If a Catholic has been married previously, civilly or at a Catholic Church, and wants to get married in the Church, then the Catholic party needs to get an annulment.
What is an annulment?
An annulment is a statement by the Catholic Church that having reviewed the courtship and extended relationship, that on the day of the wedding itself, one or both parties that entered into marriage either:
- did not understand the vows
- had a significant issue in which they were unable to fulfill the vows despite best intentions
There are two basic versions: a long version and a short version.
The case itself determines if a long or short version is necessary. The short version has less paperwork and once properly completed, the results may return in one month. The long version has more paperwork and once properly completed, the results will take at least 12 months before a final decision is made.
Long versions of an annulment will return with a “negative” or “affirmative” decision. There is no guarantee that the petitioner will receive an affirmative decision. Only after an affirmative decision can the marriage preparation process begin.
Marrying a non-Catholic who has been married
If the Catholic party has never married before but is marrying a Protestant who has been married previously, the Protestant needs to get an annulment.
Why would a non-Catholic have to go through a Catholic annulment?
The basic answer is because God created marriage from the beginning of creation. Marriage is a natural thing, part of the natural order. Marriage is written into the very body of man and woman. All have to follow God’s basic design of marriage already included in creation. That means Catholics, Protestant, and even non-Christians. All must follow the expectations of what is a natural marriage. Those expectations are: 1) one man and one woman 2) the couple can complete the conjugal act 3) the couple is open to physically having children 3) fidelity 4) nurturing and raising of children 5) a life committed to mutual support
Marrying an unbaptized person who has been married
If the Catholic party has never married before but is marrying an unbaptized person who has been married before, the unbaptized person has to get an annulment.
Divorce is a simple civil declaration that a marriage relationship ended.
Annulments include a thorough investigation, that if affirmative, are a declaration that even though a wedding ceremony happened, the necessary requirements to make a true marriage did not exist. Thus, no sacramental marriage had officially occurred.
Does an annulment affect the legitimacy of children?
No. The man and woman attempted marriage “in good faith” to become husband and wife. The Church recognizes any children conceived in such a situation as legitimate.