Pope Francis recently announced reforms aimed to speed up and simplify the Roman Catholic Church’s procedure for marriage annulments. The new reform involves a fast-track process that will be handled directly by bishops.
An annulment is a Church ruling which invalidates a marriage, and treats the marriage as though it never occurred. Certain conditions must be met for a marriage to be declared invalid. A spouse’s unwillingness to have children, lack of psychological maturity, and/or the denial of free choice can all constitute grounds for an annulment. By showing that the marriage contract was fundamentally flawed from the beginning, an annulment makes a marriage invalid in the eyes of the church.
Pope Francis has stated that marriage is an indissoluble union. The new reform is not meant to help end these unions but to help the faithful find justice. He says the goal of the new Church regulations is to simplify and speed up the process, especially for Catholics in poorer areas who may not be able to afford lawyers.
The new reform calls for annulments to be completed in 45 days and will be free of charge. Currently annulments are reviewed by a series of Church tribunals and can take quite a long time to complete, especially if disagreements occur and the case is referred to a Vatican court. Critics of the current annulment process say it is too lengthy and outdated. Many state that the process is out of reach for Catholics whose dioceses do not have marriage tribunals.
Over 25% of Catholics in the United States have been divorced and 26% have sought an annulment. The United States accounts for over 49% of worldwide Catholic annulment cases. However, over the past few years the number of annulments in the US has begun to decline. Just over 23,000 cases were opened in 2014 compared to 61,000 in 1985. Church officials have noted that fewer Catholics are marrying in the Church, more Catholics are cohabitating without marrying, and some Catholics who divorce do not see a reason for an annulment.
The new annulment regulations are set to become part of Catholic canon law on December 8, 2015.
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Representing clients exclusively in family law cases for the past 24 years, Mr. Schutz is widely regarded as a marital and family law expert. He is Board Certified in marital and family law by The Florida Bar. As a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), Mr. Schutz is committed to elevating the standards and improving the practice of family law.
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