Myth-busting: annulment and divorce

A photo by Danielle MacInnes.

Back in 1997, and after about two years of waiting, I received a decree of nullity, which is more commonly known as an ‘annulment’. This was not a ‘jump for joy’ moment for me because I never wanted to divorce in the first place. Despite all the betrayal and pain that had occurred, I would have stayed married and would have worked to improve my relationship with my spouse. But even so, there was a sense of relief that came with receiving this decree; a soothing, healing feeling that signalled the end of the worst period of my life.
Thanks to the annulment process, I had the closure I needed and I had a firm direction to head in, so I could now move forward as a whole person.
These benefits of the annulment process are difficult to impress upon sceptics at times, but they’re important to bring to light because of the many misunderstandings that surround the annulment process these days.

MYTH: Catholics Who Get Divorced Are Ex-Communicated

Anyone whose marriage is civilly ended by a state-issued divorce decree is in no way ex-communicated. If you are a spouse who deliberately broke up your marriage and abandoned your family to pursue another relationship, then you really need to talk to a priest because that is considered a grave sin. But it’s not an ex-communicable offense. Abandoned spouses, especially, need to know that being civilly divorced does not make you a ‘bad Catholic’. You are welcome and encouraged to attend Mass and parish events and remain an important part of the parish community.

MYTH: Divorced Catholics Cannot Receive The Sacraments Until They Receive An Annulment

If you are civilly divorced without an annulment, but you are in a state of grace, you are welcome and encouraged to attend Mass and other parish functions and receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist as often as you can.
What prohibits a divorced Catholic, or anyone for that matter, from receiving the Eucharist is not being in a state of grace due to grave sin. Anyone – married, never-married, widowed, divorced, religious – who is not in the state of grace due to grave sin is required to abstain from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1385).

MYTH: Receiving a Decree of Nullity Means Your Marriage Never Existed

A decree of nullity simply states you and your spouse at the time did not have a sacramental/valid bond.
‘Invalid’ does not infer you didn’t have a marriage relationship, because of course, you did. You lived in a house as husband and wife, had children, pets, and shared belongings. The question of validity refers

to the spiritual/sacramental bond of marriage (a marriage is sacramental when both spouses are baptised Christians). Was there an unbreakable covenant between God and the spouses that cannot be dissolved by anything other than death? This unbreakable covenant or bond is what may never have existed.

MYTH: The Annulment Process Renders Children Illegitimate

Any marriage that was presumed to be valid, but later determined to be invalid through the annulment process, is a “putative” marriage. The Church clearly states that children of a putative marriage are legitimate (Canon 1137).
This myth can be very damaging to a child who is already emotionally disturbed by the divorce of his or her parents and in no way reflects the teachings of the Church. Children are always a blessing and a gift from God.

MYTH: The Annulment Process Is Expensive

In 2015 Pope Francis asked all dioceses to make their annulment processes available to petitioners at no cost, or with as little financial obligation as possible. Since then, many dioceses have eliminated the cost completely.

MYTH: The Annulment Process Is Just A Catholic Divorce

Going through the annulment process does not guarantee a right to remarry. Its sole purpose is to determine if there was a valid bond. Some people receive a decree of nullity, some do not.
It’s a rather risky thing to wed or make plans to wed before the culmination of the annulment process because there is no guarantee a decree of nullity will be granted, but also because the healing nature of the process helps the divorced person heal from the past, which is critical to do before jumping into a new relationship.

MYTH: If You Don’t Know How To Find Your Ex-Spouse Or If He/She Chooses Not To Participate, The Process Will Not Proceed

The tribunal will ask you to go to reasonable lengths to locate him or her so he or she can be notified of the proceedings. However, if you are unable to reach your ex-spouse, or if your ex-spouse has been contacted by the tribunal and refuses to participate, your case will still be heard. It’s important to give an ex-spouse the opportunity to tell his/her side of the story so the canon lawyers deciding the case can have as much testimony as possible and make a well-informed decision.

CathFamily extra thoughts

Why get an annulment?
The Church considers marriage as binding for life, and does not recognise a civil divorce as dissolving a sacramental marriage. When the Church grants an annulment it is saying that something essential for a sacramental, binding marriage, was not there at the start and was never there throughout the marriage. An annulment is not saying that anyone did anything wrong, individually or together, but that something important was missing.
What if I am denied an annulment?
You still belong to your parish community and are valued and needed! Like all Catholics, you are called to keep in touch with people who are faith-filled, keep praying, keep learning about your faith and growing in faith.
What’s a convalidation ceremony?
This is a formal blessing of a couple’s marriage in the Church so that their civilly-recognised marriage is made a sacramental bond as well. For those who were previously married, they will require the granting of an annulment before they are able to have their second marriage convalidated.
Other couples who qualify for a convalidation of their marriage include Catholics who married outside the Church, such as at a park or resort.

About the author
Lisa Duffy writes a popular blog, A Million Unheard Souls, at for people in need of relationship advice or healing from divorce. She contributes to many other print and online Catholic publications, coaches individuals and groups, and holds conferences and online events. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and three children.


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