[EDITED] Don't like Annulments: What is your desired Goal?

Annulments are a hot topic here right now and so I thought I’d ask a somewhat different question on this matter -

We are all obviously troubled by the number of annulments. I’m sure that we are equally troubled by the number of divorces in the first place…

The many posts that I have read by people critical of the Annulment process leads me to ask…

What would be your desired goal or goals in revamping the system?

What about all of the decisions already handed down and accepted by the petitioners and participants?

What, if any, application can and/or should be made of the data produced by the Tribunals up to now - and in the future…

I ask these things, because I really want to know…It seems to me that those who are critical of the current system are, like most of us, looking for a way to strengthen Catholic marriage…and I wonder what positive things we can come up with here instead of just wringing our hands over how many annulments are granted…

So - please have at it…

My own views I think are pretty well known…But to answer my own questions…

What would be your desired goal or goals in revamping the system?

This is the toughest one because I am not familiar enough with the workings. Perhaps the most significant change needs to be clarifying further the elements of Canon 1095 since that seems to be where a lot of the controversy stems from.
Other than that it seems that most of the changes need to occur in areas outside of the formal Marriage tribunal process…

What about all of the decisions already handed down and accepted by the petitioners and participants?

This is an easy one. The decisions stand.

What, if any, application can and/or should be made of the data produced by the Tribunals up to now - and in the future…

The data produced needs to be , not just published, but analyzed and the results fed back into the ministries dealing with people both before marriage and also dealing with marriage counseling. Such a feedback loop is an absolute necessity for improving the success rate of Catholic Marriage.

I look forward to the ideas and inputs of others…
Please remember that this is about offering constructive input and not about bashing the current system.


I think marriage preparation needs to be strengthened dramatically. Six months before our wedding, my husband and I went to an all-day marriage prep seminar required by that diocese, and learned absolutely nothing. There was a lot of fluffy feel-good talk, but very little of substance. It certainly didn’t prepare us for marriage well.

This seems like something that will not only increase the chances of success in marriage, but will point the Church toward the salvation of souls.


Exactly. The more we catechize and the better preparation we provide, the more marriages will flourish and the less annulments we will see. I think it would reduce the number of occassions where canon 1095 could be applied, too.

I like James’ idea of analyzing the data and passing it on to the people doing mariage prep. In education, schools perform assessments so they can be sure to hit the points in the curriculum that the students are clearly missing. Doing something similar for sacramental preparation could be good.


The way to reduce the rate of annulments is to increase the percentage of valid marriages. Maybe people need a psych eval. :slight_smile:

Seriously, though, the best solution to the annulment problem happens before the marriage takes place (or doesn’t, if it shouldn’t). The Church has a hard job. People today (regardless of their age) have been told for years that basically desire is the same as entitlement. So actually telling a couple that you can’t marry them would be really hard. But I think sometimes it has to be that way. It’s a lot better than the alternatives.


I agree. I did marriage prep, but my husband didn’t and he thought it was a big joke that I had to go. But even when I was there it was mostly fluff or how to have a “Good” argument. Nothing about marriage as a sacrament. I learned more about what the sacrament of marriage was after my husband left and later, after the divorce, I inquired about annulment.

I really don’t think it’s the annulments that are the problem. I think it’s a symptom. Covering up symptoms won’t help. You need to get to the root of the problems and I think the problem is that there are so many invalid marriages these days in the first place.

I think one goal would be to quash the erroneous terminology many people use for a declaration of nullity because it gives the wrong impression that the Church can dissolve a marriage and makes it into some kind of “Catholic divorce”.

Stop calling it an annulment!

You have a very good point–because you are right with your terminology. But I think getting everyone to not call it an annulment is an uphill battle. Even my local tribunal website uses the terms “decree of nullity” and “annulment” inter-changeably and acknowledges that the word annulment is the “commonly used term.”

I’m not aware of a call to “revampt” the system for granting nulity.
It is not an easy task unless there are obvious reasons for it to be granted. In the best cases, at least in my diocese it is 14-18 months of review and that is affter the trubunal recieves the proper documentation.
There are a wide number of reasons for a marriage not to be valid. The process looks into those reasons from the begining, since they are the reasons the marriage often fail.
The process is as much as anything a healing process. It helps to make clear the reasons the marriage failed and allows the person to continue with their lives.
To take away this important tool of healing, reconcilation and healing would not be following the pth of Christ.

Indeed. I think it’s better to use the proper term because it emphasizes the fact that the Church is simply recognizing a truth rather than dissolving a marriage. But if someone comes up to me asking questions about their situation and calls it an “annulment,” my first comment is not usually going to be to corrrect their verbiage.

I can see why a Tribunal office would use both terms on their website. If they didn’t use the word “annulment”, people would wonder if they were at the right place (plus, they would lose points with Google :p).

I think this is easily worked into a catechesis on marriage. We definitely need people to know that marriage is indissoluble. Part of emphasizing that includes letting people know that the Church does not have the power to break that bond. She can only recognize when the bond was never formed to begin with.

I think the first question is whether we are strictly speaking about “Annulments” or more generally about all cases where there was a civil marriage that ended in divorce.

Some of the most useful statistics in my opinion are the percentages by types of rulings by the tribunal for given nations. If you look at the United States only I would guess that a large percentage of actual rulings of nullity are for non-Catholic marriages. I’d guess (but have no actual knowledge) Catholics are more likely to be involved in “lack of form” cases (which one could argue don’t belong in a discussion of annulments in the first place.) And then there are the Pauline and Petrine Privilege cases.

If we are going to consider all marriage cases that come before the tribunal and if I am correct that most were never “Catholic marriages” to begin with, it suggests that the problem cannot be fixed just by improving Catholic marriage prep for couples planning to marry in the Church.

I would suggest that the Church needs to be more active in promoting her understanding of marriage to children and teens in faith formation programs, to the run of the mill Catholic in the pew who might someday marry or who knows someone who might want to marry, and to non-Catholic world. Obviously that is going to cause controversy as can be seen from recent political controversies over same-sex marriage and publicly funded birth control.

And that’s just the United States. Other nations are going to have their own problems which I do not pretend to know and understand.

What is the proper thing to call it then?

You make a good point, but discussion of marriage as a sacrament doesn’t magically give engaged couples the skills to create and maintain a healthy relationship. That’s why discussion of things like how to have a “good” argument is necessary. Although in 99.9% of cases (just my estimate), such discussions are too little, too late. So many people completely lack an understanding of healthy relationships and their role in creating / maintaining them.

As to the annulment process itself, I don’t really have any suggestions. I do agree that if we work the underlying problem (as noted above), the annulment issue will largely solve itself.

In the U.S. no-fault divorce laws began in California in 1970 under Governor Reagan. By 1985 all 50 states adopted similar no-fault divorce laws. Basically rendering the civil contract of marriage meaningless from a moral perspective.


The apostle Paul says:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinth. 7:10-11).

I think this option is preferable to the no-fault divorce laws that when joined with the annulment process leaves a lot of hurt spouses and children.

At least this gives God the opportunity to bring the wife and husband back together again, especially if the wife has no interest in another relationship, and the husband remains faithful to his vows.

Annulment should be the very last resort.

God’s peace

“Ruling of nullity”.

To make the noun “ruling” rather than having “annulment” as the noun you emphasize the “null”. Any noun with “ment” at the end sounds so significant, like something happened (ie, the end of a marriage.) “Null” suggests there never was an event in the first place.

You forgot to mention that no-fault divorce laws make it possible for a woman to divorce an abusive husband without being forced to prove the abuse in court and emotionally relive the experience in front of a courtroom. But that’s okay - it’s a common oversight.

Do you really want the courts to sort out the he said / she said of who cheated on whom, who abused whom, whether the victimized spouse is suffering “enough” to seek a divorce, etc.? That’s the type of legal climate that keeps people in destructive marriages with no hope of relief.

Well, no. This is why I think civil law should recognize the validity of marriage within the sacramental vows of marriage without having to go through civil red tape.

If issues within a sacramental marriage made it necessary for the wife to separate from her husband, a time of separation should be granted if marriage counseling was not productive.

After which, a marital tribunal within the Catholic church would then be responsible in sorting out the mess, and it would provide for better transparency of the couple before the Church and before God.

I think the suggestion for ‘ruling of nullity’ is also a good idea.

God’s peace


I’m not sure what the “no-fault” divorce laws have to do with the subject of this thread other than the possibility that such civil laws have caused too many Catholic people to think that divorce is acceptable in the Church…Which it has never been.

If I’m missing something as to how they tie into the best way to revamp the Tribunal system, or reduce the number of marriages coming to the tribunals…I’d love to hear about it.

This is a very good point. The “No Fault” laws do provide a much cleaner way for people who really do need to to get out of an abuse marriage.
This also brings up a good point in connection with the Tribunals…and being overly strict in regards to granting decrees of nullity (see I used the right term:thumbsup:). There is a delicate balance between being too strict - and forcing someone to remain in a difficult or dangerous situation when they should not be - and being too lenient…


I also know a couple who were civilly divorced, and a ruling of nullity was granted to the woman, eventhough one of the tribunal judges after talking to the husband, said that the husband’s disagreement with several of the findings were valid, but undoing what was done would be too much trouble.(He was out of the country, and not notified during the process)

After many years the woman wanted to be reconciled to her husband who never remarried. He was hesitant to get civilly married, so they had a renewal of their vows within the Catholic church, but they are not really considered sacramentally married unless they are civilly married. So they are living in a state of limbo.

It seems to me that the Catholic Church places undo value on the civil marriage contract which has no moral standing in the eyes of God.

God’s peace


How would this work? The civil law is not concerned with sacramental aspects of marriage but rather legal ones. Seems like trying to intertwine the two things would run into 1st Amendment issues.

If issues within a sacramental marriage made it necessary for the wife to separate from her husband, a time of separation should be granted if marriage counseling was not productive.

So - would this be something handled first by the Church? That is, getting permission from someone in the Church to separate - then going to a court to legally do so??

After which, a marital tribunal within the Catholic church would then be responsible in sorting out the mess, and it would provide for better transparency of the couple before the Church and before God.

I do see this a a viable idea…Although in another thread someone mentioned about the possibility of tribunal records possibly being subpena’d byt the courts…which could be a nightmare for the tribunal system which seeks to keep these things private…That would be an area that would need to be studied carefully…


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