Pope Francis has unveiled reforms intended to make it easier for Roman Catholics to get annulments and remarry within the Church.
The Church does not recognise divorce, teaching that marriage is forever.
In order to separate, Catholics must have their marriage annulled by showing it was flawed from the outset.
The radical reforms allow access to procedures free of charge and fast-track decisions, as well as removing automatic appeals.
Until now the procedures have been seen as arcane, expensive and bureaucratic.
Catholics seeking an annulment previously needed approval from two Church tribunals. The reforms will reduce this to one, although appeals will still be allowed.
The new fast-track procedure will allow bishops to grant annulments directly if both spouses request it.
Because annulment procedures are complicated, couples normally require experts to guide them through, meaning that gaining one can be expensive.
Without an annulment, Catholics who divorce and marry again are considered adulterers and are not allowed to receive communion.
Last year, the Pope set up a commission of church lawyers and clerical experts to look at how to streamline the procedure.
Writing about the changes, Pope Francis said it was unfair that spouses should be “long oppressed by darkness of doubt” over whether their marriages could be annulled.
It was a pope’s refusal to grant King Henry VIII an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in the 16th Century that led to England’s break with Rome and the creation of the Church of England, with the monarch as defender of the faith.
In the intervening centuries, the process of obtaining an annulment for ordinary Catholics has remained a lengthy and costly one.
The move by Pope Francis to simplify and streamline the process has come to fruition unusually quickly for the Vatican.
It’s only a year since he set up a commission of Church lawyers to look at reforms to the process.
While they’re not expected to change Catholic teaching on divorce, they are likely to make it easier for estranged couples to prove that their marriage was invalid from the beginning.BBC