Easier divorces for Roman Catholics?

By Paul Hunt at 00:00

Pope Frances recently announced changes to the way in which the Catholic Church will deal with the issue of annulment of marriages.

In what is only the third revision of the process in the Church’s 2000 year history, the Vatican is making it easier for Catholic marriages to be annulled as Pope Francis pushes the reform to create a more accessible and less complicated process.

The move is somewhat of a dramatic departure from Pope Francis’s more conservative predecessors who made efforts to make annulments more difficult to obtain.

The Vatican made it clear that these changes will not encourage or “favour” annulment but the process will become less intimidating.

Whilst the new rules do not change the Catholic Church’s position on divorce and communion they do go some way in providing a far more practical approach for remarried Catholics to have their new marriage recognised by the Church.

The new rules also affect non-Catholics who are divorced and wish to marry a Catholic. Non-Catholics require an annulment before the Catholic Church will validate the marriage.

The breakdown of a relationship and marriage can occur across all religious denominations and the indication is that divorces proceed despite in many cases with the lack of an annulment process. It may well be the situation that the Catholic Church is catching up with the progressive views of its own members.

It is worth noting that the annulment process is an internal matter for the Catholic Church and does not operate in England & Wales to end the marriage. The same can be said of divorce processes that arise from other religions. Ultimately it is a Decree Absolute of divorce that ends the marriage with whatever internal processes may have taken place beforehand to satisfy the personal requirements of those involved.

There is of course a procedure for applying for a decree of nullity, rather than a divorce, in England & Wales but the grounds for this are very specific and tend to relate to matters that go to the heart of the validity of marriage. For example, lack of consent, duress, and failure to comply with legal formalities, or inability or refusal to consummate the marriage.

This does not however coincide with the Catholic Church’s annulment process although there is some crossover.

A Catholic Church annulment would be based on the following:-
(i) Defective marriage in that the ceremony is invalid such as in the case of two catholic persons being married outside of the Catholic Church;

(ii) Lack of intent to enter into a lifelong exclusive union;
(iii) Mental incapacity, ignorance or error about the marriage or duress;(iv) Effective capacity, if either party was already married to someone else.

The Catholic Church recognises that the divorce procedure is necessary to settle civil matters and child custody but Catholics are not allowed to remarry until the previous marriage has been nullified by the Church.

Time will tell whether the Catholic Church will see a rise in annulments. It is possible that if the divorce procedure is simplified then it might be that those who were contemplating a divorce but were put off by a difficult annulment process may now feel able to proceed.

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Paul Hunt

Paul Hunt , Senior Associate

As a senior solicitor Paul is responsible for cases involving divorce or separation, children, financial and property issues and domestic violence.

He is member of Resolution panel for private children law, ancillary relief and domestic violence. Paul is also trained in Collaborative Law.

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