The Catholic Church believes that joining a man and a woman in matrimony is a sacred act. When this act takes place between two baptized Christians, it is a sacrament. If neither or only one of the persons is baptized, then the marriage is not a sacramental marriage but is recognized as a sacred bond. An annulment looks at whether or not a sacrament has taken place. When a marriage is declared to be annulled, it doesn't mean that a civil marriage didn't occur, but rather that a sacrament didn't occur.
The law of the Church is not meant to be any barrier but rather to keep us true to our belief that a validly established marriage is binding for life, that all marriage is brought about by an act of consent ("I do") between a man and a woman capable of giving and receiving that consent, and that Catholics are bound to exchange that consent in the context of the Church.
Some commonly asked questions are answered below:
Is divorce a sin?
No. Divorce in and of itself is not a sin. Divorced Catholics who have not remarried remain in good standing with the Church.
What about our children? Does an annulment mean that our children are illegitimate in the eyes of the Church?
Again, no. The Church looks at the marriage to see if a sacrament occurred. A declaration of nullity is strictly religious and does not affect the civil facts of the marriage. The Church is evaluating the spousal relationship exclusively. If a marriage was entered into in good faith, that is to say, that the couple anticipated a healthy life-long marriage, the good faith of the couple provided enough of a union to satisfy the notion of children being born within the benefit of marriage. This fact is written into the Church's teaching and law.
How long does an annulment take?
How long a case takes varies, but the Tribunal stipulates that if you are planning to remarry, you should not set a date until the annulment process is complete.
How can I find out more or begin the annulment process?
For more information or to begin the process of annulment, contact Msgr. Bill Tindall.
(Information on annulment taken from A Declaration of Nullity, Information Booklet from the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Detroit, and from What the Church Teaches: Annulments from Our Sunday Visitor.)