information, in particular which marriage this was for each party, 1st, 2nd, etc. It should also contain the name of the minister or official who performed the ceremony as well as his or her title.
A copy of any church certificate for the marriage for which a Declaration of Nullity is sought, if any church wedding was performed.
A copy of the Final Decree of Judgment of Dissolution, Divorce or Nullity issued by the civil court terminating the civil aspect of the marriage. Each state or nation will have a different form. We are looking for the form that specifies the date on which the marriage is terminated by the civil authority. The copy must bear a stamp or imprint showing that the Final Decree or Judgment has been entered by the court. (We do not want martial settlement agreements or copies of court orders regarding the property.)
If a document truly cannot be provided, the Petitioner must supply a complete written explanation for the inability to provide the document - why is it impossible to provide the document (e.g., "the church burned down," or "the marriage was never recorded civilly or in the church") and how the Petitioner knows the event actually took place (e.g., "I must have been baptized because all my siblings were, and I made my First Communion"). If the Petitioner is unable to provide a document, simply write a paragraph explaining why.
Which 'type' of annulment do you need?
Determining which 'type' of annulment you need depends first of all upon the baptismal status of both spouses at the time of the wedding. Secondarily, where and before which kind of minister the wedding took place will also determine the kind of annulment petition.
A Formal Petition for a Declaration of Nullity is for the following situations:
Any marriage between two persons neither of whom was ever baptized in a Catholic Church prior to getting married. Yes, non-Catholics need a Declaration of Nullity from the Catholic Church even though the marriage did not take place in a Catholic Church and neither party was Catholic.
Any marriage that took place in a Catholic Church between two baptized Catholics.
Any marriage that took place in a Catholic Church between one baptized Catholic and any other person
A Lack of Form Petition is possible if both of the following conditions are met:
Either (or both) the bride or the groom was a baptized Catholic at the time of the wedding. It does not matter if the baptized Catholic joined another church or was baptized in another religion, only that he or she was baptized Catholic before the wedding. And
The wedding did not take place in a Catholic Church before a Catholic priest or deacon, and was never 'blessed'/convalidated in the Catholic Church at a later date.
A Pauline Privilege is possible if all the following conditions are met:
There is a valid marriage between two unbaptized persons.
One of the spouses is subsequently validly baptized (or desires Christian baptism).
The unbaptized spouse refuses either to cohabit physically, or to cohabit peacefully "without giving offense to the Creator."
A common scenario for a Pauline Privilege is when a marriage between two unbaptized persons ended, and one of them wants to convert to the Catholic faith.
A Ligamen is the case where one spouse was still 'tied' to a prior spouse and therefore not free to marry. These cases require a lot of help from one's ex-spouse, and so usually are not possible to process. If one's ex-spouse is not going to help, it is not possible to do a ligamen, so we will investigate the case as a Formal Petition.