Annulment: How to End Your Marriage According to Your Religion

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Wedding rings positioned on either side of a broken heartIn addition to all the legal considerations, if you are a person of faith, you may want an annulment that also ends your marriage in the eyes of your religion. These methods have no legal standing, but they may be required if you want to marry again using a religious ceremony.

The following is an overview. Please check with the authorities in your faith to find out the latest information concerning their procedure in your situation.

New York State is one of the only states that requires a spouse to cooperate with the other spouse if he or she wants to pursue a religious divorce.

Catholic Annulment

The Catholic Church sees marriage as a permanent union according to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 19:6: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” The Church does not recognize a civil divorce because it’s part of their beliefs that a court or a state can’t undo what God has done.

That being said, the Church does not excommunicate people who receive a civil divorce. In fact, it encourages these people to continue to come to church and to receive the holy sacraments, for example, take Communion. The civil divorce only becomes an issue if one of the spouses later wishes to marry again in the Catholic Church. To do that, the spouse either needs to be widowed or needs to seek a Catholic annulment.

In the eyes of the Church, annulment does not mean that the marriage had not taken place. Nor does it brand your children as illegitimate. If the Church grants an annulment, it simply means that the marriage was not valid according to Church law. The Church can grant an annulment decades after a marriage as long as the criteria are met.

A Catholic marriage has six points that must be fulfilled for the marriage to be considered valid:

  1. Both spouses must be free to marry.
  2. Both spouses are capable of giving their consent to marry.
  3. The spouses freely exchange consent to marry.
  4. The spouses both have the intention of marrying for life, being faithful to one another, and being open to having children.
  5. Their intentions toward one another are good; in other words, they do not intend to harm one another.
  6. They both give their consent in the presence of two witnesses and before an authorized minister of the Catholic Church.

To obtain the annulment, the spouse (the petitioner) submits testimony in writing to a tribunal of Catholic Church officials. After the petitioner submits the testimony, the respondent—the other spouse—will have the opportunity to read it. The tribunal also examines the testimony to determine if something essential was missing at the time of the wedding, based on the points above. The petitioner and respondent may each be represented by a Church advocate. The Church will appoint a “defender of the bond,” a representative who will present arguments against granting an annulment.

Some petitions for annulment take place in a local or regional Catholic judicial process, while others go all the way to a Roman court. The people within your diocese who handle annulment tribunals will be able to tell you how long the process might take.

For more information on Catholic annulments: Annulment (US Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Jewish Annulment

The Jewish religion has three main denominations of worship: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism.

The Reform and Conservative denominations have less stringent requirements for receiving a “get” (annulment), a document in which the husband states that the marriage has ended. They will sometimes accept a divorce that has been decreed by the civil court.

Orthodox congregations require that the husband give the wife a get. Jewish people believe that this procedure comes from the law God gave to Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1: “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house…”

An expert rabbinic scribe writes the get, a document in which a husband states his intention to divorce his wife. The document says that the husband is “under no duress” and willingly consents to the divorce, and that the wife can “have authority over yourself and go and marry any man you desire.” Jewish custom mandates the wording of the get, which is why the scribe who writes it must be an expert. Each get is written specifically for the husband and wife involved, so there are no forms available to expedite the process.

The procedure for securing a get takes place in front of a beth din, a rabbinical court with three presiding rabbis. When the scribe completes the document, the husband hands it to the wife in the presence of two qualified witnesses, two Jewish men over the age of bar mitzvah (13), who are not related to the bride or groom or to each other.

It may look as if the wife has no rights or choice in these divorce proceedings, but this is not the case in modern times. Today the wife must consent to the divorce.

For more information on Jewish annulments: The Jewish Way of Divorce

Islamic Annulment

In traditional Islamic marriages, the husband can divorce his wife simply by saying to her, “Talaq,” the word for divorce in Islam. The wife cannot divorce her husband this way.

The husband saying “Talaq” the first time suspends the marriage for three months, during which time the husband is required to continue to support his wife and allow her to live in his house. During this suspension, the husband can decide to take his wife back, though he must declare this before two witnesses.

Two more declarations of Talaq actually end the marriage in the context of the religion. Islamic teaching discourages doing this, as some men say it out of momentary anger or disagreement and regret the decision later.

For more information on Islamic annulments: What Are the Types of Annulled Marriages?

Other Religions

While many other religions officially discourage divorce, they generally accept a civil divorce as valid and permit divorced people to remarry in a religious ceremony. Check with your religious leaders for more information.

Secular/Civil Annulment

Annulment is not restricted to religion. Secular or civil annulment is a court action that declares a marriage null and void. It usually takes place after a very short marriage because it states that a marriage never existed. In other words, the marriage was not legal due to some defect in the proceedings or the contract.

Some of the factors involved include bigamy, duress (a forced marriage), fraud, incest, incompetence, insanity, mental disability, or misunderstanding because of drug or alcohol abuse. The most common civil annulments happen between blood relatives for whom marriage is illegal, or they involve some kind of diminished capacity (drugs or drunkenness), an underage spouse, or a spouse who is already married.

In many of these cases, a judge can declare that, since the marriage was illegal, it never happened; it is therefore nullified. In others, the marriage contract (the understanding between the two spouses) can be voided because of misrepresentation on one spouse’s part or misunderstanding by either spouse. The result is that a court hands down a judgment of annulment.

For more information on NYS civil annulments: NYS Marriage Annulment.

For more divorce topics covered by BJ Mann: BJ Mann Site Content Index

Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo / AndreyPopov

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