For others, the process seems too long and complicated or they assume it will be costly.

Some fear it could re-open old wounds or involve a judgement of them or of their former marriage. Still others believe that if an annulment is granted, their children will be illegitimate, a view that is simply untrue. In some cases, of course, people are right to believe that their former marriage was valid. However, in other situations there may well be grounds for a judgment of invalidity in cases where this is not at first obvious.

The Church encourages those whose marriages have irretrievably failed to consider approaching a representative of the marriage tribunal with whom they might explore the question of whether their marriage was truly valid and therefore still binds them. It is best to do this soon after one’s civil divorce is finalised, and well before one begins to consider further relationships which may lead towards another marriage.

In addition, the choice of those divorced individuals who elect to live a single (celibate) life following the failure of their marriage must also be respected. They continue to witness to the sacrament of marriage under very difficult and sometimes heroic circumstances.

Irrespective of whether they are baptised or not, anyone who has been married previously needs a declaration from a Church authority in order to be free to marry in the Catholic Church. In some straightforward cases, the application to a tribunal can be organised by the parish priest or by the priest who has been asked to witness the marriage. In other cases, where an applicant needs to approach the tribunal directly, a priest will be able to explain how and where to do this.

The question of whether a prior marriage was valid can arise for non-Catholics as well as Catholics. Even for non-Catholic Christians and for non-Christians the validity of marriage depends upon both persons being free, ready and able to marry, as well as understanding what a marriage involves and following the appropriate process for getting married.

These matters are complex and, as stated above, any Catholic who has been married before and is considering remarrying should talk with a priest about their circumstances.