Should I seek an annulment to free my ex-husband?

There is no divorce for Catholics, but an annulment may be granted if it can be proven that a valid marriage never existed. In order for a Catholic to remarry in the Church, an annulment must be granted for the previous marriage. Are Catholics who are separated from their spouses required to obtain an annulment? Is it the right thing to do for an estranged spouse who is now in another relationship?

“My husband left years ago, and we were sacramentally married, I believe. I mean, we were married in the Catholic Church and he remarried civilly and I never did. And … I feel like I should seek an annulment—I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do because it’s been so long. I asked him if he wanted one and he said no, so I don’t know really whether I should go ahead with this to free him up, because I know he does not receive the Eucharist. … He’s very knowledgeable and will not receive Communion, did not even at his mother’s funeral, so he obviously knows. But at the same time he is civilly married and has been for twenty years,” explained Cathy.

“Do you have any grounds for the belief that the initial marriage that you went—you followed the form of a Catholic marriage, you repeated the vows, now he didn’t fulfill his end of the vows—but do you have any grounds upon which a possible annulment case could be looked at?” asked Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM and Chief Religion Correspondent at Relevant Radio®.

“I didn’t used to. Since I’ve been listening to Relevant Radio for a few months, I’ve heard things here and there that might make it be the case. That maybe one of us thought if it didn’t work out that would be a possibility, and I think that would be grounds, wouldn’t it?” asked Cathy.

“Well, if there was an intention against permanency that could be, could be grounds for an annulment. That would have to be adjudicated by a tribunal. And it would be a generous thing for you to do, to seek that if you think there really was reason that it wasn’t valid—but it’s not required, in your case, in any way. So I’d talk to your confessor or your pastor about that,” said Msgr. Swetland.

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