Why does it take so long, a year or sometimes more, to obtain an annulment from the church so that I can get married?
I can appreciate the concern and the time issue. When people decide they want to get remarried, they usually have no desire to wait; they want to do it NOW. Like healing from a surgery or learning a new language, it has always taken time to process annulment requests. Unfortunately the number of divorces, even among Catholics, has increased over the years. This means there are more people requesting a Declaration of Nullity — the proper term — which adds to the volume of work for the tribunal judges.
To understand the time it takes one must understand four things: the first is that in most cases those who serve as tribunal judges do so only part time – most are pastors or have other duties. For example the head of our Tribunal is also the rector of the Cathedral parish and has the daily duties of anyone serving as a pastor. Other judges likewise are serving the faithful in multiple capacities. Thus the time that they spend reading petitions, making requests for additional information, and responding to petitions is in addition to the other duties which also take time.
The second is that there is no “meeting” like in civil tribunals, all of the correspondence takes place through the mail and some people are less swift at responding to letters requesting information. This is why it is important that all the addresses for everyone involved be accurate. Returned letters add time. This is also why it is important for a petitioner to communicate with the witnesses so they will respond in a timely manner. Sometimes people put the tribunal’s requests for information on the back burner which adds time. In my diocese, to avoid the emotional issues that can happen, the tribunal does not mail out information requests during the Advent season.
The third is the Church’s position on, and support of, valid marriages. The Church highly values the sacrament of marriage, thus the presupposition in all cases is that ALL marriages are valid until proven otherwise. This means that the petitioner has to show moral certitude that a given marriage was not valid. As with civil judges, tribunal judges use great caution while reading the cases so as to make proper judgments as to the truth of the case. While everyone has the right to petition for an annulment, no one has a right to receive one.
The fourth is that if a local judge gives an affirmative ruling the case is sometimes appealed to the next level tribunal. This means that another judge must review the case, which also adds time.
For more information you are invited to contact me or to contact the tribunal or chancery directly in your diocese.