By: Elizabeth A. Eichholtz, Attorney

Pope Francis announced on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 that the Catholic Church is changing the religious annulment process . The amendments make the process easier and cheaper for individuals seeking an annulment. What does this mean for Indiana couples who were married in the Catholic Church and are now seeking a divorce? While this change is intended to make the religious annulment process easier, it has no actual bearing on the divorce process. To better understand the implications of the new process, it’s important to note the difference between a civil divorce and a religious annulment and how those are treated within the context of civil and canon law.

Divorce v. Annulment

Divorce, also known as a dissolution of marriage, is a civil law action that terminates a marriage. In the simplest terms when a dissolution of marriage is made final, the legal partnership is no longer and the marital assets are divided between the parties. There is also a civil annulment proceeding which is separate and distinct from a divorce proceeding. An annulment has the effect of voiding a marriage. Stated differently, it is as if the marriage had never occured. Therefore, unlike a divorce, when a relationship ends through an annulment, there are no “marital assets” to divide as there legally was no marriage. Accordingly, each party goes their separate ways with the assets and debts that they brought to the union. Civil annulments are quite rare and to determine whether you may qualify for the same, a spouse would be well advised to consult with a family law attorney.

For more information about the differences between a divorce and an annulment click here.

Religious Annulment

A religious annulment is entirely separate from a civil action of divorce or annulment. Religious annulments in the Catholic faith are governed by Canon Law. The civil divorce or civil annulment is complete before the religious annulment process begins. More information about the process can be obtained directly through your place of worship. Online resources may also serve as a guide.

For many Catholics, these changes will help to alleviate part of the stress that comes with filing for divorce. The Catholic Church stated that the reforms to the annulment process are part of a “Year of Mercy” that begins December 8, 2015. For additional information regarding the amendments to the Catholic annulment process, please read the full-text article provided in the link above.

photo credit: Katedrála svatého Víta (Saint Vitus’ Cathedral), Prague via photopin (license)