Annulment validity

More so for conversation and thought, perhaps someone can help me understand this better:

How I understand Marriage is that it is a covenant made between Man, Woman, and God. After marriage the bond is set, and as is said: let no man separate. How I understand annulments to work is that the Church declares that some part of the vows or covenant was entered into with error and therefore making it an invalid marriage which never took place in the first place. Hmm… Sounds to me a lot like Once Saved Always Saved mentality whereas if someone sins after they were “saved” then they weren’t saved to begin with. If that’s the case, how do we know that any of our marriages are indeed valid? In theory, we could full and well enter into marriage validly but if our spouse decides down the road that they didn’t think marriage was forever, now all of a sudden it’s an invalid marriage and it can be annulled? I’m trying to wrap my head around this. Either a marriage is forever or it isn’t. How does the Church know what is in a spouse’s heart at the time the covenant is made? Why is the Church involved if they are not part of the Covenant? The priest we had in marriage prep classes even declares that he administers the Sacrament; the priest (Church) is not marrying the couple. The couple are making vows to themselves and with God. I just don’t see how an Annulment could ever be possible and why the Church allows for it or is the one overseeing it. Could someone please help me understand this better. Where am I going wrong? Not meaning to judge, but I’ve had friends who had been married for twenty plus years have their marriage annulled. You would think that at some point “Common Law Marriage” would take precedent and an annulment could no longer be instituted. But since there’s no trial period in marriage, I guess where do you draw the line?

Thank you.

That’s not how OSAS works, and it’s not how annulments work.

OSAS doesn’t mean “once you’re saved, you’ll never sin again.” It states that at the moment you are saved, you are forgiven for all your sins, including the ones you have yet to commit, and the fruits of your salvation will be that you become less sinful, not altogether sinless.

As for annulments, they aren’t declared based on one of the participants deciding down the road that it was a mistake, or that someone didn’t mean their vows so they didn’t count. Annulments occur when it is demonstrated that there was some factor that actually rendered the marriage invalid. For example, one of the partners was divorced (and therefore married in the eyes of the Church at the time of the wedding), or one was a Catholic but the marriage was not in the Catholic Church. It’s not just another word for divorce; you have to demonstrate that there was never a marriage to begin with.


Thank you Hopkins. I did not know that about Once Saved theology. The moment you are talking about - isn’t that baptism?

Not to sound brash, but based on your second example, it sounds as if the Catholic Church does not recognize any marriage outside of the Catholic Church as valid, if being married outside of the Church is grounds for an annulment.

Depends on the denomination. Some denominations practice adult baptism and do view it that way; for others it’s the moment of what they call a “credible statement of faith.” I had to give a credible statement of faith to her childhood pastor for him to marry us in his church (I’m not Catholic…yet).

Not quite. If you are Catholic, your marriage is only recognized as valid if it’s within the Church (and if was outside of the church, it can be made valid). In general, the Church recognizes the validity of marriages between non-Catholics outside the Catholic Church.


A decree of nullity means that there was something defective in the consent.

One speaker likened it to buying a boat. The boat is beautiful, you buy it intending to sail around the world.

Somewhere in the journey you discover that a part of the boat that you did not see is faulty, causing the boat to be un-seaworthy, in fact no longer actually a boat.

Same goes for marriage. Marriage has the favor of validity, so, without something glaring (he was married before and divorced, she is Catholic but married outside of the Church), we assume all marriages are valid until they are proven unseaworthy.


Nice analogy. Thanks.

This is generally how the law works whenever there is a “presumption”. The marriage is presumed valid. The person who wants to claim later it is not valid has a burden of providing evidence that there was some factor making it invalid at the time of the marriage. It’s more complicated than just deciding to say after 20 years that they didn’t have an intention in their mind to stay married forever at the time they got married. The person seeking an annulment would have to prove that.

1 Like

Sorry for having two topics in one all of a sudden… So Catholic Confirmation is what other denominations would consider “a credible statement of faith”, in their eyes and, if they were judging, not infant baptism. Seems to me what you are describing of Once Saved is a commitment to follow the Lord which washes away the stain of Original Sin, i.e. Baptism for Catholics. Since infants can’t reason, they have Godparents/Sponsors to speak on their behalf and raise them in the image of God, knowing and loving Jesus, therefore it is possible to never have an Ah-Ah conversion moment for Cradle Catholics who just grow up with the grace of faith, and it is never formerly accepted into their hearts because it was there all along.

That makes sense.

Your comparison to Confirmation is helpful, but not perfect. For folks in the Reformed tradition, the statement does not confer grace but rather proves that you have already received it, proves that you are saved. Confirmation is an actual conferral of God’s grace, and is one of many ways in which Catholics seek grace. While they might be outwardly similar, they’re quite different in their understanding of what’s actually happening.

All marriages are presumed valid until shown otherwise.

In a petition for a decree of nullity, one or both of the parties must show that there was something - a defect or a failure - as of the day of the wedding which prevented them from entering a valid marriage.

One of the difficulties in understanding the Catholic concept of marriage is that most people start to blend in parts of the legal (secular) understanding of marriage. The State also may have a process of annulment; for example, both the Church and the State may hold that certain related people (e.g. first cousins) may not legally marry. Should they go through a ceremony purporting to marry, neither the State nor the Church would consider them legally (State) or validly (Church) married.

The State, however, has a far more limited view as to what might prevent a legal marriage than the Church does a valid one. And the State has no interest in Church issues; it may consider the marriage legal, but the Church may view the marriage invalid.

There are three general areas which might result in a marriage being invalid: 1) defective consent; 2) consent was not legitimately manifested’ or 3) one or both of the persons was unqualified according to law. As the issues are numerous, I am not going to list all. but in each of the three categories, the Church would find that a marriage was not brought about (and this has nothing to do with what the State might consider as above, the State does not concern itself with the Church concepts of validity).

As an example of 1) - one or both of the parties may on the day of the wedding held the opinion that marriage is “open”, that is, one can be married to “X” and still have sexual relations with others. There are a number of websites which can discuss the various issues governing validity.

So you are correct about a covenant as far as that goes; and it does not matter that sometime after the marriage, for example, one of the parties commits adultery. That in and of itself is not proof that the party doing so did not intend the marriage to be exclusive. It might lend evidence supporting that position, but there would have to be evidence separate from that which showed the individual held that position prior to the marriage.

So, you are right; a marriage is forever. However, if one or both of the parties held that a marriage was not forever (that is, both felt that they would “try” the marriage, and if it didn’t “work out” they could divorce) at the time of the wedding, then there was a wedding, but no marriage (no covenant). Such evidence can come from witnesses who might testify that before the wedding, one (or the other) party said that they did not think the marriage would necessarily last, and if not, they would get a divorce. (continued)



The Church is not concerned with what is in a person’s heart; they are concerned what the person intends. Common Law Marriage is a State (legal) issue and has nothing to do with the Church.

Let’s go back to your term: covenant. My short definition of the covenant of marriage is “I will be yours and you will be mine”. It does not matter how long the legal (State) marriage lasted; what matters is what were the issues as of the day of the marriage. 20 years later, one still has the issue as of the day of the marriage; time does not (necessarily) change that. So one of the parties (let’s say the male) was a “playboy” prior to the marriage, thought marriage was a way to change their tax structure and had absolutely no interest or desire to ever have children (he often said he hates kids). 20 years could simply be the result of the woman trying to keep what she perceived as a marriage together until finally she could not tolerate the “playboy’s” inability to grow up and accept adult responsibility. That was the cause of the divorce. later, one of them comes to the Church to have it examine the parties as of the day of the wedding, and the evidence is that the “playboy” saw the marriage as a convenience, not as a covenant; he could end it at will. That could be grounds for finding there never was a covenant.

1 Like

A valid ratified and consummated marriage is for the lifetime of a baptized couple and cannot be dissolved. It is presumed to be valid, but there is never absolute certainty of the validity of marriage, unless it were a divine revelation, because a person can lie, or there can be an unknown diriment impediment. (Imagine finding that a spouse is not dead as thought, after remarriage, or that someone was too young to marry.)

That’s not true. In certain cases, one can be granted a dispensation from form, and have a valid marriage celebrated outside of a Catholic church.

Not necessarily. It can mean that there was a defect of form, or that there was an impediment to marriage.

Your diocese should have information on what can constitute a null marriage. The process is long and often complicated. How complicated it is can also depend on the diocese in which the party is seeking an annulment. I suggest you check your diocese web page for information on the grounds for marriage nullity.

I’m speaking generally. After 2000 years, any brief statement of the Church’s position on just about anything will need 17 asterisks attached to it to clarify every pedantic objection.


No, you’re speaking inaccurately. Correcting an untrue statement isn’t “pedantic”. :wink:

(The thing is… folks generally don’t know that it’s possible to get a dispensation, and as a result, there are many invalid marriages that could have been valid from the beginning.

Thank you all for your thoughts on the matter.

As others have said, marriages are presumed valid unless/until proven otherwise. One piece of the marriage that can be evaluated is whether it was defective in the consent. This might mean that the person could not consent, e.g. drunk when reciting vows, high, didn’t have the capacity to understand the vows (mental incapacity through super low IQ) or mean the vows (plan to leave if the spouse does xyz). I question whether there’s sufficient pre-marital counsel to ensure folks understand what a lifelong commitment means when the bride and groom make it, and whether a subsequent abandonment or civil divorce could be used to highlight that one didn’t understand his/her vows.

There’s a difference, too, between “within/outside of the Church” and “within/outside of a Catholic church”.


The Church says all marriages are considered valid until a competent tribunal (a church court) determines otherwise with moral certitude.

That is not how it works. Either spouse can ask a tribunal to investigate the validity of their marriage. It is the tribunal which determines its validity and neither of the spouses. Tribunals do not grant an annulment in every case. They do find marriages brought before them to be valid.

That assumes all marriages are declared invalid due to lack of consent, which is not true. Marriages are annulled on three main grounds (i) a defect of form; (ii) an impediment that was not dispensed from; (iii) lack of consent. That is what the tribunal’s job is: To determine if a wedding service that took place on a particular occasion was a valid marriage.

If a priest made that statement he made a mistake. The priest is not the minister of the sacrament of marriage. The man and woman marrying are the ministers of the sacrament.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit