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Let’s talk about annulment


While marriage is often a time of great joy, anticipation and discussion, annulment can be a difficult and intimidating topic of conversation.

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It needn’t be, not when the likes of Monica Condon are on hand to help understand the process.

Monica is a case auditor for the Interdiocesan Tribunal of the Catholic Church Adelaide for SA and NT and believes that misconceptions about divorce and the annulment process can be a deterrent for those wanting to reach out.

“It’s disappointing that by the time they come into the office, it’s often been 10 or 15 years since their divorce,” Monica says. “That’s largely because they were ill informed about what their rights are.”

One of the most common misconceptions is that once you’re married, the Church won’t accept divorce as dissolving the bond of marriage. However, it needs to be remembered that divorce does not necessarily prevent a person from receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is only if a person attempts another marriage or lives with another partner without first being granted an annulment that they should not receive Communion.

A divorced person should seek advice about their rights and ways in which they can live their faith.

“A lot of people are told based on their marriage and the breakdown of their marriage that they don’t qualify for an annulment,” Monica says.

“It’s only after they happen to encounter a certain priest or even a friend who has been through the process, that they come and see us. You can only imagine how much resentment has built up towards their own faith in that time.

“If someone has been told they’ve done something wrong and are unable to participate in the community, their journey and their healing can be prolonged. If priests or even other people within their communities are unsure of a person’s circumstances, they should refer them to the Tribunal because we’re the ones who can talk to that person more directly about their personal story and what their options are. Starting that ‘in between’ conversation could avoid a lot of heartache for people. For me, that’s the biggest driving force in talking more about it.”

Everyone has the right to ask for an investigation of their previous marriage by the appropriate Tribunal of the Church. For residents of South Australia and the Northern Territory, this is usually the Interdiocesan Tribunal of Adelaide.

The service assists with the pastoral care of divorced and remarried people seeking to have their marriage recognised in the Church, divorced persons seeking to remarry, and divorced persons seeking clarification of their standing in the Church.

“Many people still don’t really understand how to start the process or what the process is,” Monica says.

“Some people think that coming into a tribunal sounds daunting but it’s absolutely not like that.”

In the first instance, the Tribunal can be contacted directly, or through a referral from a priest, a religious or a qualified pastoral assistant. An initial interview is then conducted to provide a basic outline of the case. A copy of your baptismal certificate, a full copy of your marriage certificate and your decree of divorce will need to be supplied.

“It follows from there,” says Monica. “People have an opportunity to nominate witnesses and character references, and then the case progresses.”

The duration of a case depends on how cooperative people are.

“We’re quite good at getting it done as quickly as possible,” Monica says.

“We usually say four months, but we’ve had cases where witnesses have come in one after the other, and the case has been brought to the point of being judged within a couple of months.”

It is important for people to know that an annulment is not guaranteed, but each person has the right to have the marriage in question investigated by the Tribunal.

Monica comes from a place of experience. She went through her own annulment process after starting her role with the Interdiocesan Tribunal of the Catholic Church Adelaide. Back then, she too was hesitant but now assists others with newfound empathy and insight. “When someone comes in stressed or nervous, I’ve been there and I can relate to it,” she says.

“If there’s been abuse or really high conflict scenarios, there’s a lot of fear around the former spouse being involved in this process. I want to reassure people that everything is very confidential. There will never be a point that you’re in the same room as the former spouse or anything like that. If you share information with us and later decide that it could potentially put you or your children in danger, we’re not going to involve that in the case; people’s safety and confidentiality is something we pride ourselves on.”

Monica ultimately found the process healing.

“That’s because a lot of the interview questions can be quite personal and can challenge some of your own personality [traits] or decisions leading into the marriage,” she explains.

A period of deep self-reflection followed her annulment.

“As much as the other party plays a part, I had to reflect on what led me to the choices I made, and what I may need to work on now.”

She also sought counselling after the end of her previous marriage.

“Self-reflection and internal work before re-entering another relationship was so significant,” she says. “It had to be done.”

Monica says that through the experience of the Tribunal, the team discovers that a lot of couples have married without any form of preparation.

Now happily married, Monica is an advocate of marriage preparation.

“It’s not always the answer to prevent breakdowns later on but having done an online course, it was beneficial for me and my husband.

“We all live very busy, fast paced lives and that leaves little time for family time and communication. We found it brought us closer together because we shared things about each other that we probably wouldn’t say on a day-to-day basis. It was a very positive experience.

“I wonder…if more people did this, would they realise certain things about each other before entering into marriage? People focus a lot on the wedding day, which is exciting, and I understand the build-up, but putting a little thought into what happens after is a good idea. I think we could avoid a lot of heartache if some of the important conversations like finances, religion, children and what a family unit looks like were had before marriage.”


What is a decree of nullity?

A formal annulment (decree of nullity) is a declaration by the Church that the sacramental bond was not present at the moment of marriage. The declaration of nullity means that the parties are free of the continuing rights and obligations of the marriage and that they are free to enter into a new marriage. An annulment does not deny that a real relationship existed and it is not a comment on any moral fault in the parties. Rather, a decree of nullity is a declaration by the Church that, at the time a couple entered a marriage, an essential element was seriously lacking in the consent of at least one of them, making the marriage invalid. The annulment process is not merely a legal process but is also a means of bringing healing and giving support. The Church is very aware of the many problems and stresses in the modern world which impact on marriage and often lead to a breakdown. Through the Tribunal process it endeavours to reach out to the pain and hurt of a divorced person, while upholding the permanence of a valid marriage.

Source: Interdiocesan Tribunal of Adelaide


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