The Catholic Marriage Ordinances – Marriage, Annulment and Divorce

Many people seem to misunderstand Catholic marriage ordinances.

Annulment and Divorce

Annulment in the Catholic Church comes from the great value we place on marriage. Annulment upholds, rather than undercuts, the Catholic admonition on the sanctity and permanence of marriage.

Divorce says that you were once married, but now you aren’t. Divorce is a matter of civil law. An annulment says you were never truly married in the first place. Something relevant for a valid marriage was missing. Annulment is a matter of Church law. This article describes the information of Catholic annulment.

To comprehend Catholic annulment, you have to comprehend marriage. Marriage between a man & woman in the Catholic Church is a sacrament. It’s both a symbol of the love between Christ and his Church and also participation in that love. Really! St. Paul calls this a “great mystery” in Ephesians 5:32. Catholics accede that marriage is permanent, “till death do us part.” This instruction comes from Christ, as recorded in Scripture (See Mt 5:31-32 and 19:3-9, Mk 10:2-12, Lk 16:18).

Our marriage vows proofs this. We make a vow of Fidelity,  Indissolubility and Openness to children. This is not a list of obligation made up by the Catholic Church! It’s simply an explanation of what marriage is. Real marriage, as God intended, as we feel naturally inclined to. As Jesus said, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mt 19:6) That’s why we say that the sacrament of marriage is indissoluble. And even Catholic ordinances can’t dissolve a valid marriage! Annulment simply says that a true, sacramental marriage was never created in the first place — it was never valid.

What does a valid marriage entail?

Catholic annulment declares that a couple didn’t have some factors necessary for a valid marriage. For a marriage to be valid or for it to be something “God has joined together” — a couple needs to:

–  Be able to exchange agreement, and do so without reservation.

–  Approval of fidelity, indissolubility, and openness to children.

– Not have any hindrances to marriage.

– Follow the sacrament carefully. Church law recognizes twelve specific hindrances to marriage. They involve things like coercion, being too young, already being married, blood or in-law relations, having received holy orders, being under vows of purity, or being impotent. Aside from these specific hindrances, all four of the above criteria have to be met. If they are all met, then the marriage itself is valid. If not, it’s invalid.

A Catholic annulment simply explains that to be the case. What if a marriage fails? The Church understands that the world isn’t perfect. In fact, that’s a fundamental point of our theology! We call it the “fallen world”, the result of our original sin. It implies that things don’t always follow God’s original plan, and don’t turn out the way they should.

What does an invalid marriage imply?

Catholic annulment implies that a couple was never married in the sacramental sense. God did not create that unbreakable bond between them because the sacrament of marriage was not actually accomplished.

The Church declares that the marriage never was valid at first. This becomes clearer when we compare Catholic annulment to civil divorce.

A divorce is activated on the date of the divorce decree. Before that, the couple was still married.

A declaration of nullity affects the period of time starting from the original date of the wedding ceremony. The couple was never married. What makes a marriage invalid?

Few reasons for annulment in the Catholic Church include:

– At least one partner didn’t fully & freely consent.

– Someone wasn’t mature enough to comprehend the full extent of what they were doing.

– There was never intent to be faithful.

– One or both partners did not intend to be open to children.

Obviously, the Church places a great value on marriage. Couples seeking marriage are needed to attend pre-marriage education sessions specifically so they can be fully educated about what they’re committing to. Remember that it’s crucial to differentiate between what the couple intends when they marry, and deviations later in the marriage. If a husband has an affair, that does not actually mean he didn’t intend fidelity when he got married. Nor does a wife’s refusal to have more children later in a marriage mean that she didn’t really intend fertility when she made her wedding vows. Sorting out questions like this is difficult. That’s why the Church has a formal process for Catholic annulment to figure out, on a case by case fundamental, whether an individual marriage originally met the criteria of a valid marriage.

The belief is always that it was a valid marriage, and it is up to those seeking an annulment to turn out contrarily. The process for Catholic annulment actually makes a lot of sense. Maybe it is abused at times by those who just want “Catholic divorce.” But overall, it seems to be a good balance between upholding the truth about marriage and exercising tolerance for the imperfect way that people sometimes go into commitments.

“Does annulment make our children illegal?”

No. children of a marriage that’s determined to be invalid by a Catholic annulment, are still legal. (Code of Canon Law, canon 1137).

When a couple gets married, they believe the marriage is valid and was entered into in good faith. Children born under this supposition of a valid marriage, are regarded to be legal. This fact does not change even if the marriage is later found to be invalid.

In the United States, Catholic annulment does not influence any state civil laws. It is unrelated to civil interests such as illegitimacy, child custody, alimony, visitation rights, or division of property.

A matter of status within the Church clearly speaking, couples seek Catholic annulment when there is a desire to clarify their status within the Church. This occasionally occurs after a civil divorce, when one person wants to marry a second time.




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