Which of the following statements are true?
  • A divorced person is automatically excommunicated.
  • An annulment makes children bastards.
  • Only rich people can get annulments.
  • Annulments take years to process.
  • Protestant marriages aren’t valid because they are outside the Church.
  • Your former spouse has to agree before you can get an annulment.
  • A marriage with children cannot be annulled.
  • An affair is sufficient grounds for annulment.
  • An annulment is just “Catholic divorce.”
You may be surprised to learn that all are false. They are just some of the myths and mistruths surrounding marriage, divorce, annulment and remarriage.

What is an annulment?

An annulment is a decree issued by the Catholic Church which says that flaws existed from the very beginning of the relationship that prevented it from becoming a sacramental marriage. An annulment is concerned only with the spiritual aspect of marriage. It does not “erase” the civil contract and it does not make the children illegitimate. It merely states that after thorough investigation of all aspects of the marriage by a tribunal, the Church has decided the sacrament was invalid. In fact, because an annulment is an ecclesiastical action, no application for annulment can be accepted before a civil divorce is granted.

Why is an annulment necessary?

According to Catholic teaching, marriage is a permanent partnership of a man and a woman. (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. ) Because a marriage lasts “until death do us part,” no one can enter into a second permanent partnership while his or her first spouse is still living. Even if civil contract is disolved through divorce, the spiritual bond continues. The couple remains married in the eyes of the Church.

However, the Church also recognizes legitimate spiritual reasons why a sacramental marriage did not occur. If it is decided through the annulment process that no “marriage” took place, then the parties are free to marry someone else.

The “Sin” of Divorce

When the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was permissible for a man to divorce his wife, Jesus said “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and the woman who divorces her husband and marries another commits adultery.” (Mark 10:12). Because of that, many people have the mistaken idea that divorce itself is a sin and is grounds for automatic excommunication In fact, divorced Catholics who have not remarried remain in good standing with the Church. They are not excommunicated However, individuals who are divorced and remarried without an annulment are not permitted to receive Communion. They are, nevertheless encouraged to consider themselves Catholic, to remain in the Church, to attend Mass and to raise their children in the Faith.