The Annulment Process: Introduction

The institution of marriage, by which a man and a woman become one in a partnership of the whole of life, was established by God. Moreover, the marriage covenant between two baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament. So sacred is the bond of marriage, that Christ Himself declared that what God has joined together no one is to divide. When a man and a woman exchange consent to marry, when they say "I do," they agree to enter that perpetual and ever faithful bond of marriage which is directed to their own well being, and to the procreation and education of children.

Sadly, however, the life of a marriage can be a fragile thing. Divorce has become one of the familiar tragedies of our day. Many marriages are not successful in spite of good intentions of the spouses. This is true even when a family has been established, and the marriage has lasted for many years. The Church attempts always to be as sensitive and understanding as possible to the stress and pain that all this brings to people. The Office of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Austin exists largely to help all those who are divorced (and with a possible remarriage) who now seek a clarification of their status in the Church.

Once a marriage is entered into between any two persons, Catholic, Protestant, or non-Christian, it is presumed to be a valid and binding union until the contrary can be proven. And as long as a person is bound to a previous valid marriage, the Church does not permit a second marriage to take place. The Church has established certain procedures by which persons can attempt to prove that a previous marriage was not valid or binding, thereby assuring that they are free to marry according to the rites of the Church. This usually involves those persons who seek to marry in the Church, but have been previously married. However, others too may need the assistance of the Tribunal. For example, divorced Catholics may want to settle the status of a previous marriage that ended in divorce even though they have no immediate plans to remarry.

There are many misconceptions about what a declaration of nullity in the Catholic Church actually is. The following information is an attempt to answer the most frequently asked questions about annulments. Next is "Practical Considerations."