Annulment question


I am a little confused on the annulment process. I have been reading and following several threads where people are discussing annullments, and I am feeling a little agitated about the whole thing. I know the THEORY behind all of it, that something severe had to be missing from the sacrament in order for it to have never happened, but then there are several questions raised for me with that.

If you were never validly married, and you lived together for 10 years or so, does that mean you are guilty of 10 years of fornication? What about children from that marriage? How does it sit with them to know that not only are mommy and daddy divorcing, but there were never actually married in the first place?

The other question I have is, what are the list of reasons a marriage is invalid? How the heck can that even happen, with the frequency that I see it happening? When I was getting married, my husband and I have to run a GAMBIT of forms, witnesses, rules, counselling, and even our wedding day was held to the highest of scrutiny, and we attend a fairly liberal laid-back church. It seems to me that “annullment” is becoming a good Catholic word for “divorce.” and it’s leaving me feeling rather shaken. One of the main reasons I was so attracted to the church was their value of marriage.


*Hi there;

You know, I think about the process very differently than many. I view it as the Church having the utmost compassion and understanding for those who might have entered into an invalid marriage, and that through this, it displays even further the Church’s utmost value She places on marriage. Not the opposite. The Church wants to help people heal from making bad decisions in the first place. It’s not in so much that the Church devalues marriage through the process, rather She provides an area where Catholics can turn, when after ‘x’ number of months or years, they realize that perhaps their marriage was never meant to be. Imagine not having this process in that event!

Here is something I saw online earlier…it might help.*


No…actually not really. It didn’t really answer all my questions.

I can’t really accept that the church has the annulment process as a way of “erasing mistakes.” If you enter into the sacrament of marriage, you can’t get out of it. That’s kind of the whole point. :shrug:

My other questions is what on earth could be the reason for a marraige being invalid, and if it is, that means they were never married. Does that mean they were sinning by having sex and living together?


I recommend the book Annulment: The Wedding That Was by Michael Smith Foster. It will help you understand this much better than some of the threads on nullity.

No. A marriage entered into in good faith by at least one of the parties is called a putative marriage. A person in a putative marriage is not guilty of any sin and, no, it is not fornication.

Children of a valid or putative marriage are legitimate in Church law. No “illegitimacy” issues.

I think that it depends upon the age of the child. I would not try to explain it to a young child. I’d leave that for much later.

There are impediments and then there are defects in consent or intent. These three things together make up aspects of the nullity process. I suggest the book above.

There are many reasons. They are individual. It is unfortunate that it does indeed occur frequently. Many nullity petitions are from non-Catholics seeking to join the Church or marry a Catholic. Also, Catholics who married outside Catholic form.

I disagree. I think the book I recommended would *really *help you. It breaks it down very nicely.



This is not an accurate assessment of what the nullity process is.

This is a true statement. All valid, sacramental (that have been consummated) marriages are indissoluable.

However, the nullity process deals with those individuals who did not enter into a valid marriage.

Existence of an impediment, defect in consent, or defect in intent.

This is not the case. They were indeed married civilly. That marriage, after examination, is determined to be canonically invalid.



You have some valid concerns and questions…many of us do on the annulment process and the (seemingly) high numbers…along with your desires to understand and know what makes a marriage of 10+ yrs…invalid…and your questions about the children or possible sins of fornication (actually…I believe this is the easiest to answer…the children are always…blessed and if the man and woman were acting in good faith and living in a “valid” sacramental marriage to the best of their knowledge, ability and conscience…there is very likely no sin at all…of any kind…in my understanding…correct me if I am wrong).

But…and this is the key issue in my opinion…from what you have written…the real issue underlying your points and your questions:

Do you believe what Jesus has said…as it is written in Sacred Scripture plus what he told the apostles…The Twelve…and they have passed on through the ages…in Sacred Tradition…in sum…Saint Peter (now Pope B-XVI) and the Magisterium (all the bishops in communion with the Pope) of the Catholic Church**???**

(Matthew 16: 17-19 (21st Century KJV)
17And Jesus answered and said unto him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father who is in Heaven.
18And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19And I will** give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven**. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven."

We may not understand (and I believe that this is where you really are)…we may not like it – The Church’s teaching – (but most of the time it is because we don’t understand the issue…and we fail to see the “Genius in Catholicism – the Logos” and The Church’s incredible consistency in teaching The Objective Truth…in all matters of faith and morals for over 2000+ years). Note: * The Truth* is not something but someone…a person…Our Lord Jesus (JP-II & B-XVI…quoting John 14:6).

If we fail to accept the “Apostolic” mark of the One…True Church…founded by Jesus…with its authoritative (not authoritarian) mission to protect, defend and guard the deposit of faith handed on to us by the Apostles – The Twelve – and their successors (Popes and Bishops)…and to evangelize and preach the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ…to the ends of the World…then…we become “protestant” by default…not a good option in my opinion!

(Luke 10: 16 (ESV)
16"He who listens to you listens to me; he who** rejects you rejects me**; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."

So…for your consideration…don’t become another Catholic…who says:***“Ah…excuse me Saint Peter (Pope B-XVI)…but you are sitting in my Chair (ex Cathedra)”!***
Ask and seek the answers…but please don’t make the mistake of judging what Our Lord Jesus has instituted…and keeps in place by the power of His Holy Spirit…for 2000+ years and even until the end of Time.

Pax Christi


Annulments among Catholics is extremely rare. Most annulments are done for marriages ouside of the Church proper, and for many varied reasons. I would suggest you obtain a copy of
"The Catechism of The Catholic Church" for a definition of, and reasons for, getting or granting an annulment.

PAX DOMINI :signofcross:

Shalom Aleichem


Lots of good answers here.

Don’t judge a marriage on its length.

Just because people were married for 10 years doesn’t mean any of them were good years. It just might mean that at least one of the parties took the vows so seriously that they tried longer than they should have. But if one of the parties didn’t intend the things in the marriage that are essential to it, it won’t work. You don’t have the graces of the sacrament to keep it going. You can kill yourself trying to stay married to someone who wants out because to them marriage was never permanent. And that is an essential ingredient. BOTH people must intend permanence and be psychologically capable of nurturing another person for a lifetime. In this day and age when so many are raised in broken homes, how many have the idea “if it doesn’t work, I"ll leave.” There wouldn’t be so many annulments if there weren’t so many marriages that shouldn’t have been performed to begin with.

One wise priest told me, “you may fully intend to make cake. But if you are missing one of the essential ingredients… milk, or eggs, or sugar or flour or something… whatever you have in the oven, it’s not going to come out as cake. It doesn’t matter how much you intended it.”

So true. And annulled marriages are defunct and annulled because something so important was missing to prevent two people from being able to share their lives together, no matter how much one or the other wanted it, how many years they tried, or how many children one or both welcomed into the world.

Those in good solid valid marriages just can’t imagine how hard it is to make a marriage work with someone when some of those essential things are completely missing. It kills you that no amount of trying will fix anything.


Whatevergirl, I completely agree with you (as usual!). Especially with my situation - I have talked to several priests about my marriage and the annulment process, and they have had nothing but kindness and compassion for me. In my heart, I know that my marriage wasn’t what God had in mind for me, and in hindsight, I understand that I knew it from the beginning, but at the time, chose not to see the red flags. Rationalized them away.

I think it’s important to understand that once a marriage is annulled, it does not mean there was any “living in sin,” nor does it mean that any children from the marriage are illegitimate. The person seeking the annulment thought the sacrament was valid - took it at face value, and assumed their spouse’s vows were truthfully spoken. At least in my case, it was not until later that I was able to understand that he did not intend to keep his vows. Also, even if a marriage appears to have grounds for annulment, it is considered valid until proven otherwise.


You are a wise lady, Liberano. :amen:


As to the first part, yes that is true, I have deep misgivings. As to the second part, no. And that is a really unfair judgement for you to pass on me, based on my concerns and questions. I don’t mean that to be rude, but no. Absolutely not.

I was taught one way by my church family and the books they reccomended, and I am learning in practice, that this is not the way it truly is and I am feeling rather shocked and lost by it all.

It just seems that hindsight is 20/20. And unfortunately the arguements I am seeing for annulments is people getting them so they don’t have to “live with their mistakes.” and I am thinking about all the other sacraments that get involved in this. I guess it just has to do with my experiences. When I was married, the priest made it very clear that our marriage was a sacrament, and no matter how our hearts change, nothing can change the validity of the sacrament if we intended to be married at that time.

I understand about extenuating circumstances, and those are heartbreaking. But lately I’ve been hearing more and more from catholics who had their marriage annuled because they were “concerned about some things” but decided to make the commitment anyway, then later it fell apart, and they sought an annulment for the reason of “We just don’t love each other anymore, and don’t want to be punished for marrying the wrong person” and it was GRANTED, and this seems to contradict everything I was taught when going through RCIA. It just seems that I have been running into more and more Catholics that treat the annulment as a “catholic divorce” and it’s leaving me feel very concerned.


If I might offer another perspective, as a witness for the process, maybe it will help.

My family member, cradle Catholic, petitioned for a decree of nullity a few years back. I had volunteered, right after their divorce, to be a witness for nullity.

When they attempted marriage, they were too close to the situation to see it for what it was. Those around them, friends and other family, were too far from it to see it for what it was. I was a family member and a housemate to one. I *knew *the day of their wedding that it just wasn’t God’s plan for them. It was difficult to be around, knowing that I might influence them negatively. I really wanted to be wrong about it. I wanted them to make it.

They tried. They did everything they were supposed to do to make it work. They did the retreats, the counseling, the loving things. But it just wasn’t “enough.” If they were really doing those things, both of them, it should have worked, right? But if God never joined them, then everything they did was on their own!

I have found that Genesis 2:24 is very important. They shall become ‘one flesh.’ One flesh. Only God can make that happen. Only God can join them. Only *He *can do the grafting. Only *He *can actually create a marriage.

It might get too theological, but it is because of the Church’s absolute value of marriage that nullity is even considered. Marriage is a Sacrament. And we all know from Church teaching that a Sacrament is defined as an outward sign of an inward reality. So if the reality is that a Marriage of one flesh doesn’t exist, then the *appearance *of it would be akin to a merely symbolic communion like what is celebrated by our separated brethren.

One flesh means ONE flesh. It means I am grafted, by God, to my husband. Divorce isn’t a “shouldn’t do.” It is a “can’t do.” But if God never did the grafting, then I would be a separate flesh. We would still be two fleshes. (What GOD has joined, let no man tear asunder.) Living together in that circumstance becomes “just a symbol” similarly to how our separated brethren refer to our Lord in communion.

I might be misunderstanding you, but it seems that you might be saying that you are concerned over the number of people who attempt marriage and instead enter invalid marriages. If that is your concern, then I share it. But the presence of the process for decree of nullity has nothing to do with it.

It is really hard to get married Catholic. Even I balked at the number of “hoops” a couple has to jump through. But now looking at from the other side, there needs to be *more *hoops. But what happens when the Church makes it harder to marry correctly? Invalid marriages go UP, not down. More people marry outside the Church or just fake the process. Long story short: (oops too late) The availability of decree of nullity isn’t the problem. The problem is the culture in which we enter marriage.

The solution: Real marriage. Rock solid marriage, everywhere you look. We marrieds have to keep working on our own marriages. Our children have to *see *marriage to know what it is. Marriage is often compared to the Eucharist. The parallels are amazing!!

I could go on and on (and on.) Oops, I already have. So called “annulment” isn’t part of the problem. It is part of the solution. Decree of Nullity says, “This is not marriage. It might have resembled it, but it isn’t.” Having that information IS helpful. Recognizing what isn’t marriage certainly helps us recognize what **is **marriage.


You would be right to be concerned if this were true…however, just because that is the “reason” they told you, does not mean that thats what they put in their depositions. It isn’t a cause. You can’t use anecdotal conversation of what someone tells you and trust that this is actually what they are using in their case. If these people got annulments, there were many things I’m sure reported in their cases that they didnt’ share with people around them.


Where, or from whom-- specifically-- have you learned that it is “not the way it truly is.” On what do you base this statement?

This may be what someone expressed to you, but this is not canonical grounds for nullity. Therefore, there was much more to the situation and witness testimony than what is represented here.

There may very well be individual Catholics who treat the nullity process in that way-- but the Church does not.


Thank you, for explaining this is a clearer way. That makes a lot more sense. I understand now. :slight_smile:


LittleDeb, your explanation was beautiful.

Whiteacre Girl, there’s the perfect world we all want to live in, and then there is reality. Our infallible Catholic Church spans the gap between Heaven and Her flock on earth. As such, I have to say in the hideous cesspool that is the family legal system that runs the divorce process in this country, the place I was shown the compassion and love of Christ was the Church that helped me with my annulment.

Obviously you are in a perfect marriage. So you don’t know what it’s like to be in a farce where your health and sanity and personal safety are threatened. A “mistake?” Maybe. Did I make it with full knowlege of what I was doing to my future and my future children? Not at all! Had I had a glimpse of the future, I would have never talked to the man.

I assure you that for many people with an annulment, the annulment doesn’t mean they dont’ have to live with their mistake anymore. Many of us have horrible financial, personal and emotional repercussions from that mistake that we have to live with for the rest of our lives. (Just so you won’t get upset at the notion that we got off easy or haven’t been “punished” properly for choosing the wrong person.)

I have a question for you. Would a good and loving God truly irreconcilably join someone who loved Him and was trying to live according to the laws of marriage to a cruel person who undermined their faith and their health and their personal safety and forced them to live in a marriage environment that maybe was destroying their soul? “Ha! You will NEVER be free!” I personally see that an all knowing and all loving God would see an attempt at marriage and not bond someone to a person who would not lead them to Himself.

No stickiness there. A means of escape. Or do you think that those who marry someone who lies about their intent to have children should be forced to remain in a situation where they must use artificial contraceptives their whole marriage? Is that God’s idea of bonding? Or should someone be forced to remain in a marriage where their spouse has serial affairs and risk their own health? Can you really bond with someone who entered marriage with a girlfriend or boyfriend on the side? Or how about a bond with someone who never intended to remain married forever. Just as long as it was fun for THEM?

Some people are fundamentally unsuited for marriage. Yes, the Catholic Church has lots of hoops to jump through. Trying to weed some of these couples out before they make a mistake. I have known priests who refused to marry couples. And then there are couples that LOOK good on the surface but one of them is very deceptive. Or is so fundamentally emotionally unsound that when that timebomb ticking stops and they explode, they destroy everyone around them.

Will people tell YOU the real reason they put in their confidential paperwork for the annulment? (Stories I have heard:) Will someone tell you that once they were married their spouse wanted them to perform sexual acts so degrading that they could not remain in the marriage? Will they tell you (remember… it isn’t for us to take part in character assassination, right?) that they discovered their spouse was addicted to porn, or drugs, or gay, or didn’t want children after all, or the person was abusive?

Unless you’ve lived in one of these situations, you cannot imagine the absurdity of saying this couple can achieve the level of spiritual and emotional unity required to maintain a marriage for several decades.

I’ve been divorced 10 years. I’ve had an annulment for 5. I haven’t been on one date. My ability to trust anyone has been so damaged. Are you happy that I didn’t get out of that “unpunished?” What are you shocked and lost about? That my church said that I did not really have an eternal spiritual union with a man who threatened to kill me? I did not intentionally walk down the aisle with a man who would be like that. He kept most of that side from me till after the wedding. I should have remained with him till he maybe did snap and then I could be one of those pictures in the paper where people said, “Tsk, tsk. Why didn’t she get out of that situation when she had the chance?”

Heres’ the real tragedy, my children and many like them have had no good example in their own lives of a real marriage. They will take the experiences that distorted their own childhoods and attempt marriage someday. Maybe to one of your children. You may be grateful one day if you have a child in my situation that the Catholic Church has a real grasp of the true human condition and the reality of sin and the role of Satan in the world and will not tie your child forever to someone who means them harm, either spiritually, physically, financially or emotionally.


And it isn’t fair not to address your priest’s teachings. He is right, but he didn’t go into it in much depth with you.

It just seems that hindsight is 20/20. And unfortunately the arguements I am seeing for annulments is people getting them so they don’t have to “live with their mistakes.” and I am thinking about all the other sacraments that get involved in this. I guess it just has to do with my experiences. When I was married, the priest made it very clear that our marriage was a sacrament, and no matter how our hearts change, nothing can change the validity of the sacrament if we intended to be married at that time.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but perhaps your question isn’t as much a condemnation of a long-standing church practice as it sounds. Maybe you have only a partial understanding of the sacraments. For a sacrament to be valid it must have several elements: Yes, the proper intent you speak of. But also, proper form, proper matter and proper celebrant. Your priest was saying nothing could change the validity of the sacrament if it was VALID. He did the ceremony based on what he knew of you at the time, meeting with you a few times and taking your word that what you said was true. But without the ingredients necessary for a real sacrament, there IS NO VALID SACRAMENT.

Let’s take the Eucharist. The priest must INTEND to consecrate the Host. He can’t do it only believing it’s symbolic. He must have the proper FORM… the prayers that are very specific and the rubrics that are specific. He can’t wing it and make up his own prayers. Proper MATTER: He cannot consecrate cake, vanilla wafers or lemonade. It has to be unleavened wheat bread and wine. And one has to have the proper celebrant: A validly ordained CATHOLIC male priest standing in the very person of Christ. Without all of these things, no matter how much the people in the pews want it to be a Mass and Eucharist, it isn’t. A sacrament is not confected there.

Let’s look at marriage: You need proper form: The exchange of vows according to the law of the Church between two baptized people. (I’m being very general here… experts, please refrain from picking it apart.) You need proper matter: A man and a woman free to marry with proper intent and without the impediments or obstacles to a valid marriage (blood, previous vows, psychological incapacity, fraud… etc.). You need a FREE exchange of vows between them with the proper witnesses. (No coercion, no preconditions, no escape clauses, no threats on either side.) The Catholic Church teaches that the couple confers the sacrament on each other in marriage. Well, if one of those participants in the marriage lacks something vital to make the sacrament valid, no sacrament was performed. They playacted a wedding. They played house for a time. But no marriage sacrament was performed. Not at the ceremony and not during the marriage life together.

That can only be determined with 20/20 hindsight. Just as all the lucky couples who DID confect a true bond and a real sacrament know with 20/20 hindsight on their 20th and 30th and 50th anniversaries that they DID have a real sacrament.

Sometimes you only know a building was unfit for human habitation with 20/20 hindsight, when it falls down on you. It should never have been given the go ahead by the inspectors. Fraud in a business deal can invalidate the contract completely. None of us walked down the aisle saying “I’m going to ruin my life. And if it ends in pain and horror, I can always get out of it and get an annulment.”

We didn’t get off scott free. My wedding anniversary of the wedding that wasn’t is a day of deep pain and sorrow for me.

But thank God my Church had a remedy for a great evil that was done to me and my children. Like it has the Sacrament of Reconciliation for those whose lives are marred by sin. A recognition of the reality of the human person. And sometimes that reality is one person in a marriage didn’t tell the truth about themselves or their intentions when they said the words of the vow. Or COULDN’T do what was necessary, no matter how much they wanted to live up to society’s and the Church’s standards. (Think of the men who married but were really gay. Is THAT a real marriage?)

It is because the Church honors the sacrament of marriage so much that it has a long-standing structure in place to detect and weed out the horrible misrepresentations of it and the corruption that occurs in some weddings and says “No, this is NOT what we are speaking of when we compare marriage to Christ’s union with His Church. We will not insult Christ and His Church by comparing them to this abomination.”

Otherwise, every man who beats his wife, or cheats on her, or every wife who secretly aborts her children and every union marred by violence, abandonment, dishonesty and betrayal is supposed to mirror the loving, eternal mutual sacrifice and obedience between Christ and His Bride?

Not on THIS Church’s watch!


In regards to children and annullments:

Cormac Burke is an Opus Dei priest with a doctorate in canon law. He served on the Roman Rota which is an appeal tribunal after he was asked to do so by Pope John Paul II. He has a website with articles, etc. In one article he states annulment is worse than divorce for kids: "Leaving aside other aspects of this complex question, I would like to single out one that is particularly disturbing, at least in our present situation where consensual incapacity under c. 1095 is the almost exclusive grounds of nullities. Incidentally the point can help one realize that the saying, “annulments, oh yes, the Catholic way of divorce”, is not just a misstatement. It is an understatement. Annulment, at least in its effects on the children, is much worse than divorce.

        Children born of a union declared null are considered in canon law to be offspring of a "putative" marriage (c. 1061, 3), and thus legitimate for all ecclesial purposes (c. 1137). In cases of long-standing marriages declared null, the records often report protests to the Tribunal made by children who are already in late adolescence and well able to think for themselves: "but you are saying we are illegitimate". The Tribunal answers, with all technical correctness, No; and quotes cc. 1061 and 1137. In one case however the grown daughter came back with a further comment: "OK; but what you are saying is that my father and mother were never truly husband and wife". To that there was no answer. This in effect is what is being said today of the parents of many thousands of children.

        This of course does not happen with divorce. The children of divorcees never doubt that they were legitimate; nor that their parents were really married. Here I think we have a phenomenon, fraught with pastoral consequences, that calls for more serious study than has been given to it."


Strange that a priest with that much of an education is perpetuating misinformation.

Legitimacy is a purely *civil *issue. To the grown woman the proper response would have been: “Your parents were husband and wife under civil law. They engaged in a civil contract that they later dissolved.”

Again, Decree of Nullity is *healing *when explained correctly. The secular answer to that woman would have been: “The terms ‘husband and wife’ are whatever you choose to define. We don’t know what marriage is.”

I’m sorry, but secular answers are not going to heal the children of divorce either. I really wish they could, because according to this particular priest, that is all they are getting. Children of divorce are traumatized because of the break with trust, “But Mommy, you used to say you loved Daddy, and now you don’t. Will you stop loving me too?” The child (or even adult child) of nullity can be more clearly told, “God sent you to me. God didn’t bring Daddy and I together, but God did bring you to me.”

Legitimacy is a red herring. It is one of the distractions that those who seek to redefine marriage like to wave. A Church Tribunal is struggling to give an answer on a civil issue. Why is that shocking? The civil law has chosen to define husband and wife as something you can discard at will and then society is confused when that has a negative impact on young people. (No-fault divorce is a glaring example.)

Sorry, but I have a feeling I will soon lose my designation under civil law as “wife,” in my country. Who knows how I will be defined? Spouse 1, wife 2, civil domestic partner number 1? I have personally seen a parenting plan from the state of Washington that lists: “The mother and the other parent.” That ‘other parent’ is in actuality, (surprise surprise,) the father.

Pastoral consequences? Only insofar if the pastors have to teach people how to be parents.

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