When a person has been a party in a divorce, if he/she wishes to marry in the Catholic Church, he/she will need to establish his/her freedom to marry. The process by which this is done has been referred to as “getting an annulment.” However, technically and more precisely, not all “annulments” in this common usage are annulments. The process is complex as to why it is needed as well as how the process unfolds. As this is being written a committee established by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, endeavors to review the process and perhaps to alter it. As those changes are established in the law the information presented here will be changed accordingly.

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers.

Who needs to establish their freedom to marry if he/she wishes to marry in the Catholic Church or who needs an annulment?

Simply put, although technically inaccurate, all those who have divorced and have not yet been declared free to marry by a Church Tribunal need an annulment.

The fuller answer:

All who wish to marry in the Catholic Church must establish their freedom to marry.

If one has never exchanged marital consent with another before, there are a number of ways that that person’s freedom to marry can be established. Here are the two manners most frequently used. It may be achieved through affidavits given by those who have known the person since they have come of marital age and can attest that the person has never exchanged marital consent with another before. If both of the parties are Catholic, this may be accomplished through the publication of the banns of marriage in each party’s parish’s bulletin.

When the person who wishes to marry has exchanged marital consent with another and that relationship has ended in a divorce, the establishment of that person’s freedom to marry becomes more involved. Jesus Christ taught that marriage is an indissoluble bond. Therefore, once one has exchanged marital consent, by which this indissoluble bond is formed, the person is presumed to be married, unless it can be proven otherwise. All those in this situation need to establish their freedom to marry. The process by which this is accomplished involves a Church Tribunal. The manner in which this involvement takes depends on the details of the people who exchanged marital consent and the manner of that exchange of consent.

Why doesn’t the Church change her laws and recognize divorce?

The law followed by the Catholic Church which prohibits divorce and remarriage is not the Church’s law. Laws can only be changed by the one who established them or by the one to whom such authority has been given. In the case of divorce and remarriage, the law comes from Jesus Christ, God incarnate. He taught that what God has joined no one must divide (see Mk 10:9 and Mt 19:6). Hence the law is a divine law over which neither the Church nor any earthly power has authority to change.

Why does anyone need to establish their freedom to marry if he/she has divorced? Doesn’t divorce free a person to marry?

Simply answered:

No, divorce does not establish a person’s freedom to marry in the Catholic Church.

A fuller answer:

Jesus Christ, God incarnate, taught that what God has joined no one must divide (see Mk 10:9 and Mt 19:6). Therefore, as disciples of Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church holds that marriage is indissoluble by its very nature and is the one blessing not forfeited by humanity at the fall. Since it is God who ultimately joins the parties in marriage, the bond of marriage is not dissolvable by any earthly power. Furthermore, because Jesus taught it, it is a divine law. Those who grant a divorce are earthly powers who have no authority in the matter of marriage, except for its merely civil effects. Therefore, divorce is not recognized by the Catholic Church because it is contrary to the divine law about marriage and the power who issues divorces, normally the state, is incapable of putting an end to the indissoluble bond of marriage. Thereby, divorce does not free one to marry and any divorced person is seen by the Catholic Church as being married to the person with whom he/she exchanged marital consent, until it is proven otherwise.

The law followed by the Catholic Church which prohibits divorce and remarriage is not the Church’s law. Laws can only be changed by the one who established them or by the one to whom such authority has been given. In the case of divorce and remarriage, the law comes from Jesus Christ, God incarnate. He taught that what God has joined no one must divide (see Mk 10:9 and Mt 19:6). Hence the law is a divine law over which the Church nor any earthly power has authority to change.