Marriage Annulments: An Overview

Marriage - A Way to God

Jesus Christ valued marriage highly. When he repeated the ancient Biblical words, "they are no longer two but one flesh; therefore, let no one separate what God has joined," the Catholic Church believes that marriage has been given special dignity (Genesis 2:24 and Mark 10:8-9). Marriage is an enduring and exclusive partnership in which husband and wife establish a loving and life-giving relationship. If they are baptized, their natural holy bond becomes a sacrament, a special exclusive and unbreakable state of life (canons 1055-1056). Ultimately then, salvation is offered to them by Christ within their marital union.

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Annulment - What is it?

An annulment is an official Church declaration that a previous marriage no longer binds a person spiritually. This is issued only after a thorough evaluation of the prior marriage, and states that the marriage never had all the essential elements required. These essentials, according to Catholic understanding, include sufficient maturity, free choice and emotional capacity on the part of the spouses, as well as other, more technical elements. The investigation always focuses on the beginning of the marriage, since it is the actual consent exchanged at that time which brings about a valid marriage or not.

The Church office entrusted with this special ministry of evaluation is the Tribunal. Its procedures are strictly governed by internal Church law and can begin once a civil divorce is final.

As you can see, this is purely a religious matter. A Church annulment has no civil effects in the United States. It does not affect children's legitimacy, for example, nor does it affect property or inheritance rights.

Experience has shown that most participants in the annulment process find it a healing ministry. Marital breakdown is always a painful thing, and the opportunity to consider it carefully and prayerfully often leads to personal growth and greater emotional health.

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The Basic Process

Each case, of course, is unique, involving different individuals and circumstances. Because of this, it is difficult to generalize about the Tribunal's work. Only a broad picture of the actual procedure is possible.

First of all, someone interested in applying for an annulment should contact his or her local pastor of the Tribunal Office.

An initial review is done to ensure that there is reason to proceed with the case. Additional information is then collected provided by the petitioner, the former spouse, and witnesses by means of written reports. In most cases, an interview is held with each party to clarify issues and offer a chance for personal dialogue. While at times it seems that more information is gathered than is needed, this is necessary in order to establish the unbiased truth beyond any reasonable doubt.

The decision is eventually made by the local Tribunal. In order to ensure a proper decision, another Tribunal reviews and confirms this decision before the declaration of nullity is issued.

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Rights - To Be Respected

The petitioner's former spouse, known as the respondent, always has rights in the process, since he or she was a party to the marriage-in-question. The respondent's cooperation is always requested and is preferred, but is not strictly-speaking necessary to conclude the case. The respondent is notified of the progress of the case only if they offer their cooperation in the annulment proceedings.

As a matter of fact, the rights of all involved in an annulment case are conscientiously respected. These are carefully explained when a case is submitted.

Among the most important of these rights is that of confidentiality. The information gathered in an annulment case is privileged and available only to the designated Tribunal personnel for that case and then only with special safeguards to protect the privacy of all concerned.

If the annulment is granted, the respondent is also freed to remarry in the Catholic Church.

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Cost and Time

The types of cases and related administrative fees associated with a case vary.  Please consult your local parish priest in determining what kind of petition you will present to the Tribunal.

The length of time involved varies from case to case, and depends on many factors. Many things, such as the cooperativeness of persons in returning written reports, are beyond the Tribunal's control. While some cases can be concluded fairly rapidly, the average case take between 8 to 18 months to complete. No guarantees or assurances are never given that a case will be concluded by a specific date. As a result, plans for any future marriage "in the church" may never be finalized while an annulment case is pending.

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To Get Started

Whom do I contact?

Call your parish church office or the Tribunal Office for an appointment

What papers should I bring?

All marriage and divorce papers for you and your former spouse, plus baptismal certificates if Catholic.

Is there any cost right away?

Yes, a filing fee of $25.00. If even this is a problem, you may request a reduction.

Who else must know?

It is best if your former spouse and any others who will be involved in the process learn of it from you. No one else needs to be informed.

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For More Information

For more information, please feel free to contact:

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe
Office of the Tribunal
4000 St Josephs Pl NW
Albuquerque, NM 87120

Office Hours:
Monday through Friday
8:30 am - Noon
1:00 pm - 4:30 pm

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Very Rev. Oscar Coelho, J.C.L.
Judicial Vicar
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Mr. Joseph Sinico
Office Manager
Phone: 505.831.8341
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Ms. Louellen Martinez
Phone: 505.831.8177
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Office Hours:
Monday through Friday
8:30 am - Noon
1:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Phone: 505.831.8177
Fax: 505.831.8351

4000 Saint Joseph's Pl. NW
Albuquerque, NM