What is the difference between a declaration of nullity and an annulment?
“Annulment” — the act of making null. This means that something was valid, but now is null. This is NOT what the Church does. Furthermore, it is a term found in civil law, not canon law. Rather, the correct term is declaration of nullity — once a marriage ends (via divorce), then the Church Court [tribunal] investigates this marriage, which up to now is presumed valid. After a thorough investigation, should enough evidence be presented and the facts show that this was not a valid marriage, it is declared “null” and a declaration of nullity is issued. If the evidence is not sufficient, the marriage continues to be presumed valid. There’s no such thing as a “declaration of validity”.
A declaration of nullity also differs from divorce. Divorce declares a union no longer exists from that point on. A declaration of nullity states that there never was a valid marriage – from the beginning.
Is a declaration of nullity necessary only if a person has been married in the Catholic Church?
The Catholic Church presumes all marriages are valid. Therefore, the previous marriage(s) of an individual (even if not Catholic at the time they married) must be studied in order to determine freedom (or lack of freedom) to marry. A declaration of nullity is necessary when a previously married person wishes to enter a Catholic marriage.
What about the legitimacy of children from a previous marriage?
Some people believe that children from a previous marriage are rendered illegitimate by a declaration of nullity. This is an erroneous belief. Why? In most countries, a religious official (priest, minister, rabbi, etc) who witnesses a marriage functions as a servant of the state and as a servant of his/her religion. Legitimacy is a civil law concept. Children of a valid civil marriage are legitimate and remain so after a declaration of nullity. A declaration of nullity only claims that the marital consent of one or both parties to the marriage was invalid according to Church law
How long must an individual wait to obtain a declaration of nullity?
The time required to process a case may vary according to the promptness and involvement of the parties and their witnesses. From the time the petitioner submits his/her case for study, the average time required for the completion of a case at the Raleigh Tribunal is twelve to fourteen months. Every case does not receive an affirmative response. If the evidence in a particular case does not justify a declaration of nullity, a negative response will be rendered
What does a declaration of nullity cost?
There is no cost associated with the nullity process. Bishop Burbidge decided that the Diocese will absorb all costs related to the declaration of nullity process.