Love changes: Divorce and annulment reforms under Pope Francis

Love changes: Divorce and annulment reforms under Pope Francis

Same sex marriage and the Pope's proclamation about annulments beg questions about marriage, divorce and remarriage.

27 July 2013 - Image courtesy of Agência Brasil / Tânia Rêgo/ABr - Source -
Pope Francis at Varginha 27 July 2013 - Image courtesy of Agência Brasil / Tânia Rêgo/ABr - Source -

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2015 – The world of love has changed radically this year. The Supreme Court blessed same-sex marriage. The Pope this month proclaimed that annulment should be easier and shorter, changing a centuries-old process within the Catholic Church.

Here is the old scorecard:

Church – annulments slow, expensive

Laws – annulments fast, inexpensive

Church – does not recognize same-sex marriage

Laws – same-sex marriage illegal

Here are the changes to the scorecard:

Church – annulments fast, inexpensive

Laws – same-sex marriage is legal

Pope Francis eliminated a “second” review by a cleric for couples wanting to end their marriage. He made getting a religious annulment easier by allowing bishops the ability to “fast track” and grant annulments themselves in certain “clear” cases, such as when there is spousal abuse or an extramarital affair; he reduced the money cost to a “nominal” fee for administration, when fees often exceeded $10,000; and he deemed that the process should take no more than 45 days.

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The church, the pope reiterated, remains steadfast that the marriage bond is “indissoluble.” Laws, on the other hand, do not tell us marriage is permanent. They cannot.

Both religious opinion and the law identify an annulment as being different from a divorce.

Annulment is a statement that there never was a marriage. The church reasoning is that a marriage was never valid, and annulments have historically been granted because one of the individuals either lacked free will or was not psychologically mature.

Changing the difficulty and cost of a church annulment may mean that shunned divorced Catholics will return to the church, which is suffering from membership declines.

State laws concerning annulment are similar: marriages can be “voided” for fraud, duress, intoxication or lack of consent because of insanity or age. Some states invalidate marriages because of impotency or a refusal to consummate the marriage.

Getting an annulment legally has always been something that can be done relatively quickly, typically within a few weeks or months. The faster process being declared now by the church brings those who would be guided by the church into the same mind-set as those who would be guided simply by state laws. The question “do we split?” is now one that can be addressed more easily, faster and cheaper for just about everyone, regardless of the “higher authority” sanctioning the split.

The real question is not, however, about splitting up; it is about what motivated the marriage.

Ask Lana Turner, Marie Osmond, Elizabeth Taylor and Melanie Griffith. Each of them said “I do” again, remarrying a spouse they had divorced. The most recent celebrity to do this is Pamela Anderson.

Except in clear cases, there is usually a psychological pull to stay together.

A study published in the Chicago Tribune in 2012 concluded that about 6 percent of those who got divorced married each other again. Thousands of people decide to remarry the spouses they divorced, months, years and even decades later.

Michele Davis, the founder of the Divorce Busting Center in Colorado, says the number of remarriages to an ex is about 10 percent.

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Even though 6 percent or even 10 percent are not large numbers, the understanding of “why” people remarry an ex is pretty obvious. There was something very strong there.

The author of “Why Him? Why Her?,” Helen Fisher (a biological anthropologist), says that she is surprised divorced partners don’t remarry each other more often.

“There are real reasons that you were attracted to somebody originally. The brain doesn’t pick willy-nilly… Unless you part ways hating each other for some reason, that mechanism could get triggered again. You can literally fall in love again,” Fisher says.

Will it work a second time? For Turner, Taylor and Griffith the remarriages did not last.

Robert Anderson, a London police officer, theologian and writer during the late 1800’s:

“In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find and continue to find grounds for marriage.”

Nancy Kalish, a psychology professor at California State University, conducted a study from 1993 to 1996 – she found that 72 percent of remarried-to-each-other-couples stayed married. Her study included couples ranging in age from 18 to 89, and covered 35 countries. She wrote a book in 1997 about her findings: “Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances.”

Advice about remarrying the same person should be heard from both the heart (love) and the mind (law).

Love — you are falling in love again, or realizing the love never ended. Great.

Take your time. Wait to move back in together; wait to “announce” to your friends, relatives and, particularly, children.

Ask what happened the first time. What behaviors led to divorce? What concrete, verifiable changes will be made? What will be different upon remarriage?

Expect changes; things will not be exactly as they were before.

Get counseling before getting married again. Davis, from the Divorce Busting Center, says that the vast majority of problems couples have are avoidable: infidelity, financial stress and disagreements about parenting. Davis says people divorce without seeking professional help.

Legal — consider the possibility of a prenuptial agreement. One spouse may be very nervous about the marriage succeeding a second time; an agreement can address many of the fears. It might reduce the risk of a second failure by eliminating the stress of “what if it fails again?” for the spouse with the lesser financial position.

An agreement can also address the fears of the spouse with the superior financial position, providing assurances in the event of another divorce.

“The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day, but over and over again – and that choice is reflected in the way your treat your spouse” — Barbara de Angelis (No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and relationship counselor).

“My husband and I never considered divorce… murder sometimes, but never divorce” — Dr. Joyce Brothers, renowned psychologist.

Disclosure: the author is divorced and 19 years screamingly happy with his second, different, wife.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website:

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