_Just as individual states have certain requirements for civil marriage (e.g., a marriage license, blood tests), the Catholic Church also has requirements before Catholics can be considered validly married in the eyes of the Church. A valid Catholic marriage results from four elements: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they freely exchange their consent; (3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; and (4) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by church authority. An annulment is a declaration by a tribunal (Catholic church court) that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union. Unlike civil divorce, an annulment does not erase something that was already there, but rather it is a declaration that a valid marriage was never actually brought about on the wedding day. A declaration of nullity does not deny that a relationship ever existed between the couple, or that the spouses truly loved one another. Some people fear entering the annulment process because they think that a declaration of nullity means that their children would then be considered illegitimate, but a declaration of nullity has no effect on the legitimacy of children since the child’s mother and father were presumed to be married at the time that the child was born. Each annulment has its own time line depending on the couple but it usually takes about 12 to 18 months to complete the entire process. If you are looking to begin the annulment process you can begin to look at the Formal Case Packet by clicking here, but do not begin filling it out until you speak to a priest or deacon to discuss your situations and so they can begin guide you in how to fill it out.