Why do annulments take so long?


#1

I have heard that annulments can take 1-3 years. However, I cannot imagine why. For some "marriages", they seem so easy to determine that they were not valid. For example, if we know that a woman absolutely was determined to not have any children and told others before she even got married, I don't see how it can take any more than a month to have that marriage declared null. It just seems so obvious to me sometimes, I don't see how it can take so long.

Also, I'm not seeking an annulment or anything; I'm just wondering.


#2

It takes time for all the witnesses to be identified, and for them to offer their testimony. It also takes time for the respondent to be given sufficient opportunity to defend themselves.

Moreover, you're presuming that there are sufficient resources within the tribunal to deal with all cases immediately, as soon as they're submitted.

Finally, I think that you're failing to notice that the Church presumes that all potentially valid marriages are, in fact, valid. With that presumption in place, the Church must do its due diligence to establish the contrary -- that the marriage was void in the first place.

Let's also recall that all declarations of nullity are automatically sent for review to a court of second instance. So, we're really talking about two processes, not just one.

With these considerations in place, 1-3 years isn't that outrageous a ballpark figure.


#3

Because The RCC is always a bit slow, but better that then do mistakes. Annulment is a very grave issue and must be dealt with as such. It is very important to get all the right fact's, annulment is to break a Sacrament and therefor everything must be done properly.


#4

[quote="NFrancis, post:1, topic:345709"]
I have heard that annulments can take 1-3 years. However, I cannot imagine why. For some "marriages", they seem so easy to determine that they were not valid. For example, if we know that a woman absolutely was determined to not have any children and told others before she even got married, I don't see how it can take any more than a month to have that marriage declared null. It just seems so obvious to me sometimes, I don't see how it can take so long.

Also, I'm not seeking an annulment or anything; I'm just wondering.

[/quote]

It should not be made quick and easy.
Also its not what you think you know that counts. Its only what a tribunal investigation determines that counts.


#5

Well, first the Petitioner (person filing for annulment) must fill out the paperwork, gather supporting documents (marriage record, divorce papers, police or counseling reports, Baptism certificates, etc.), and submit them to their Procurator-Advocate to be reviewed.

The Petitioner must also present the names and addresses of 3-5 Witnesses. Witnesses are people who knew the couple before and/or during the early portion of the marriage. If the Procurator-Advocate thinks the case has merit (grounds for annulment), the file is sent to the local marriage Tribunal.

The Tribunal reviews the case and decides it it does indeed have merit. If the Tribunal thinks there are grounds for annulment, they accept the case and notify the Petitioner by mail. In that mailing they send an additional questionnaire to be filled out and sent back. At that same time, the Tribunal sends a notification and questionnaire to the Respondent (ex spouse of the Petitioner) asking if he/she wants to participate and giving him/her a chance to tell their side of the story. The Tribunal also sends questionnaires to the Witnesses.

Ex-spouses have 30 days to respond. If they do not, they are sent another letter and given another 30 days. If they still fail to respond, the case proceeds. Witnesses are given, I believe, the same amount of time to respond. If not enough Witnesses send back their testimony, the case cannot proceed at that time. In those cases, the Petitioner must submit the names and addresses of new Witnesses or ask for an alternative if they have no one who could serve as Witness. This kind of thing is common for old marriages where the Petitioner cannot find people from that time of their lives, people they do find are unwilling to help, or their potential Witnesses have passed away.

Obviously, some ex-spouses are going to simply not respond and delay the case by 60 days plus mailing time. And, of course, not all Witnesses are going to actually fill out, notarize, and send back their questionnaires, further delaying the case.

Once all the questionnaires are returned the annulment case goes on to "trial". A Defender of the Bond (job is to argue for the validity of the marriage) and Procurator-Advocate (job is to argue the marriage was invalid) review everything and write up statements. A judge reviews those statements and renders a decision.

If the decision is that the marriage was valid, the Petitioner can appeal. If the decision is that the marriage was invalid, the case goes to another Tribunal to be reviewed. If one tribunal says the marriage was valid and the other says the marriage was invalid, the case is kicked over to the Roman Rota for a final decision.

Now, there are literally hundreds and in some cases thousands of cases submitted to local Tribunals every year and each case must be carefully assembled and reviewed. In some cases, the Tribunal will interview participants in person or by phone in addition to their written testimony.

And the paperwork is quite extensive as the Church want a very clear picture of how the individuals who attempted marriage were raised, their understanding of marriage, their intentions at the time of marriage, and very intimate details of the married life the couple lived before divorce, etc.. They want to make sure they understand, as best anyone outside a relationship can, what exactly happened so that they can render a decision according to Church law.

I am in the process as we speak and I was told my annulment case would take about 12-18 months to be processed as our Tribunal handles cases for parishes in 5 surrounding counties. They are also a bit understaffed. And we have it good here. We have a full time Tribunal staff. Some places, due to funding and availability of qualified people, have part-time staffs or have to send their cases to an out of state Tribunal.

Hope I helped you understand better why it takes so long.


#6

[quote="MJJean, post:5, topic:345709"]
Well, first the Petitioner (person filing for annulment) must fill out the paperwork, gather supporting documents (marriage record, divorce papers, police or counseling reports, Baptism certificates, etc.), and submit them to their Procurator-Advocate to be reviewed.

The Petitioner must also present the names and addresses of 3-5 Witnesses. Witnesses are people who knew the couple before and/or during the early portion of the marriage. If the Procurator-Advocate thinks the case has merit (grounds for annulment), the file is sent to the local marriage Tribunal.

The Tribunal reviews the case and decides it it does indeed have merit. If the Tribunal thinks there are grounds for annulment, they accept the case and notify the Petitioner by mail. In that mailing they send an additional questionnaire to be filled out and sent back. At that same time, the Tribunal sends a notification and questionnaire to the Respondent (ex spouse of the Petitioner) asking if he/she wants to participate and giving him/her a chance to tell their side of the story. The Tribunal also sends questionnaires to the Witnesses.

Ex-spouses have 30 days to respond. If they do not, they are sent another letter and given another 30 days. If they still fail to respond, the case proceeds. Witnesses are given, I believe, the same amount of time to respond. If not enough Witnesses send back their testimony, the case cannot proceed at that time. In those cases, the Petitioner must submit the names and addresses of new Witnesses or ask for an alternative if they have no one who could serve as Witness. This kind of thing is common for old marriages where the Petitioner cannot find people from that time of their lives, people they do find are unwilling to help, or their potential Witnesses have passed away.

Obviously, some ex-spouses are going to simply not respond and delay the case by 60 days plus mailing time. And, of course, not all Witnesses are going to actually fill out, notarize, and send back their questionnaires, further delaying the case.

Once all the questionnaires are returned the annulment case goes on to "trial". A Defender of the Bond (job is to argue for the validity of the marriage) and Procurator-Advocate (job is to argue the marriage was invalid) review everything and write up statements. A judge reviews those statements and renders a decision.

If the decision is that the marriage was valid, the Petitioner can appeal. If the decision is that the marriage was invalid, the case goes to another Tribunal to be reviewed. If one tribunal says the marriage was valid and the other says the marriage was invalid, the case is kicked over to the Roman Rota for a final decision.

Now, there are literally hundreds and in some cases thousands of cases submitted to local Tribunals every year and each case must be carefully assembled and reviewed. In some cases, the Tribunal will interview participants in person or by phone in addition to their written testimony.

And the paperwork is quite extensive as the Church want a very clear picture of how the individuals who attempted marriage were raised, their understanding of marriage, their intentions at the time of marriage, and very intimate details of the married life the couple lived before divorce, etc.. They want to make sure they understand, as best anyone outside a relationship can, what exactly happened so that they can render a decision according to Church law.

I am in the process as we speak and I was told my annulment case would take about 12-18 months to be processed as our Tribunal handles cases for parishes in 5 surrounding counties. They are also a bit understaffed. And we have it good here. We have a full time Tribunal staff. Some places, due to funding and availability of qualified people, have part-time staffs or have to send their cases to an out of state Tribunal.

Hope I helped you understand better why it takes so long.

[/quote]

Thank you very much. Your response definitely helped me understand why it can take so long.


#7

The other issue at hand is that sometimes couples do come to the tribunal and say, "You know what, we realize we've made a terrible mistake, and we want to get back together". The tribunal's intent is to allow for the possibility of that to happen.

The tribunal's understanding is weighted heavily towards the possibility of the marriage being valid. I suspect this stems from the fact that until recently, most people did not tend to marry non-Catholics. (This is still forbidden under Church teaching, although a dispensation may be granted.) Therefore, most marriages for which declarations of nullity were sought were marriages between Catholics that had taken place in the Church. Now, the intent during Catholic marriage preparation is to ensure that the couple clearly understands what they are undertaking and to investigate for any potential reason that a valid marriage might not be possible. (I know this because I am married, and DH and I underwent this process.) The priest asks a lot of questions during the interviews, such as the impact of marriage on one's faith, whether the couple are living together, whether they have been married or living common-law previously, what their intentions are as far as having children, whether they have been pressured into this marriage, by each other or by someone else, whether they're pregnant, etc. In the case of a Catholic marriage being declared invalid, it's essentially the Church saying, "We REALLY dropped the ball somewhere here, and we allowed a wedding to take place when we never should have done so". That's not an easy thing to prove, especially when there are so many safeguards intended to prevent invalid marriages from occurring.

Today, obviously, many declarations of nullity are issued for divorced non-Catholics, or Catholic converts, who were married outside the Catholic Church (and were therefore not subject to the marriage requirements of the Church at the time of the wedding). Even so, the requirement is still there for the marriage to be proven invalid.


#8

[quote="His_helpmeet, post:7, topic:345709"]
The other issue at hand is that sometimes couples do come to the tribunal and say, "You know what, we realize we've made a terrible mistake, and we want to get back together". The tribunal's intent is to allow for the possibility of that to happen.

The tribunal's understanding is weighted heavily towards the possibility of the marriage being valid. I suspect this stems from the fact that until recently, most people did not tend to marry non-Catholics. (This is still forbidden under Church teaching, although a dispensation may be granted.) Therefore, most marriages for which declarations of nullity were sought were marriages between Catholics that had taken place in the Church. Now, the intent during Catholic marriage preparation is to ensure that the couple clearly understands what they are undertaking and to investigate for any potential reason that a valid marriage might not be possible. (I know this because I am married, and DH and I underwent this process.) The priest asks a lot of questions during the interviews, such as the impact of marriage on one's faith, whether the couple are living together, whether they have been married or living common-law previously, what their intentions are as far as having children, whether they have been pressured into this marriage, by each other or by someone else, whether they're pregnant, etc. In the case of a Catholic marriage being declared invalid, it's essentially the Church saying, "We REALLY dropped the ball somewhere here, and we allowed a wedding to take place when we never should have done so". That's not an easy thing to prove, especially when there are so many safeguards intended to prevent invalid marriages from occurring.

Today, obviously, many declarations of nullity are issued for divorced non-Catholics, or Catholic converts, who were married outside the Catholic Church (and were therefore not subject to the marriage requirements of the Church at the time of the wedding). Even so, the requirement is still there for the marriage to be proven invalid.

[/quote]

I can't lay my hands on the article I read some time ago but the gist of it was that the USA only has 6% of the world's Catholics but 83% of the world's annulments.
If that is correct then its far too easy in the US.


#9

It’s a very serious matter.


#10

This may not be as bad as you think. It is better to get an annulment than take the path of, say, many European nations and just simple ignore the Church altogether and remarry civilly. An annulment and subsequent marriage means that people care about their religion, and also that their children are likely to be brought up in the Church. No annulment and remarriage typically means indifference and the future generations are not brought up Catholic.

The U.S. also has several notable characteristics that other countries do not have. The most obvious is the lack of racial/cultural/etc. homogeneity, and also that we are a Protestant-majority nation, not a Catholic one. There is a great number of Catholic/non-Catholic marriages in this country. And, fact is, most Protestant do not agree with the Catholic Church on several very fundamental matters dealing with marriage and other sacraments. Having previously married a non-Catholic Christian, I have firsthand experience. She was pro-abortion, pro-contraception, refused to have children, and couldn’t give a damn about anything the Catholic Church stood for. Given the widespread ignorance of what a Catholic marriage is, a large number of annulments should be nothing shocking.


#11

[quote="thistle, post:8, topic:345709"]
I can't lay my hands on the article I read some time ago but the gist of it was that the USA only has 6% of the world's Catholics but 83% of the world's annulments.
If that is correct then its far too easy in the US.

[/quote]

This is really a very simplistic look at the entire issue .. the population of candidates for annulments is not limited to Catholics .... and world populations vary in many significant ways ...

Statistics are funny things and that old adage "Statistics don't lie but liars use statistics" gets its meaning from statements like this ...

I was not a Catholic when I met my first spouse - nor was my spouse ... yet a Catholic Tribunal handled my annulment application ....

People tend to think that every decree of nullity involves a catholic marriage - when that is not the case ...

Many countries are primarily and culturally catholic - America is not ...

Mixed marriages may be far more common in America then in other countries ...

IMHO - What we need to do is focus on understanding our Christian faith more fully, seek a marriage centered in faith and focused on Christ .... with a priority on marrying within our faith - with both parties having a good understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage ... then divorce numbers will decline ...


#12

Also, the Church in this country does more than in other countries, in terms of making the nullity process accessible. We send many cases in that in other countries would simply never be filed, meaning that people either leave the Church or remain and ignore the need to have a valid marriage. Also, cases are prepared more extensively here, so if a tribunal does come back with a negative verdict, petitioners can re-file under different grounds.


#13

It could be that people in other countries are not so inclined to give up on their marriages so easily and try to make them work which is actually what the Church requires us to do.


#14

[quote="thistle, post:13, topic:345709"]
It could be that people in other countries are not so inclined to give up on their marriages so easily and try to make them work which is actually what the Church requires us to do.

[/quote]

A comment which ignores the basic premise regarding the number of Catholics in relation to the number of annulments .... and which I noted are not directly relational in that the marriage of two non-Catholics-who later divorce- often end up being before that Tribunal ...

It could be that people in other countries are less literate then people in the United States and therefore are not aware of their rights in seeking an annulment ...

It could be that Catholics in other countries enter into mixed marriages at a lessor rate then in the US.

Other developed countries may have an even lower percentage of Catholics then the US and therefore just have fewer people seeking a decision of the Tribunal ...

Thus - the point in the post I was addressing was the correlation between the number of Catholics and the number of annulments .. it is not a direct correlation ...

And sadly - I wish the Church would release the statistics on annulments - like how many cases involved two Catholics, a Catholic and Non-Catholic or two Non-Catholics ...

I would argue that marriages that end in divorces split between these three and then correlated to the annulments sought might be enlightening ...

Lets just say that I as a now Catholic person understand marriage in a vastly different sense then I did as a non-Catholic - even as I thought of it as a "Until death do you part" state of life .. and I did .. divorce was not something I participated in easily - nor did I give up easily -


#15

[quote="YADA, post:14, topic:345709"]
A comment which ignores the basic premise regarding the number of Catholics in relation to the number of annulments .... and which I noted are not directly relational in that the marriage of two non-Catholics-who later divorce- often end up being before that Tribunal ...

It could be that people in other countries are less literate then people in the United States and therefore are not aware of their rights in seeking an annulment ...

It could be that Catholics in other countries enter into mixed marriages at a lessor rate then in the US.

Other developed countries may have an even lower percentage of Catholics then the US and therefore just have fewer people seeking a decision of the Tribunal ...

Thus - the point in the post I was addressing was the correlation between the number of Catholics and the number of annulments .. it is not a direct correlation ...

And sadly - I wish the Church would release the statistics on annulments - like how many cases involved two Catholics, a Catholic and Non-Catholic or two Non-Catholics ...

I would argue that marriages that end in divorces split between these three and then correlated to the annulments sought might be enlightening ...

Lets just say that I as a now Catholic person understand marriage in a vastly different sense then I did as a non-Catholic - even as I thought of it as a "Until death do you part" state of life .. and I did .. divorce was not something I participated in easily - nor did I give up easily -

[/quote]

What on earth does the literacy rate in a country have to do with couples trying to keep their marriage together, if possible, rather than immediately jumping ship?

In case you are wondering the literacy rate in the USA is 99% while in the Philippines it is 94%.


#16

[quote="TheWarriorMonk, post:10, topic:345709"]
This may not be as bad as you think. It is better to get an annulment than take the path of, say, many European nations and just simple ignore the Church altogether and remarry civilly. An annulment and subsequent marriage means that people care about their religion, and also that their children are likely to be brought up in the Church. No annulment and remarriage typically means indifference and the future generations are not brought up Catholic.

The U.S. also has several notable characteristics that other countries do not have. The most obvious is the lack of racial/cultural/etc. homogeneity, and also that we are a Protestant-majority nation, not a Catholic one. There is a great number of Catholic/non-Catholic marriages in this country. And, fact is, most Protestant do not agree with the Catholic Church on several very fundamental matters dealing with marriage and other sacraments. Having previously married a non-Catholic Christian, I have firsthand experience. She was pro-abortion, pro-contraception, refused to have children, and couldn't give a damn about anything the Catholic Church stood for. Given the widespread ignorance of what a Catholic marriage is, a large number of annulments should be nothing shocking.

[/quote]

Also, during the 1970s and 1980s there was a tendency among some priests who saw signs that the potential union (among two Catholics) was invalid (e.g. they made statements that were contrary to forming the intent to have a lifelong, indissoluble marriage open to ever bringing forth human life) but simply made a note in their files and attempted to solemnize the marriage anyway, reasoning that they would only make an issue of it if there was an attempt to seek a declaration of nullity. Also, in that period marriage prep, formal or informal, was more theory than reality. So I'm not surprised, since the US Church reached its nadir at the time, that there a whole bunch of cases from that time. Hopefully one day that time period will be a distant memory. But for now we have to deal with the aftermath of that disaster.


#17

[quote="Cojuanco, post:16, topic:345709"]
Also, during the 1970s and 1980s there was a tendency among some priests who saw signs that the potential union (among two Catholics) was invalid (e.g. they made statements that were contrary to forming the intent to have a lifelong, indissoluble marriage open to ever bringing forth human life) but simply made a note in their files and attempted to solemnize the marriage anyway, reasoning that they would only make an issue of it if there was an attempt to seek a declaration of nullity. Also, in that period marriage prep, formal or informal, was more theory than reality. So I'm not surprised, since the US Church reached its nadir at the time, that there a whole bunch of cases from that time. Hopefully one day that time period will be a distant memory. But for now we have to deal with the aftermath of that disaster.

[/quote]

I married in 1975. No preparation whatsoever. My Pastor did not even meet my husband until he greeted us at the door of the church on the night of the ceremony. My fiancé, a non-Catholic, had met with the Padre where he was stationed and Padre did some preparation with him and did the paperwork required which was then sent to my Pastor.

Had we done the FOCCUS just before the wedding we would have been found totally incompatible and, in fact, because he'd joined the military about 10 months after we met and we hadn't seen each other for more than 30 days or so (in 2 & 3 day period) in the previous two years, we were strangers to each other.

In spite of the lack of preparation I knew that, regardless of what happened after I spoke those vows, I was in it for life. We recently celebrated our 38th anniversary. It hasn't all been roses but we've made it work, so I guess he must have known what those vows meant too.

But the problem you state from the 70s & 80s is still going on.

In 2000 we had a couple in our parish reply 'no' to the acceptance of children when the question was asked during the ceremony. The ceremony proceeded and it was not noted in the post-ceremony comments.

We also had a couple to marry because he was nominated for office in the K of C and the older members protested because he was living common-law. This was around 2006. A quickie marriage was arranged with little preparation by the Chaplain.

Less than a year later she was gone to live with a man more that twice her age, leaving both hubby and 4 year old daughter behind. Not too long after that the original couple are godparents to her niece and she shows up at Mass with lover in tow. 6 years later she's in a civil marriage with this old man and he's beating the stuffing out of her.


#18

#19

Well obviously you two knew on a basic level the nature of marriage as the Church sees it. Congratulations. You are awesome and should feel awesome.

I see you are from Canada. Sorry for my Americentrism. I meant more the general experience in the United States. I did not mean it applied to all parishes or all countries.


#20

Since I am now part of the annulment stats, I guess I’ll chime in. I married in a courthouse in 1994. I did it because I had a baby (birth control failure) and thought I should “do the right thing” and marry her father. I also believed divorce absolutely dissolved a marriage, that contraception was not only ok but almost mandatory, that marriage did not necessarily mean either or both spouse must be monogamous, and I was talking to my friend literally hours before the ceremony about the future divorce…and not in a joking manner, but planning for it! Marriage ended in 1999, divorce final in 2002.

I married a fallen away Catholic civilly late in 2002. When he came home to the Church this year I decided to convert and was informed I needed to apply for an annulment.

I imagine an awful lot of people applying here in the US are like me. People who entered into marriage with views contrary to or lacking understanding of the teachings of the Church. Which makes our marriages invalid by Church law and therefore able to be annulled.

Not to mention there are a lot of Catholics who aren’t aware they must be married in the Church or granted a dispensation who later divorce and find they are eligible for a quick Lack Of Form annulment. Plus all of the fallen away Catholics who deliberately marry outside the Church and then come home needing annulment.


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