Annulment: He said, she said

My question is a general one–how does an annulment tribunal handle a situation where the two spouses make diametrically opposite claims about something in which no other witnesses or evidence can be brought to bear? For example, one says the marriage was consummated, the other says it wasn’t. Both stick to their story. How would the tribunal approach such an issue?


What is Marriage? Is it the rite we go through in a Catholic church where a man and a woman vow to each other before an officiating priest, the people of God and before God Himself that they will love eadch other “Till death do we part”? They, I believe, after that rite are now “married”. I think the marriage is consummated right then and there. Whether or not they engage in a sexual act, the marriage is consummated, because the Rite of Matrimony has already been performed, unless, maybe some other reasons that are contained in Church laws concerning marriage have been violated beforehand.

Most times they then look to supporting evidence, sorta like in court…although in your example unless they had a gallery it would be difficult to have a witness to the “event”.

But for things like abuse, etc., quite often they rely on testimony of others to authenticate such claims.

Hello Jan,

A very good book on the subject is called Annulments and the Catholic Church by Edward Peters. However, to answer you question, the annulment process is very much like a court case, without the usual “courtroom” procedures. The couple is interviews, as are witnesses. There are very specific questions that are asked. Then the process begins, a panel of three “judges” reviews all the evidence. There is even a person called the Defender of the Bond who argues for the marriage. Marriage enjoys the favor of law, which means that a marriage is presumed to be valid unless proven otherwise. Then the judges vote, a majority must vote in favor of the annulment. The case is then sent for automatic review to the appellate level. This is why the process can take from a year to 18 months.

The specific example you cite it in fact very rare and very difficult to prove especially in the circumstances you cite. Normally an annulment is granted on ground of what has become known as “lack of due discretion.”

Edwin, consummation is in fact the sexual act and is necessary for validity.

This is incorrect. A marriage is presumed valid from the time the vows are made, but the consumation (marital act) actually has to take place to make it indissoluble (only by the pope I believe).

The OP example was a poor one because that is a different matter than what the tribunal investigates.

Regarding the original question, we trust the Holy Spirit to guide them. I would assume they play it safe, but I don’t really know the inner workings of the tribunal.

This is mistaken, I think (but I Am Not A Canon Lawyer).
Consummation renders a marriage – Which is necessarily *valid *prior to the act – indissoluble.


Then what is the difference between annulling a marriage (i.e. declaring that there was no marriage in the first place) and dissolving it (which is implied by the term indissoluble)?

As has been stated - I’d imagine it’s like a court situation, usually either the supporting evidence will favour one person’s version of events over the other’s, or in the end (as courts sometimes do) the testimony of the prosecution witnesses or the person seeking the annulment comes across as being more believeable.

As in secular courts, if it’s totally evenly balanced between the two sides then the status quo will be preserved - a secular court won’t convict/award damages if the evidence is equal on both sides, and a marriage tribunal won’t grant the annulment in that case either. :shrug:

By my understanding, precisely that.

A declaration of nullity states that a valid marriage never existed between the two parties.

An otherwise valid (necessarily existent) marriage may be dissolved under limited circumstances. (As well, of course, as the common case of being dissolved by the death of a spouse)


There needs to be enough evidence so that the tribunal can say with moral certainty that the marriage is invalid. If there is not enough evidence, then an annulment will not be granted, even if the marriage is truly invalid.

Non-consummation isn’t one of the grounds for annulment, but for papal dissolution instead. The process is different than annulment.

Character witnesses can be used in such a situation:

Can. 1679 Unless there are full proofs from elsewhere, in order to evaluate the depositions of the parties according to the norm of ⇒ can. 1536, the judge, if possible, is to use witnesses to the credibility of those parties in addition to other indications and supporting factors.

However, keep in mind that more than one witness is usually required:

Can. 1573 The testimony of one witness cannot produce full proof unless it concerns a qualified witness making a deposition concerning matters done ex officio, or unless the circumstances of things and persons suggest otherwise.

I believe that it is reasonably presumed that the Marriage was consummated if they lived together or even stayed in the same hotel room during the honeymoon. It would be necessary for the one saying that it was not, to prove that it was not.

This whole ‘dissolution’ thing has got me intrigued. I thought a valid marriage could never be dissolved/ended (save for death of a spouse) so when can a dissolution happen? Agapewolf suggests above that the pope can dissolve valid marriages but, still, ‘what God has joined together, let no man cast asunder’ and the pope is still ‘just a man’, right?

I’m not suggesting, this is a fact.

It’s only undisovable after consumnation. That is the “hand shake” in a deal, if you will. It seals the covenant. That doesn’t make the words empty until then, the vows still stand and count.

CCC 1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. the Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

Can. 1061 §1. A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.

Can. 1141 A marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death.

A valid, consummated and Sacramental Marriage cannot be dissolved by any earthly power.

This is fascinating! Learning new stuff every day… :slight_smile:

When witnesses come before the tribunal, are they under oath? Is it mortal sin to lie under these circumstances?


Not sure, but in any event the annulment wouldn’t be a true one if it were gained under false pretences.

Just like a marriage wouldn’t be if one of the partners was validly married to another and lied about it to the priest.

Actually witnesses do not physically appear before the Tribunal. They are sent paperwork to fill out; a very thorough form of several pages detailing their knowledge of both parties seeking the annulment and the marriage itself. I know, I’ve just been through one. :slight_smile:

More canon law on witnesses:

Can. 1548 §1. When the judge questions witnesses legitimately, they must tell the truth.

Can. 1572 In evaluating testimony, the judge, after having requested testimonial letters if necessary, is to consider the following:

1/ what the condition or reputation of the person is;

2/ whether the testimony derives from personal knowledge, especially from what has been seen or heard personally, or whether from opinion, rumor, or hearsay;

3/ whether the witness is reliable and firmly consistent or inconsistent, uncertain, or vacillating;

4/ whether the witness has co-witnesses to the testimony or is supported or not by other elements of proof.

Can. 1559 The parties cannot be present at the examination of the witnesses unless the judge has decided to admit them, especially when the matter concerns a private good. Their advocates or procurators, however, can be present unless the judge has decided that the examination must proceed in secret due to the circumstances of the matters and persons.

Can. 1562 §1. The judge is to call to the attention of the witness the grave obligation to speak the whole truth and only the truth.

§2. The judge is to administer an oath to the witness according to ⇒ can. 1532; a witness who refuses to take it, however, is to be heard without the oath.

Sometimes witnesses get phonecalls, too.

It can be pretty grueling to be a witness.

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