Annulment Process Question


I hope that this is the right forum to post my question/story in.

My fiancee is a non-catholic. She was baptized in a baptist church when she was little. She was married in a baptist church in 1998 and had a civil divorce in 2009. Her ex-husband was not baptized in any religion.
This isn’t really about me, but for clarity - I am a practicing Catholic (except for some years in college and right after). I have never been married.

In the last three months, we have been going to mass regularly to a parish in the diocese of Sacramento. She starts RCIA classes on Sept. 8. Our parish recently changed pastors. We have thought about getting married in the church, and are hoping for next summer. So, she decided to start the annulment process. She has a meeting with our new pastor, he got all of the information from her and said it should be an easy process - she’s a non-catholic and was married to a non-baptized person in a non-Catholic church. He gave us a form to fill out, titled “Lack of Form”. She filled it out and returned it to him with her baptismal record from the baptist church, the marriage license, and the civil decree of separation. The pastor was out of town when we turned in the paperwork and was away for 3 days.

She did some research in those 3 days because we had expected there to be much more to it based on some things that have happened in my family.
When she finally got a hold of the pastor he said “everything’s fine, I see all the paperwork here”. When she questioned him about if it needed to be more than just a lack of form because from what she saw, that’s only for Catholics who were married outside of the Church, he said he’d have to find out. He called the diocese and found out that she needs a formal petition rather than simply a lack of form.

So, here we are… we expected a difficult process but after meeting with the pastor, we expected it to be easy. He had told us $150 and couldn’t promise but said 3-6 months for the process to be complete. Now though, we’re looking at $600 and “the average time to process a formal case is 18 months, but it can take longer”-according to the paperwork we received. And, MUCH more involved, including witnesses and statements.

What I’m wondering is this: I don’t understand the reasons behind a “lack of form” case versus a “formal case”. From what I see, a lack of form case is for a Catholic who was married not in the Catholic church but was married either in a civil ceremony or in another faith. Is this true? If so, why is it easier for someone who is a Catholic and basically says “screw the church, I’m going to get married somewhere else” and then “oops, I made a mistake” than it is for someone who wants to become a Catholic and is genuine.
In the lack of form case, the declaration is that the marriage was not done according to canonical form, I get that, but wouldn’t a marriage between a non-catholic and a non-baptized person in a non-catholic church also not follow the canonical form? Why is there a difference between the lack of form for a catholic and the full formal petition?
We are very frustrated and it does not make any sense. :frowning:
We want God to be a presence in our lives and in our marriage and our lives when we do get married.


Being a Baptist who got married in a Baptist church, she followed the rules of her own sect. That makes her marriage valid on its face until proven otherwise. So they have to investigate everything… whether there were defects of consent, etc. She claims he was never baptized, but they have to be able to prove that. If he wasn’t she might be able to get a Pauline Privilege exception. But if they can’t prove whether he was or wasn’t, it gets harder. They have to assume he might have been baptized. And if, according to her Baptist sect, her marriage was a valid Christian marriage even with no evidence that her husband had been baptized, and they can find no defects of consent, fraud, etc., then the Catholic Church may regard it as a valid, Christian marriage, which they ARE NOT CAPABLE of dissolving. You need to go through this process, because it may turn out that your girlfriend is not free to marry. If you really want God in your lives, you’re going to have to accept and bear this cross, wait to see what the outcome is, and accept the result. You can appeal the result, but no guarantees there, either. So many people see this as mean or uncompassionate. It’s not. It’s because the Catholic Church has such deep respect for and values marriage so highly that it cannot take a chance of violating a marriage that has already happened.


Why is a Catholic who marries outside Catholic form in an invalid marriage?

The man and woman are the *minister *of the Sacrament to each other (in the case of two baptized people) and the priest is the *witness *for the Church.

The Church has* lawful authority *over all Catholics, and can regulate the requirements for marriage of Catholics.

A Catholic who contracts marriage without meeting the Church's requirements (including the form of marriage) do so invalidly.

This is not some sort of "pass" for a Catholic. A Catholic who does this commits a serious sin. They **cannot **receive the sacraments until they resolve this situation through convalidation (making the marriage valid by exchanging consent before a priest and two witnesses).

Why is a non-Catholic married outside of "form" valid?

The *minister *of the Sacrament is the man and woman. They contract marriage validly by the exchange of consent.

The Catholic Church does not have authority to bind a non-Catholic to ecclesial rules.

*All **people are bound by *divine law (for example, a man cannot marry another man; a person who is already married cannot marry another; you can't marry your sister, etc).

Only Catholics are bound by *ecclesial law *(where a person can marry, who must witness it). Therefore, non-Catholics marry validly when they exchange valid consent.

God's law regarding marriage and divorce applies to all people, Catholic and non-Catholic. Therefore, the **prior bond **is an impediment to contracting a marriage with you unless:

(a) the marriage is found to be *invalid *based on an impediment to contracting valid marriage

(b) the marriage can be *dissolved *under the Pauline or Petrine Privilege

(c) the prior spouse is no longer living


Just a suggestion, ask about pauline and/or petrine priveledge.


As the previous posters have explained (very eloquently, I might add) there is a very definite difference in the two types of annulments. Personally, I was required to obtain an annulment upon my return to the faith. Many years ago, I was married (in a civil ceremony) to a non-Catholic and I, myself was a non-practicing (but baptized) Catholic. That marriage ended in civil divorce, and when I married my DH we decided to come back to the faith (he IS Catholic) and I started RCIA. I was surprised that I was required to obtain an annulment (not knowing very much about it, obviously) and I was granted a “Lack of Form” annulment.

As 1ke stated, it was hardly a free pass for me. . . I was NOT in a state of grace and now realized what terrible danger my soul was in. . . . until I completed my Sacraments and was married to DH in our church with God present. I never thought “screw the Church” when I married young, I simply didn’t know better. I also genuinely wanted to become Catholic, front and center, and give my family the base in faith that I wasn’t fortunate enough to have when I grew up.

You will see many threads about annulments and basically I think it comes down to “don’t count your chickens before they are hatched,” Nothing seems very certain in that arena. But good luck and I hope it all works out for you.



Just pray - other posters have put it very well already. Use the Holy Family as your guide and stay in touch. Better to have found out now than much closer to your wedding.


[quote="agapewolf, post:4, topic:210929"]
Just a suggestion, ask about pauline and/or petrine priveledge.


She may be able to apply for the Petrine privilege but since she was baptized prior to her marriage she would not qualify for the Pauline Privilege.

The Pauline Privilege applies only when both parties were unbaptized at the time of the marriage. It is not the same as an annulment. The Pauline Privilege dissolves a real but natural marriage. An annulment is a declaration that no valid marriage ever existed. To be granted a Pauline Privlege certain criteria must be meet:

  1. Both persons were not baptized at the time of their wedding. Marriage originally not sacramental.

  2. One party has been baptized (even after civil divorce), but the other remains unbaptized. Marriage remains not sacramental.

  3. The unbaptized person departs physically by divorce or desertion, or morally by making married life unbearable for the baptized person. Just cause for the dissolution.

  4. The unbaptized person refuses to be baptized or to live peacefully with the baptized person.

  5. Civil divorce has been granted by the state. Church cannot be responsible for the separation.

If one party was baptized and the other unbaptized at the time of the marriage, the marriage is still natural but can be dissolved only by the Pope personally, exercising his authority as the Vicar of Christ and executive agent of divine law. This is called the Petrine Privilege because it is reserved to the Chair of Peter, and very rare.


She qualifies for the Petrine Privilege where the marriage can be dissolved by the Pope granting Favor of the Faith to your fiancee. I did this myself. What I found was that it is often hard to find a priest who is familiar with the paperwork so I recommend asking the priest, and if he is not comfortable with doing it, contact the diocese directly. I went through 3 priests before I found one comfortable with doing this as it is not common and they just didn't know how to handle the paperwork and kept trying to talk me into doing a "formal" application. The thing is, the marriage may have been valid, the Petrine Privilege does not seek to prove that there was no marriage, it DISSOLVES the natural bond. She might not qualify for a "formal" annulment, as in it may not be granted.

For what it's worth, you HAVE to be engaged to apply, and it took 4 months for us to receive our answer. It took 2 months prior to that to get all the paperwork with witnesses taken care of. And, it was about $450 in my diocese. Remember, you're helping defray the costs that the diocese pays out for all those hours of work they put in making copies, arranging everything. Oh, and the paperwork goes to ROME, so there is that too.

Hope that helps!


I just wanted to comment on this. The secretary in the tribunal office in our diocese said that they send out several every year for the Petrine Privilege. It’s rare, but it’s not AS rare as one would think. And I think it’s more rare because most people are baptized, and thus they would have to file a formal petition. From the paperwork, the main reasons that it would be denied is if you are currently engaged to someone who you had an affair with during your marriage, or if granting the favor would be scandalous. As in you both STILL attend the same parish and people know you were married.


Thank you for all of the responses! She is in the process of requesting the paperwork for a Petrine Privilege Dissolution because it seems like the most fitting route. Her ex husband was never baptized and is willing to provide the witnesses needed. There are no issues with adultery and there would be no scandal involved. We are also engaged. She’s starting RCIA classes in two weeks.

She sent an email to our priest outlining the Petrine Privilege Cannon Law because he’s definitely not familiar with the process, but is waiting for a response. It’s difficult because he is very new to the parish so he’s extremely busy trying to settle into the community. This is part of the reason for her sending the email to him. She’s also going to try to talk to someone at the Diocese, but we suspect that she will refer us back to the priest. So that’s the update for now. Again, thank you very much for the responses and helpful information.


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