Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 8, 2002
Are divorce and annulment different?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
What is the difference between divorce and annulment? There seems to be confusion among people in our sacramental preparation programs.
I suppose one can forgive people for confusing the two. Divorce has been around for a long time although it is much more frequent today than in our recent past. On the other hand, annulments, as a fairly frequent phenomenon for Catholics, are relatively new although they too have existed, albeit infrequently, for a long time.
However, there is no need to confuse these two as, at their roots, they are drastically different. Divorce is a legal procedure; it acknowledges that a legal marriage existed but it will exist no longer once the divorce is granted. In other words, it deals with the situation in the now and severs (tears up, if you will) the marriage document which once existed.
An annulment deals with what happened at the moment of the marriage and says that, from the start, there was a flaw. In other words, a sacramental marriage never truly existed.
How can that be when sometimes the couple has been married for several years and may have children? But these two do not necessarily constitute sacramental marriage.
Rather, it is the informed and free consent of the couple, based on the knowledge and understanding of the nature of Christian sacraments, which constitute the marriage, a covenant between the couple, as well as between the couple and God.
Grounds for annulment, even in secular law are a lack of freedom to give consent and failure to consummate the marriage. Sometimes, marriage may be forced on a couple for social or political reasons.
The Church annulment would include consideration of these factors as well as a lack of consent when couples may marry simply to please the parents or only because there is a pregnancy. Although these instances may be less likely today than in the past, there is a possibility that they still occur in some cases.
However, prime reasons for increased annulments today are psychological immaturity and failing to truly understand the meaning of sacramental marriage and what it constitutes. That testimony has to come from someone who knew the couple at the time of the marriage since annulments are based on what happened at that time.
It must be noted that in giving an annulment, the Church does not nullify the legality of a marriage, if it has taken place before a person authorized by the civil authority to witness marriages. Nor does it affect the legitimacy of children.
On the contrary, a person seeking an annulment is required to have a divorce first as the marriage must be legally terminated before a Church annulment can be granted.
Divorces sometimes can be acrimonious affairs especially when custody of children is involved. As a result, they often leave the couple with feelings of anger, guilt and resentment. However, I have recently noticed articles in our daily paper about more amicable divorces.
An annulment can be, I understand, a healing process as the people involved come to see the situation more objectively and realize that they were not really at fault and so are healed of their guilt and anger.
Another aspect that creates confusion is the reception of the sacraments after divorce or annulment. In one sense, divorce is neutral in the eyes of the Church because one is allowed and obligated to continue to receive the sacraments and be fully involved in the life of the Christian community, including Mass.
However, only when an annulment has been obtained are persons allowed to remarry in the Church. Should people remarry without an annulment, the laws of the Church indicate that they cannot receive Communion, although of course, they can assist at Mass.