Why Do Non-Catholics Need An Annulment?

Dear Catholic Exchange,

My daughter has had a very challenging life during her 26 years on earth.

She was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was 13 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments for 2½ years. She is in remission and has been for the past 10 years but because of her chemotherapy, she developed an osteonecrosis in her knees and elbows and eventually had to have her knees replaced. Because the disease hit her during a very crucial developmental time in her life, my daughter has struggled to develop and maintain healthy personal relationships. My wife and I have done everything we can to help and be supportive and she has recently (a little over a year ago) found "the love of her life." He asked her to marry him and she accepted. They have tentatively settled on a date in May 2008 and for the first time since I can't remember when, my daughter is truly happy. Unfortunately, her fiancé is not a Catholic and, to make matters worse, he was married once before to another non-Catholic.

That marriage fell apart within 6 months because of infidelity on her part and the marriage ended in divorce. When looking to book our church for the wedding, my daughter was told that before she could be married to her fiancé in the Catholic faith, they would have to go through a very lengthy procedure to annul his previous marriage. I'm sorry for the long lead-in but here's my question: What is the procedure and the reasoning behind the lengthy process? Even though my daughter and her fiancé has scheduled a date over 13 months out she is being told that the annulment will take around 18 months and she will just have to push out her wedding date even further. Since her fiancé's previous marriage was not a Catholic marriage was it even recognized by the Catholic Church? Is there anything at all she and we can do to expedite this process so she can keep her date? Needless to say, she is very disappointed and depressed.


Mr. Franz


Dear Mr. Franz,

Peace in Christ!

The process is lengthy because it must be thorough and diocesan resources are often not sufficient to quickly handle the number of petitions for annulment.

Your daughter's fiancé presumably exchanged consent with his first wife and, as the saying goes, consent makes the marriage. If a marriage occurs, in or out of the Catholic Church, on a sacramental or natural level, it is recognized as valid and protected by the Church as a holy union. Further, marriage "can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death" (Code of Canon Law, canon 1141). The presumption is in favor of the marriage.

If your daughter's fiancé is not married, it is because consent was never legitimately exchanged due to at least one of the following reasons: (1) the proper form of marriage was not used, (2) one or both of the parties were incapable of exchanging consent, or (3) consent itself was not exchanged. In the annulment process, a marriage tribunal thoroughly examines the question of consent. Again, the presumption is in favor of marriage, so there must be a level of certainty that there was not a legitimate exchange of consent before a declaration of nullity is issued.

As far as expediting the process goes, cases are taken on a first come-first served basis. In some cases the absence of legitimate consent is so clear that the process might take only a few months. Of course, a complete application and documentation is a factor, as well as the responsiveness of witnesses. Marriage arrangements are not usually accepted as reasons for special treatment.

God brings good out of evil, and your daughter can take this time to better understand marriage, including what it means to have a sacramental marriage, and thereby have a much stronger and richer marriage than what she might have had otherwise.

For more information, please see our Faith Facts:

Marriage in God's Plan – Discovering the Power of Marital Love

The Annulment Process

Divorce and Remarriage: The Church's Perspective

United in the Faith,

Eric Stoutz
Director of Catholic Responses
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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  • Guest

    Re Mr. Franz's daughter's wedding postponement:  I, too, married a non-Catholic who had been married previously, by a judge.  In this case, his ex-wife was (is) Jewish, and so she is not a baptized person. Because of this, we only had to go through the  dispensation process, which is not as complex as the annulment one.  The paperwork does have to go to the Vatican, so it's best to keep constant tabs with the priest who handles this for your daughter.  Bottom line, find out if the ex or the husband-to-be isn't baptized.  It makes a big difference, because then the marriage isn't considered sacramental.