09 October 2014, The Tablet

Decline in marriage blamed for sharp drop in UK annulments

The number of annulments in the United Kingdom has declined dramatically over the last 10 years, according to figures obtained by The Tablet.

The annulment process is expected to be the focus of much attention at the Synod on the Family in Rome as delegates debate ways to make the system simpler and more pastoral.

Figures from the Canon Law Society, which are not made publicly available but are reproduced in their newsletter, show that annulments in England and Wales dropped by a third, and in Scotland by 47 per cent, between 2002 and 2012. In Ireland in the same period they were down by 19 per cent.

In figures, the number of annulments dealt with in 2002 was 734, compared with 492 in 2012. In Scotland there were 74 annulment cases pending in 2012, compared with 139 in 2002. And the figures for Ireland were 426 in 2012 compared with 524 a decade earlier.

The figures have been interpreted as a sign that the annulment process is too complicated.

Austen Ivereigh, of the organisation Catholic Voices, said it was difficult to know why the number of annulments were down so much, adding: “But anecdotally it seems clear that many whose marriages have broken down have stopped going to church rather than seeking an annulment. At the synod all the talk is of making annulments more accessible, so it follows that there must be a problem.”

Fr James O’Kane, general secretary of the Canon Law Society, said the reduction in the number of annulments was due at least partly to the declining number of people getting married.

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