Talking to priest about not needing an Annulment

I’m nervous about posting here so I’m going to try to explain briefly…

My fiance and I are recently engaged and would like to be married in April of next year. We have been in touch with the wonderful priest at the parish we most frequently attend on Sundays, and we were given a registration form for marriage prep that asks whether either of us were previously married. I have never been married.

My fiance WAS previously married - civilly, at a courthouse, with only a justice of the peace present. They were divorced two years later, civilly. No religious ceremony, no later convalidation, blessing, anything. His ex wife was not religious or even baptized. I explained this clearly in an e-mail to the priest as I had a question about how to complete the registration form.

He replied yesterday with a great deal of helpful information and answered my questions, but he said in his e-mail that he will now need to help us apply for an annulment (and that we will need to produce the marriage certificate and divorce decree).

I do not see any reason why an annulment would be needed as the marriage was never recognized by the Church or later made valid. We’ve been advised by priests in the past that no annulment would be needed.

My question: we have a meeting with the parish priest next week. Should I reply to his e-mail to explain that I’m confused as to why we need an annulment, and further explain our situation? Or should I simply leave our correspondence as it is, and wait to speak to him in person, in case it was a simple misunderstanding?

I do not want to appear disrespectful to him in any way. He has often been our confessor and amazingly supportive, and he is a wonderful priest. I simply don’t know how to be polite and emphatic that we shouldn’t need an annulment, or whether I should speak directly to the diocese regarding this.
I know that I’m overthinking this, but I think for anyone in my situation it might seem like a big deal. I’ve never done this before so I’m not sure who the authority would end up being in this matter.

If your fiancé was not baptized at the time of her marriage, the process may be able to be expedited, but it is true that you must submit documentation and get approval to be validly married. There is no way around it.

Your priest will guide you through the process. Follow his instruction.

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Of course. That makes sense, thank you.

Highly likely if your fiancé was Catholic at the time of the first marriage attempt that this is being termed an annulment when it’s actually the procedure to determine lack of canonical form, which if memory serves has a different technical name but commonly gets umbrella-ed under the annulment category.

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I would say nothing now, and bring the marriage and divorce decrees with you. It is quite possible that you will need them. Every prior marriage must be accounted for, and that paperwork is part of the process. You may not need a full-blown annulment process, but you will likely need the short “documentary case” process.

You don’t tell us whether or not your fiance is Catholic now, or was Catholic at the time of the first marriage. That is important because if he was Catholic at the time, the marriage and divorce decrees prove that there was a defect of form, and the marriage is proven invalid by matter of documents, hence the term “documentary case” for defect of form. Such cases usually only take a matter of weeks to handle. For such a case, you would also need a baptismal certificate to prove that he is Catholic, and if he was a baptized non-Catholic Christian who was later received into the Catholic Church, you would also need his confirmation certificate, which proves that he was received into the Catholic Church.

Despite the fact that another priest told you what he did, your priest must handle the case responsibly and correctly. He will know all of the variables.

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Provide your documentation to the priest.

When you speak to him in person tell him, “Father, we’re confused because we spoke in the past to two priests Fr. X and Fr. Y who told us we would not need an annulment because of (this reason) and (that reason). But now you are saying we need one. Can you please help us understand why we need one, because we were advised otherwise in the past.”

At that point he will either explain to you and you can discuss, or he will perhaps say he needs to check on some things now that he has your documentation and explanation, and get back to you.
Or he may ask more questions, or say he misunderstood something, etc.

It is also possible the priests in the past gave you wrong advice, or didn’t fully understand all the facts of your situation, so be prepared for that.

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OldCAFMember (sorry, I can’t figure out how to quote a post): My fiance was baptized as a child and was Catholic at the time of his marriage, but not practicing. He is Catholic now, and actively practicing.

Thank you so much for explaining what you did. I didn’t realize there were different cases to be made for different situations when it comes to annulment. The idea of it seems very concrete and I didn’t realize there could be variables under the “umbrella”. He did also ask for baptismal and sacramental certificates for the reasons you mention. We will bring the documentation he requests and let him guide us through the process as you recommend.

Thanks everyone for the advice - I know our priest will need to handle each individual case carefully and responsibly - I guess I just got really nervous at the term “annulment”, and all the worst case scenarios kind of run through my head…I’ve heard some cases can take a very long time.

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We call that a “lack of form” case in my diocese. It still needs to be investigated, but it is really just a matter of filing a few pieces of paperwork.
All baptised Catholics are required to follow the laws of the Church regarding marriage, whether they realize it or not. It can and does make for some very interesting conversations during marriage prep.

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Just wait until you meet with him.

If your fiancé was Catholic and did not get a dispensation when he married his ex-wife, his case is simple to resolve through a documentary process.

When you meet with the priest just tell him you believe your fiancé would be eligible for a “Lack of Form,” case.

Documents needed for his Lackof Form are the baptismal records, a copy of the signed marriage license, and a signed copy of the divorce decree.

By the way, remember this is HIS issue to resolve, not yours - so have him involved in it, gathering the documents, etc.

Deacon Christopher

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Diaconia: Thank you - this is really helpful.

I did not know this was his issue to resolve (i’m definitely new to all of this) - we will make sure he has everything he requests. I really appreciate the help.

Thank you!

I believe a lack of form covers the situation of the OP’s fiance. A defect of form would involve something like a visiting priest or deacon failing to obtain the appropriate delegation.

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So you would answer the form “yes”.

If your fiancé was a Catholic, then it’s not an annulment, it’s a procedural process that verifies freedom to marry. But in the US it goes through the diocesan tribunal office so he may have been speaking colloquially.

So, yes, you produce the marriage certificate, divorce decree and your fiancé’s sacramental records.

Yes just wait to speak in person, but he isn’t wrong about needing those records.

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Actually, lack of form and defect of form are two different things.

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The Baptismal records most likely have to be obtained within the last six months, so you may have to request a new copy from the parish he was baptized in.

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Do you know why that would be? Wouldn’t our priest have specified? I think we’ll likely need to do so for him anyway, but I think I have mine and they are originals.

It’s because other records are noted on them, such as previous marriages.

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This might help:

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That’s very helpful, thank you.

Yes it has to be recent. The sacramental records (sometimes just called the “baptismal certificate”) is a certified (with the parish seal) document that shows all sacraments including marriage, convalidation, degrees of nullity, holy orders, and confirmation.

The marriage section would be blank on his, confirming that he has not entered a marriage, or had a convalidation.

You will need your own sacramental record for the same reason. The priest has to confirm freedom to marry, and that is backed up with sacramental records and not just a person’s verbal statement.

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