Yes. Divorce has no impact upon your legal status in church law. Even though you and your ex-spouse are obviously living apart from one another after the civil divorce, you’re still considered married in church law. Living apart does not prevent you from receiving Holy Communion, so as a divorced Catholic you can go to Communion.
Does every divorced person need to ask the Church about their marriage before they can remarry in the Church?
Yes. Since divorce only impacts your legal status in civil law, it has no impact upon your status in church law. Since a divorced person is still considered married in church law, they are not free for remarriage in the Church. Simply put, a person can’t have two spouses at the same time. This is also true in the State, which is why a person needs a divorce of their first civil marriage before they can enter a second civil marriage.
Three circumstances free any divorced person of their marriage in the Church:
1. the death of their spouse,
2. an annulment of their marriage, or
3. the dissolution of their marriage by Church authority.
Under these circumstances, a person’s church law status changes from married to "single." So they are free to marry in the Church.
I’m a divorced non-Catholic. Why do I need a Catholic annulment?
You only need one if you want to remarry a Catholic in the Catholic Church, or possibly, if you want to become a Catholic. That’s because the Catholic Church recognizes Protestant, interfaith and most civil marriages as valid in Catholic church law. Once the Catholic Church recognizes a marriage contract as valid, then any question of invalidity needs to be addressed by the Church.
For example, when two Lutherans marry in the Lutheran Church, the Catholic Church views their marriage as a valid marriage contract in Catholic Church law. Suppose the Lutheran couple divorces, and the divorced man now wishes to remarry a Catholic woman. He is not free to do so in the Catholic Church until the Catholic Church annuls his prior Lutheran marriage. The same illustration also has implications for unbaptized individuals.
Will I receive individual counsel and attention during the annulment process?
Maybe. Church trial law provides you the choice of an advocate to work on your behalf during the annulment process. In some tribunals across the United States, these advocates work directly with clients. However, in reality this is not the norm.
In most tribunals you may never actually speak with your advocate. He or she will more likely act “behind the scenes” to make sure your legal rights are protected. So opportunities for strategic advice and personal counsel will probably not be available. There are just not enough tribunal personnel to afford every client individual attention and service. This can be frustrating for you because you may have many questions that are left unanswered.
Can I start the annulment process while I’m going through my divorce?
No. The Church’s first approach to a separated couple that is considering divorce is to try to get them to stay together. Annulment petitions are not accepted by a tribunal if there is any hope that the parties will reconcile. A finalized divorce is a certain indication to the Church that reconciliation is improbable. The common practice in the United States is that annulment requests are only accepted by tribunals after the divorce is absolute.
If my ex-spouse and I agree to an annulment, is it automatically granted by the Church?
Probably but not necessarily. Any individual has the right to petition the Church for an annulment. This is very different from saying a person has a right to an annulment. The annulment process is contentious in church law, i.e., the marriage in question is presumed to be a valid marriage contract. So anything to the contrary has to be proven. The good news for you is that if you and you former spouse agree to cooperate in proving nullity, the process is much less contentious, and more likely to be granted.
If I request and receive an annulment, does that mean my ex-spouse gets the annulment too?
Yes. If the Church grants an annulment, it affects the legal status of both parties in church law. If an annulment is granted, you and your spouse become "single" in church law, just as you both became “single” in the State with the divorce.