Pope Francis Relaxes Catholic Church Rules For Annulments

Often the family law industry finds itself at offs with the Catholic Church, which has historically required a several step process and steep fees to have the dissolution of a marriage spiritually recognized by an annulment. Under Catholic doctrine, a marriage will not be formally recognized by the church as ended unless the parties seek an annulment. This would prevent either husband or wife from remarrying in the Church among other things and placed a large barrier in the way of the nearly 28,000 American couples who sought divorce last year. Though the Catholic Church still does not formally recognize divorce without a formal Catholic annulment, Pope Francis announced this week that he hopes to simplify and streamline the process allowing the more than 28% of Catholics whose marriages end in divorce to breathe a bit easier and putting a bit less strain on their pocketbooks as well.

Among the changes proposed by Pope Francis are:

  • Eliminating a second review by a cleric before a marriage can be nullified.
  • Giving bishops the ability to fast-track and grant the annulments themselves in certain circumstances — for example, when spousal abuse or an extramarital affair has occurred.
  • The process should be free, except for a nominal fee for administrative costs, and should be completed within 45 days.

This announcement comes on the heels of other recent changes in policy including allowing divorced Catholics to participate in Communion. According to Church leaders, these changes are not meant to encourage divorces, but rather to help keep the Church in touch with an ever-changing group of believers and help ease the burden on individual Catholics who are clearly facing personal struggles.

Pennsylvania law also recognizes legal annulments which can be a valid alternative to sometimes long and cumbersome divorce proceedings. A marriage may be annulled when a marriage is “voidable” as defined by statute. A Pennsylvania marriage is void when: a spouse was unable to consent to marriage due to mental incapacity or incompetence, the marriage is to first cousin or closer relative, or the marriage is bigamous or polygamous. When these circumstances exist, the marriage was void from the start and no further action is needed. If a marriage is voidable, one of the parties has to seek an annulment to end it and if the couple continues to live together as a married couple, they will lose the right to an annulment. A marriage is voidable (or able to be voided) when: one or both spouses were under age 16, one or both spouses were under age 18 and the marriage was performed without parental consent, the marriage was entered into under the influence of liquor or drugs (annulment must be brought within 60 days), either spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse, or the marriage consent was obtained by duress, coercion or fraud.

Because marriages that are voidable are typically short in length, it takes much less time to obtain an annulment than a divorce in the state of Pennsylvania. Our firm is experienced in both annulments and divorce in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania area. If you are interested in finding out more information about either, contact us today!

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