September 9, 2015

Relatively few U.S. Catholics skipped annulment because of cost or complications

Catholics Seeking AnnulmentPope Francis has announced major changes to the Roman Catholic Church’s procedures for marriage annulments. While the new changes are aimed at making annulments faster and less expensive, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that most divorced U.S. Catholics who did not seek annulments did not cite the complicated nature of the process as a reason.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriages are unbreakable unions, and thus remarrying after a divorce (without an annulment) is a sin. But an annulment – a declaration from the church that a marriage was never valid – makes it possible for divorced Catholics to enter a new marriage and still be eligible to receive Communion.

A quarter of U.S. Catholic adults say they have experienced a divorce, according to our survey. That’s somewhat fewer than among U.S. adults overall (30%). Among U.S. Catholics who have ever been divorced, roughly a quarter (26%) say they or their former spouse have sought an annulment from the Catholic Church.

The survey asked all U.S. Catholics who have been divorced and have not sought an annulment why they did not do so.

The most common type of answer was that Catholics did not seek an annulment because they did not see it as necessary or did not want to get an annulment (43%). And about one-in-five divorced U.S. Catholics who did not seek an annulment say they were not married in the Catholic Church in the first place (21%), and may have thought they were ineligible for an annulment.

Catholics Views on AnnulmentOnly about one-in-ten say they did not attempt to get an annulment because it was too expensive (7%) or too complicated or time-consuming (4%).

While there were not enough respondents who were divorced and remarried without an annulment to analyze separately in the survey, they can be looked at together with Catholics who are currently living with a romantic partner outside of marriage, another group presumably ineligible for Communion in the eyes of the church.

In this combined group, 34% say they receive Communion every time they attend Mass – fewer than the 45% of all other U.S. Catholics who say the same. But still, only about three-in-ten (29%) Catholics who are cohabiting or divorced and remarried without an annulment say they never receive Communion, while an additional 5% say they never attend Mass.

About a third (35%) of all U.S. Catholics say remarrying after a divorce without an annulment is a sin. Roughly half (49%) say this is not a sin. And about six-in-ten Catholics (62%) say the church should allow divorced Catholics who remarry without getting an annulment to receive Communion, while 54% say they expect this change to happen in the next few decades.

Topics: Marriage and Divorce, Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Truthisstrange2 years ago

    The catholic church gave my mother an annulment so she could marry her UNCLE-in church. And he’s in the Rotary. Gotta love religious weirdness!

    1. John2 years ago

      That’s a lie. That close a relationship was illegal in the Church and civil law.

  2. Nova90472 years ago

    The first thing I learned upon applying for annulment was that the issue was not what happened during the marriage, but rather whether the parties had the mens rea to contract for a sacramental marriage in the first place. Only an ordained priest trained in cannon law is able to make this determination, not the parties to the marriage themselves. The testimony of the parties is critical, not necessarily determinative. Third party witnesses can and sometimes do supply the evidence the Church needs. I found much of this confusing and even counter-intuitive. I suspect few of your test subjects possessed even the slightest knowledge of these important tenets of the Catholic faith. So I wonder how valid your survey really is.

  3. ruah@John13:352 years ago

    The 2 women I know who decided to not get an annulment each said the same thing.They were unwilling to say to their children that their marriage with their father was not a marriage. That felt wrong- ugly and untrue-and harmful to the children.

  4. Kim2 years ago

    Though most people did not cite cost as a factor for avoiding annulments, some do. I wonder if these are the same couples who spent tens of thousands of dollars on their wedding? They grumble against the church for having to pay for the cost of their annulment while they may also have spent huge amounts on legal fees for a civil divorce. God does not pay the utility bills of the church, nor make mortgage payments or buy groceries or gasoline for the officials who work for the tribunals. I’m sure the couples nodded their heads “yes” when the priest explained marriage was a sacrament, so in your eagerness to prove your marriage was never sacramental, you shouldn’t resent having to pony up a few thousand. AND dioceses provide consideration for people who truly can’t pay.

    1. Pauline2 years ago

      Spot on Kim! Or that it will make their children iligitament, no child or human being is iligitament in God’s eyes and should not be in ours either!

    2. Steve2 years ago

      Why should it cost several thousand dollors just another scam by the church but for those of you who blindly follow with your high and heavenly minded ideas of how everyone should live there lives the fact is we should not remarry after divorce or at least that’s what Jesus said