Can an ex-spouse stop an annulment?

My boyfriend who is divorced and I wish to be married in the Catholic Church and we know he will need an annulment in order to do this. The problem is, his ex-wife is (for lack of a better term) mentally unstable. She was controlling and abusive when they were married and she never wanted to get the divorce. I know she will be furious when the Church contacts her about this annulment he will be applying for. I’m afraid she may try anything in her power to stop this so he and I cannot get married. I’m also afraid she may just totally lose her mind over this because it will reopen so many old wounds.

My question is, is there ANY way the Church doesn’t have to contact her about this annulment? And also, if she IS contacted is there any way that she would be able to stop this annulment? She would go so far as to lie to stop it, I have no doubts. I am very worried about this. This is my future on the line here, and I don’t want it to be destroyed by an ill person seeking revenge. Please help put my mind at ease!! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Canon law provides stringent safeguards protecting the rights of spouses to be notified of annulment proceedings and inviting both spouses to participate if they wish. Indeed, if the spouses are not notified, it is possible grounds for declaring the entire procedure null and void (cf. canon 1511). It is a matter of justice to both spouses to give them proper notice and the ability to respond to a case against their marriage.

That said, in extremely exceptional cases it is possible that the tribunal could declare that due to moral impossibility one of the spouses cannot be notified. Your friend should make the situation known to the tribunal at the time he files for annulment and be prepared to back up his claim with documentation (e.g., police reports, medical records, court papers). The tribunal will not simply accept his word on the matter that his ex-wife is “mentally unstable”; the tribunal will have to verify the claim.

Even if the tribunal should make the relatively rare exception in your friend’s case, his ex-wife may well find out about the annulment because it is a matter of public record. For example, should an annulment be declared, it will be documented on both spouses’ sacramental records in the parishes of their baptism. Should she order a copy of her sacramental record, she will know that an annulment took place without her knowledge. It is very possible that a secret annulment may unhinge such a person *even more *than if the annulment proceedings had taken place with her knowledge and with the possibility of her input. If your friend can take absolutely no risk of his ex-wife finding out about the proceedings, it may well be better to put off the proceedings to a more opportune time. This would mean that he could not marry you and should not engage in a romantic relationship with you; but, if his safety is at stake, then his safety concerns must override your marriage plans.

If she is notified, your friend’s ex-wife will be invited to participate in the proceedings. The tribunal can proceed even over her objections, but the tribunal will allow her to defend the validity of her marriage should she wish to do so. If she is as unbalanced as you claim, that fact likely will be apparent to the tribunal and will be taken into consideration. Your friend can substantiate his ex-wife’s illness through documentation from police, lawyers, doctors, judges, etc. If the tribunal determines that the illness was present from the beginning of the marriage, it may in itself be grounds for the annulment because such an illness can impair the ability to give the required matrimonial consent.

In the meantime, while these proceedings are progressing, my advice to you is to end your romantic involvement with your friend. Unless and until the tribunal declares his first marriage null, the Church presumes your friend to be a married man and expects him to order his relationships according to that presumption. Bluntly, that means that a married man cannot have a girlfriend. You are certainly free to remain platonic friends; but you should seriously consider ending any romantic relationship.

Recommended reading:

Annulments and the Catholic Church by Edward Peters

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