Within the Roman Catholic Church, a couple may obtain a religious annulment after obtaining a civil divorce (or a civil annulment), so that one or both people may remarry within the church and have the second marriage recognized by the church.
The grounds for religious annulments are different than for civil annulments. In the Catholic Church, a diocesan tribunal, rather than a court of law, decides whether the marriage bond is less than a covenant for life, because a defect was there from the very beginning. Either or both parties may obtain an annulment if they can show adequate grounds that the marriage was “majorly lacking in some way.” Grounds for finding a marriage deficient include a lack of openness and honesty, maturity, voluntarily entering the marriage, appropriate motivation, emotional stability, and capacity to establish a loving marital community. If the tribunal grants the annulment, then both parties may remarry in the Catholic Church. Often a party from an annulled marriage must undergo counseling before remarrying to ensure that the same mistakes are not made again. As in a civil annulment, the legitimacy of the children of an annulled marriage is not questioned.
The number of religious annulments granted annually in the United States soared from 338 in 1968, to 28,918 in 1974, to a peak of 63,933 in 1991. By 2004 the number had fallen to 46,330, and it fell even further, to 35,009, in 2007 - a remarkable decline of 24 percent in three years.
Despite this decline, the United States, with 5.9 percent of the world’s Catholics, still accounts for 60 percent of the Church’s 58,322 declarations of nullity, according to 2007 statistics in the Vatican Secretariat of State’s Statistical Yearbook of the Church. Of these, 35,009 declarations of nullity were granted in the United States, 79 percent were granted through the ordinary process; 21 percent through the documentary (administrative) process used for relatively black-and-white cases, such as when a Catholic is married outside the Church, consanguinity, marriage below the legal age, marriage to a person validly married to another, marriage (under certain circumstances) to one’s abductor or the murderer of one’s spouse, or marriage to clerics or religious not dispensed from their vows. Of the 7,355 declarations of nullity granted in the United States by the documentary process, 74 percent were granted for reasons of defect of form. Marriages annulled by the Church are considered annulled ab initio.
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