Ten people gathered around the conference room at Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center in Syracuse Oct. 22, searching for answers on annulments. Facilitated by Father Charles Vavonese, a former member of the Tribunal court and director of the Formation for Ministry program and director of Public Policy Office of the Diocese of Syracuse, and sponsored by the Office of Family Life, the meeting provided a wealth of information and assistance in understanding the ins and outs of annulment filing procedures. “This process can often be a little scary,” explained Father Vavonese. “If there is some way I can take the sting out of this process or help someone better understand the vocabulary used when they file, I’m glad to help.”
The Catholic Sun has provided a list of the most common questions asked by participants during the Oct. 22 annulment informational meeting. These answers, provided by Father Vavonese and Msgr. Timothy Elmer, should be used as a guideline for understanding the annulment process, but each annulment is distinctive and may require additional steps not listed. Divorced Catholics seeking an annulment should first contact their parish priest or the diocesan Tribunal office at (315) 470-1480 to determine the necessary steps for each individual annulment.
Q Is an annulment and a divorce the same thing?
- No. A divorce is a legal process under civil law that results in the termination of a civil union. An ecclesiastical annulment is a legal process under Canon law to determine if certain essential elements of a marital relationship, as the Church defines it, were lacking from the start of the marriage.
Q Do all marriages require an annulment?
A Catholics are bound by the Church to marry before a priest or deacon, unless they received a dispensation to marry before a non-Catholic minister, such as instances where the bride may be non-Catholic and the groom is Catholic. If a Catholic party is wed outside of those conditions, the marriage can be “blessed” or convalidated afterwards upon the request of the couple. Under these circumstances, Catholics or persons married to a Catholic would require an annulment to marry in the Church. Also, marriages between non-Catholics, even non-Christians, according to their custom, are considered valid by the Catholic Church. Such persons, if divorced, would normally require an annulment to remarry a Catholic in the Church.
Q Why should a Catholic file for an annulment?
A Catholics must file for an annulment if they intend to remarry in the Catholic Church. The annulment process can also be a healing process for divorced Catholics, bringing closure to a painful time in life.
Q How do you start the annulment process?
A The initial filing fee of $50 accompanies the Petitioner’s two-page application form. If the Syracuse Tribunal has jurisdiction in the case, the Petitioner must complete a lengthy questionnaire which is then submitted to the Tribunal, along with the necessary documentation (baptismal records where applicable, marriage certificate and divorce decree). Along with these documents should come the remaining $550 to process the case. Arrangements can be made for persons who are unable to pay the fee due to hardship.
Q Does the Petitioner need to inform his/her former spouse about the annulment? Is permission required by the other party to receive an annulment?
A The Tribunal Court, not the Petitioner, will contact the former spouse (the Respondent), and inform him/her of the annulment process. The Respondent has the opportunity to let the court know if he/she is in favor of the annulment, opposes the annulment or is neutral on the subject. The Tribunal court will attempt to contact the respondent twice and if no response is given, canonical requirements have been filled and the annulment process will proceed. If a Respondent does respond and indicates the marriage was valid and grace-filled, the Respondent will be assigned an advocate and be required to fill out a detailed account of the marriage.
Q What happens once the Petitioner submits the fees, documents and paperwork to the Tribunal?
A The Tribunal court reviews the Petitioner’s application explaining how the marriage evolved. The Petitioner is also asked to submit the names of witnesses to the marriage who will be requested to provide confidential written testimony on how they viewed the marriage. The witnesses are generally friends or family and do not need to be Roman Catholic. A hearing will be arranged between the Petitioner and the Tribunal judge and Petitioner’s advocate. The Petitioner will personally detail the issues within the marriage in front of the judge, but there is no jury. During the decision-making process, the judge will confer with a staff psychologist and the advocate. The Petitioner may have to meet with the judge and/or a court-appointed psychologist. Once a decision is made, the petition is sent to a second court, the Provincial Capital for the Diocese of Syracuse in New York City, for a final ruling.
Q Are there specific documents needed to file for an annulment?
A Yes. When the Petitioner decides to file for annulment, a recent copy of his/her baptismal certificate, a recent copy of the marriage certificate and the first and last pages of the legal divorce decree must be submitted along with the annulment paperwork provided by the Tribunal advocate to the Petitioner.
Q How long does the process take?
A Generally, the annulment process takes three to four months from the time the Petitioner submits his/her 20-page questionnaire. Some Petitioners adequately complete a questionnaire in two weeks; others can take two years. If the witnesses delay in responding, or if the other spouse becomes involved in the process, the procedure may go on much longer than three or four months from the time the questionnaire is submitted.
Q How much does an annulment cost?
A An annulment isn’t purchased: the fees paid are for the processing of the paperwork and filing fees. The cost of these fees may vary depending on processing and filing costs of the diocese in which the annulment is filed. The cost of an annulment in the Diocese of Syracuse is $600.
Q Will children who resulted from the marriage be considered illegitimate once the annulment is granted?
A No. All children born as a result of marriage, even if that marriage ends in divorce and becomes annulled, are always considered legitimate.
Q What percentage of annulments is actually granted?
A Generally over 95 percent of annulments submitted are granted.