The Diocese of Des Moines

Divorced & Catholic FAQs

1)    Is a divorced Catholic excommunicated?
A)    No, civil divorce does not mean a person is excommunicated. A civil divorce in itself, while tragic, does not damage a person’s communion with the Church, and so divorced persons can participate in the entire sacramental life of the Church and they are encouraged to widely participate in the life of the parish. Remarrying after a divorce without receiving a prior declaration of nullity does damage a person’s communion with the Church, not because the Church rejects this person but because he or she has chosen a to live in a relationship that is in violation of his or her previous wedding vows. All of us struggle to live in full accord with the gospel, a person in this situation is still a beloved member of the parish community, and should participate in parish life as fully as possible. A person who persists in a conjugal relationship outside of marriage, in any situation but including remarriage after divorce without a declaration of nullity, should not present themselves for sacramental communion but instead should seek a spiritual communion, praying for God to dwell more fully in his or her heart.

2)    Can a divorced Catholic marry again?
A)    Yes, once a Decree of Nullity (annulment) has been issued by the Diocesan Tribunal.

3)    Can a Catholic marry a divorced non-Catholic in the Church?
A)    Yes, once the non-Catholic’s prior marriage has received a Decree of Nullity (annulment) from the Diocesan Tribunal.  All non-Catholic marriages, both religious and civil are presumed to be valid by our Church.

4)    Why is a marriage between two non-Catholics required to receive a Decree of Nullity before the non-Catholic can be married in the Church to a Catholic?
A)    The Church believes that one can have but one valid marriage relationship at a time. Since all marriages are presumed to be valid and since the Church does not recognize civil divorce of a valid marriage the non-Catholic marriage must face the same scrutiny as the Catholic marriage and be declared invalid before another marriage is allowed in the Church.

5)    I am a divorced Catholic and my prior marriage was not performed before a priest, deacon or bishop (it was before the justice of the peace or another Church). What is my status?
A)    Your prior marriage was invalid (unless you received a dispensation from form) since it did not follow the required form of marriage required for Catholics.  You may file an administrative process, called Lack of Form, which is very simple, takes less than thirty days and has a fee of $50.  You would then be free to marry in the Church.

6)    What is a Decree of Nullity (annulment)?
A)    This is a judicial decree from the Church issued at the end of a process studying the details of a marriage to determine if at the time of consent (the day of the marriage) there was some element of marriage required under Canon Law that was missing, resulting in a defective or invalid marriage.  If the decree is affirmative, both parties would be able to be married in the Church.  If negative they would not be able to seek marriage in the Church.

7)    What are the reasons for an invalid marriage?
A)    There are many different and sometimes complex grounds for granting a Decree of Nullity, including:  Force or fear, intention against fidelity, children or permanence, error regarding essential elements of marriage, inability to assume the obligations of marriage and others.

8)    Does this mean that the marriage did not take place?  What about the legitimacy of the children?
A)    No, the marriage existed but was invalid in the eyes of the Church.  This has no effect on the civil aspects of marriage, divorce, alimony, or on the status of the children.

9)    How do I start the process?  Is it very expensive?  How long does it take?
A)    By contacting your parish priest or deacon.  The fee to process the formal case is $400, this represents less than one-half the cost of the process, and the balance is provided by the Annual Diocesan Appeal.  In the case of need assistance can be obtained.  No one is denied access to the Court due to financial limitations.  The length of time varies with each case; you should plan on at least a year.  In 2010 the average processing time for a case in our diocese was eight months.  All cases are processed in the order the Tribunal receives them.

10)    Are all cases granted a Decree of Nullity?
A)    No, the process in each case is the search for the truth of the question of validity on the day of the marriage.  This is done by the presentation of testimony and evidence.  Each case must receive an affirmative judgment at the first instance court and a second affirmative judgment at the appeal court, which is automatically forwarded by law.  The process and rules are complex and structured to achieve the finding of the truth with moral certainty.

11)    I am a Catholic, my present marriage was not performed before a priest or deacon, I was married outside the Church, what is my status for receiving communion?
A)    Since you did not follow the form of marriage required for Catholics under Canon Law, you are not considered married in the eyes of the Church.  Until you have the marriage validated, (blessed) you may not receive communion.  You are still a member of the Church, are not excommunicated, and required to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.  We encourage you to come to a priest or deacon at communion time to be blessed or to receive a “spiritual communion” in the pew.  The Church strongly encourages you to visit with a priest or deacon to discuss your situation.  There is no such thing as an “impossible situation”.  With God nothing is impossible.