Divorce, if I understand correctly, is considered gravely sinful. Why then would the Church require divorce before consideration of an appeal for annulment? Isn’t this choosing evil so that a greater good may come from it?
The Church does not officially require a civil divorce before accepting an annulment petition. But canon lawyer Edward Peters explains that virtually every tribunal in America requires proof of civil divorce because “many tribunals apparently fear that they can be sued by irate spouses for ‘alienation of affection.’” Peters thinks this reason is “quite unsatisfying,” but he holds that “a civil divorce is a practical way of determining that there is no realistic hope of reconciling the parties, something tribunal judges are required to verify as part of every tribunal case” (Peters, Annulments and the Catholic Church, 50). Note also that the Catechism states, “If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense” (CCC 2383).