To obtain an annulment in the Catholic Church, one must be able to demonstrate that some factor existed prior to a marriage that prevented the marriage from being valid. It is very important to note that annulments are concerned specifically with factors that existed before the wedding, not with events that occur after the wedding. Unfaithfulness during marriage, for instance, would not provide grounds for an annulment in the Catholic church, while deception in order to get married, such as hiding significant financial problems from a spouse-to-be, would. If a preexisting impediment can be found and the annulment occurs, it does not dissolve the marriage as a legal divorce does. An annulment in the Catholic Church is actually a statement that the marriage was invalid—in essence, it states that the marriage never took place in the first place.
The process of obtaining an annulment in the Catholic Church tends to be a highly involved one that often takes more than a year to complete. It begins with an application in which the person seeking the annulment is able to explain the marriage and the reasons for it to be considered invalid. The application is often quite detailed and tends to include many questions about an individual's entire life from childhood. It also includes many questions about the relationship before, during, and after the marriage. Before the annulment process proceeds beyond this point, the spouse of the applicant is notified that the process of annulment has begun and is given an opportunity to actively participate in the process; participation and agreement of the spouse, though, are not required.
Several relevant documents, such as baptism papers, legal marriage and divorce papers, and church marriage papers are generally requested with the application. Once the application is submitted, the individual or couple seeking an annulment in the Catholic Church must seek witnesses who can provide insight about the relationship of the couple before, during, and after the marriage. These witnesses are called on to provide whatever information they can, through a meeting or through a questionnaire, about the marriage in question.
After the application process is complete, the information obtained is submitted to a tribunal for review. The tribunal, essentially a church court, may contact the witnesses or the married couple in order to determine if an annulment in the Catholic Church is appropriate or necessary. This process can take more than a year. After a decision is reached, both interested parties will be contacted with the decision. If the annulment is not granted, neither individual can get remarried in the Catholic Church.