Should I Get a Religious Annulment?

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “What does uncontested divorce mean?”


Note: This blog discusses the procedure and effects of a religious annulment, and how it differs from a legal annulment.  Because the Catholic Church is by far the most common institution to provide/necessitate religious annulments, we have limited the discussion in this post to Catholic annulments for simplicity’s sake, but acknowledge that other institutions may have other procedures and views on the issue.

Old Church Charlotte Annulment AttorneyLet’s say you and your beloved get married in the Catholic Church. Years pass, the relationship sours, and you decide to end the relationship. You file for divorce, move on with your lives and eventually find new partners.

Then say you and your new partner try to attend Christmas Mass for your first holiday together, only to be told that you are barred from taking communion. Because the Catholic Church, like some other religious institutions, refuses to recognize divorce, you are told that in the eyes of the Church you are still married to your first spouse.

For individuals finding themselves in the above situation, a religious annulment can be the answer. Distinct from a legal annulment where the government recognizes no valid marriage exists, a religious annulment does not have any legal impact, but means that the Church acknowledges that the marriage was not valid according to its laws.

Even if your former spouse does not want to cooperate with the annulment, it is still possible to obtain one. The Pope’s Canon Law revisions last September made the annulment process much more streamlined and accessible. Many dioceses now waive all Church-related fees for annulment, and granted annulments are no longer subject to automatic appeal. One of the parties can appeal if they wish, but the appeals tribunal can also now essentially dismiss an appeal if they feel that it is an obvious delay tactic by one of the “spouses.”


Religious annulment

A religious annulment simply speaks to how your relationship, or lack thereof, is viewed within the Church. This type of annulment can only be granted by a religious authority, not a state actor, and it has no legal impact whatsoever on your marital status. However, many people opt for a religious annulment after their divorce is finalized in order to fully move on with their lives.

Because marriage is considered a sacrament within the Catholic Church, divorced Catholics who civilly remarry without an annulment are disallowed from taking communion at Mass. For this reason, most Catholics who seek an annulment do so at least in part so that they can one day remarry within the Church and be eligible to take communion.


What do I have to prove for a religious annulment?

Religious annulments within the Catholic Church occur before a tribunal composed of leaders within the Church. The person petitioning for an annulment provides written testimony about the marriage, and a list of people who are familiar with the couple’s marriage and willing to answer the tribunal’s questions about the relationship. If the other spouse never co-signed the annulment petition, the tribunal will contact him or her and give them the chance to be involved in the proceeding. If that other spouse has no desire to be involved, the annulment can still move forward.

The tribunal will hear the evidence offered by each spouse that the marriage does not meet the Church’s marriage requirements, as well as argument from the “defender of the bond,” a Church representative who argues on behalf of the marriage’s validity. The tribunal will examine whether the evidence indicates that any of the five (5) main requirements for a valid Catholic marriage were lacking at the time of the marriage. These requirements are:

  1. That both spouses were free to marry (i.e., they were not still “married” within the eyes of the Church by civilly divorcing and remarrying without an annulment)
  2. That each spouse freely exchanged their consent
  3. That each spouse had the intention to marry the other for life, to be faithful, and to be open to having children together
  4. Each spouse intended “the good” of each other (i.e. the union was in good faith and not for some fraudulent purpose)
  5. Each spouse gave their consent in the presence of a properly authorized minister of the Church, as well as two (2) witnesses.

Some common examples of ways in which couples have successfully petitioned for annulments before the Church include allegations that one spouse never intended to be permanently married or faithful, or that substance abuse or mental illness precluded their being able to consent to a lifelong marriage.

If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.


About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAWMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A certified Family-Law Specialist, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state and administrative courts in North Carolina, before the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.





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