Annulments vs. Divorce

On another thread, discussing ‘cafeteria’ Catholics, the discussion turned to annulments and divorce. Because of that discussion I am starting a thread dedicated to the discussion of annulments, and divorce if it somehow applies.

I have been married 35 years and have a limited knowledge of annulments, or divorce. There are no hidden innuendos in what I am posting, and my questions are a sincere attempt to understand this/these practices better.

I converted to Catholicism in 1975 and this is one thing that has haunted me, but I accept all the Church does without question. With that thought in mind, there have been times that I agree with the fact that the practice of indulgences was being abused and were a part of the cause of the reformation. I, and other Catholics, have always said that reform needed to take place in the Church and not outside the Church. It is along those lines that I ask my questions sincerely.

1.) Is the practice of annulments a ‘doctrine’? If so, is it the same as ‘dogma’ and something that cannot be changed?

2.) If it is a doctrine, is it possible it is a misapplied doctrine, similar to the abuses in the practices of indulgences that were a part of the cause of the reformation?

3.) If it is similar, can it be corrected and how?

4.) If it’s not similar, why?

It’s seems to be something fairly simple for some to achieve. Keep in mind I only know a few that have applied for an annulment and received one, and I have qualified my knowledge as limited.

Please forgive any mistakes in any wording I have chosen. Nothing I have written is intended to inflame anyone. As I’ve said, I am only trying to educate myself better in an aspect of Catholicism, that frankly, I haven’t given a lot of thought too until following the other thread.

I cannot answer all your questions.

I do not think that it is misapplied so much as it is misunderstood. It is often thought of as the Catholic version of divorce. That simply is not the case. There is no Catholic version of divorce. If a marriage was valid in the first place, it cannot be undone.

I can say it makes sense, properly understood. It is simply an official recognition that the marriage was not valid- that a valid marriage never existed.

Like indulgences, I suppose, it is a teaching which is easily and often misunderstood. Some argue that annulments are too easy to come by- that anyone who wants a one can get one and that they are in that way very like divorces. I do not know that that is true. Anyone who has gotten one will tell you that they are hard to get, and it takes time. It seems to me possible that they are too freely given- but I am not convinced. It seems equally possible that our culture, which puts so much emphasis on birth control and does not understand sex, simply sets up more people to go into marriage with a false understanding, or no understanding at all, of what they are doing. I suspect that the problem (if there is one) is more on the education before marriage side than on freely given annulments.

I am also curious about annulments.

This from the USCCB:

**3. What is the difference between a valid and an invalid Catholic marriage?

Just as individual states have certain requirements for civil marriage (e.g., a marriage license, blood tests), the Catholic Church also has requirements before Catholics can be considered validly married in the eyes of the Church. A valid Catholic marriage results from four elements: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they freely exchange their consent; (3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; and (4) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by church authority.

So looking at these requirements, it seems it would be difficult to get an annulment, right?

“Freely exchange their consent”: If a woman pressures a guy to marry her because they have been together for too long, is it not valid?

“Open to Children”: If a guy says let’s wait a year, but the woman wants children now, is that grounds?

I think it would be really helpful in this thread if people could give examples of situations where annulments took place.

And I think that would be not really somebody else’s business. Do you really want somebody to come on and describe years of torment so that other people can comment about how it couldn’t have been THAT BAD or else they wouldn’t have ‘stayed in the marriage’, or to comment on how THEY would have been able to ‘get through it’, etc.? I’ve seen people be up front with their lives and get that kind of comment or worse.

I’m not asking for anyone to share their personal experiences. I was more looking for, “I know someone who got an annulment because…”

Since the discussion is about annulment versus divorce, one way to show the difference is to speak about situations where annulments are given and how that situation is different from a divorce.

Examples always make things clearer.

I can understand your request, but I’d rather speak about the doctrines, or if they’re doctrines, between annulment and divorce. Look at it the way you presented it, in your first post…Divorces are even easier to achieve than annulments. How is that doctrinally acceptable in your Church? Is it doctrine? Can that doctrine be changed?

I have known of three annulments to have taken place and find it difficult to speak of because of the position it puts some of my friends in. What I mean is, if it were me I would have considered myself to be living in sin. On the other hand, it was what I considered living in sin that drove two of those annulments to happen, far removed from when their spouses abandoned them years and years ago. One abandoned with child. The ex-spouses were non-Catholics, involved in drugs or crime. That brings me to wonder about the validity of a marriage if one is under the influence? There are instances I’m sure we could discuss that one could easily see how an annulment could be valid, just as I’m sure we could discuss where some ‘played the system’ to achieve an annulment. That’s where I wonder if the system is being manipulated, which would be a problem. Can it be changed, without affecting it being a doctrine, similar to the changes within the Church after the reformation?

These are good starting points. Take a quick read and see if it helps:

Always good to remember

1.) Is the practice of annulments a ‘doctrine’? If so, is it the same as ‘dogma’ and something that cannot be changed?

What is an annulment? More properly named, it is a declaration of nullity. Specifically, it is a declaration that the sacrament of marriage never took place. It is my perception that this practice is not directly related to faith or morals, therefore it is not a doctrine. It is more properly thought of as a service the Catholic Church offers, which the faithful must affirm is within the Church’s authority to over see.

2.) If it is a doctrine, is it possible it is a misapplied doctrine, similar to the abuses in the practices of indulgences that were a part of the cause of the reformation?

The practice of giving declarations of nullity is not a doctrine, but it is a service that can be misused.

3.) If it is similar, can it be corrected and how?

Only by having better marriage preparation and better marriage tribunals.

Spirithound got it. It’s not doctrine, it can change and be revised.

As far as doctrines changing. No not really. Doctrines don’t change, but they could be clarified. Sometimes they aren’t as clear as they could be, or sometimes they are misunderstood and the misunderstanding needs to be corrected. However, their meaning and their purpose doesn’t change.

Now, I could be totally wrong on this one. Maybe someone knows better. But I’ve personally not seen evidence of authentic church doctrines being found false. I say authentic because Catholic-bashers will provide “doctrines” that were not in fact authentic church doctrines. And I say false meaning totally contrary to God’s teaching, not just simply misunderstood.

This is what I meant by examples. :slight_smile: I’m just curious about situations in which the doctrine is applied.

I don’t mind sharing this personal example, however:

The protestant churches I attended were strictly anti-divorce. My ex husband (now deceased) also had a drug problem and our marriage was a mess. He had the drug problem before we married but I was young and naive and had no idea. He felt I should have stayed “for better or for worse”. I got a divorce anyway because I felt that the situation was dangerous for me and our kids and God would understand why.

So conceivably, if I were Catholic, I might have been able to get an annulment…

So outside of the Catholic church, the option for me was a divorce. But if I were Catholic, I might have requested an annulment and maybe received it.

See why annulments are called “Catholic divorces”?

The problem is that you are taking two things and saying because the result is the same (leaving the marriage) therefore the methods are the same and that divorce and annulment are the vehicles for ‘leaving the marriage’.

But IF you had received a decree of nullity not only would you have to divorce civilly as well, that decree would not have been based on actions DURING the marriage. The divorce you sought and achieved WAS based on actions IN and during the marriage. The decree of nullity would only be based on the persons (you and spouse) and your state of mind/understanding/capacity for consent/truthfulness AT THE TIME OF THE VOWS. See the difference?

In a divorce, things ‘go wrong’ during the marriage and (sometimes for good reason like yours) there must be a divorce. but there was a valid legal marriage. And often a valid sacramental one.

In a decree of nullity, things are wrong AT THE TIME OF THE MARRIAGE, making the actual sacramental marriage not possible, although a valid CIVIL/legal marriage takes place. Because of the lack of something in one or both spouses AT THE TIME OF THE MARRIAGE VOWS, there may be actions during the marriage that appear SIMILAR to those of the ‘divorce’ example above.

The similar APPEARANCE however does not mean the cases are the same. If both spouses were able to understand and intended to validly marry, then whether or not later on there are terrible actions in the marriage will not, EVER, ‘dissolve’ the valid sacramental marriage though a civil divorce is sought. And if the spouses were NOT able to marry, then even if they had what appeared to be a perfect marriage would not make that marriage valid sacramentally.

The difference between an annulment and divorce is by the statndards of the RCC to get an annulment there could have been no marriage in the first place.

Simply because as Christ teaches there is no divorce. What Giod joined together let no one separate.

What people do not realize many things must be proven to the Priest before he can even attempt to go to the Bishop to get one.

Only when the marriage is invalid frm the beginning does the Church declare it nullity. People will argue with you up and down on this and say that is why they got divorced. I am not in diagreement with this, and I am not saying many of Protestant faiths could also be elligible for an annulment. But I am saying divorce is not permitted.

Marriage is a sacrament and a promise 2 couples make and if it can be proven One person was not sincere in holding the oath it was never a true Sacrament in the first place.

When declaration of nullity is issued it does not mean there was no sexual or emotional relationship nor does it mean the children of the union are illegitimate. It means no sacramental bond exists becasue at the time of the wedding at least one partner was unwilling or unable to meet the starndards ofr a sacramental marriage.

Here are some of the common grounds.

  1. Maturity of judgment of either party.
  2. marrying due to force or fear.
  3. an intent to be unfaithful
  4. intent not to have Children
  5. intent not to remain married
  6. the placement of unacceptable conditions to the marriage.

But these are for a Priest and Bishop to decide.

It is permitted to get a civil divorce only because of the legal conditions. But in the eyes of God and the Church if you get a divorce you can remain in the Church and commumion as long as you do not remarry or are in any other relationship. That is the real difference between the def. of a divorce to those outside of the faith. It is just really a legal separation and only has to do with money matters. In the eys of God and the Church you are still married.

Sometimes it is necessary to have a legal separation but in the eyes of God you are still married. There is always hope the time apart and alone that is needed can help the couple to again re-unite together. Conditions for this could be if one abuses the other alcohol, etc and cannot control themself. But to remain in the Church no marriage is possible until the other dies. But again this is not a divorce in the eyes of the Church because the 2 are still joined to one another. Only in the eyes of the law.

It is a very painful and sad process.

Or could you possibly see why a person who was under the infulence of drugs was not in his right mind and would not have been able to taken the vow. And if someone was not in the right state of mind how could he have been able to live up to something he does not even understand.

Do you not see that (from what you are saying) you were lied to from the beginning so you cannot start a Marriage on lies. So in your own opinion could you say that a Marriage that is started on lies is a true Marriage Sacrament? Do you see what I am saying.

Would you not agree that someone who was using drugs and lied before the marrriage would indeed be a placement of unacceptable condition on the marriage.From the beginning he was not in a clear state of mind. How could you have known.

So do you see that according to the Church he was unable to meet the standards for a sacramental marriage. IMO this is perfect grounds for an annulment. But again much would have to be proven not just your word. (not that I don’t believe you though, I do).

This IMO is the most important thing about an annulment that People seem to forget.

In order to receive a annulment you must prove that something was LACKING at the TIME of Concent of Exchanged VOWS. This is very important.

If you can show that this happend you must agree that one person was unwilling to honor the vows in the first place. Rather not capable or unwilling. But to make a long story short how can it be a Sacrament if both people are not sincere and lying in the first place. See what I am saying?

To me it just shows that while you can fool others and even think you are fooling God the truth always comes out.

Having had time to reflect, I can clarify a little more. The existence/availability/practice of giving declarations of nullity is not in itself a doctrine, but it follows from sacramental doctrine. The requirements for contracting a valid marriage are spelled out by the Church, and if any of those requirements are lacking, then the marriage itself is lacking validity. Thus, the process of investigating a marriage is to discover whether the marriage ever actually happened. The process calls upon doctrine, but I cannot call the process itself a doctrine.

The practice of giving declarations of nullity is not a doctrine, but it is a service that can be misused.

Only by having better marriage preparation and better marriage tribunals.

I could be wrong, but I base my answer on my reading of the Catholic Encyclopedia: Doctrine means, essentially, teaching. It is different from dogma because it is more inclusive. Dogma cannot change. Doctrine includes teachings like how and when to fast- which although the reasons do not change, the essential belief does not change- but the rules do change. Fasting rules in the US today is different from fasting in the US 50 years ago and both are different from fasting rules in Europe. That is my understanding, anyway. So, it would be false to say that a doctrine was ever false, but it is true to say that it has changed- though perhaps not essentially.

If you were able to obtain an annulment, it would be based on both yours and his state at the time of the wedding. The fact that it was an ugly, or even violent marriage later is not grounds for an annulment. You likely could have gotten one since he was on drugs at the time- but not certainly since you knew it. Your youth would have aided your cause- but the later developments would not- unless they illuminated some fact.

A friend of mine married a man who was on drugs and had had a horrible life prior to meeting her. They both thought that he was getting his life on track and things would be wonderful. It later turned out that he had never planned on having children (because of some horrible events in his childhood) and he would not change his mind. The drugs were not cause- but that he was closed to children was. He had lied to himself and to her about his expectations regarding parenthood.

An abusive, but valid, marriage cannot be annulled. A person should leave and be safe, but cannot remarry unless the spouse dies. That may sound harsh, but it is a fact. If the marriage is valid, it is always valid and cannot be undone for any reason.

Hello Prodigal Son1,

  1. “The practice of annulments”: if you mean the legal *procedure *of how a declaration of nullity is requested and either granted or denied, no, it’s not doctrinal. The *notion *of a declaration of nullity is part of natural law so this is doctrine. This is true to the extent that the act of the will that consents to marriage is subject to natural law. So, if a person does not even know what marriage is, he can’t consent to marry. If someone is insane, he can’t consent to marriage. If a person is forced to marry, the consent is invalid, etc. The proof that the Church considers this to be part of natural law is that it can examine the marriage of non-Catholics and declare them invalid on these (and other) grounds. The nature of marriage is also of divine law. So, aspects of the nullity process include divine law and cannot be changed. Your comparison to indulgences is apt: there are doctrinal aspects of that but the non-doctrinal application was deplorable.

  2. Certainly, people can misapply the doctrine regarding marriage to a specific case. The procedure (which is not doctrine) can also be abused or ignored.

As far as how to correct abuses–greater seriousness on the part of tribunal officials in serving the truth and not becoming servants of a false notion of charity or “pastoral” ministry, closer observance of the law, a better understanding of the law, …

Hope this makes sense.


Since annulments are doctrine/teaching, and not dogma, it seems there could possibly be changes, should the Church decide it necessary. This is how I view the doctrine/teaching of indulgences. They were legitimate, but the practices were subject to, and did, change.

Now, since it’s been explained that annulment makes a marriage null. Is that as if it was never valid? If so, at what point did knowledge exist to possibly place one involved in a state of sin, or did sin never exist also because annulments are mostly ‘after the fact’?

Makes sense Dan…my previous post to this one was actually being posted before I had the opportunity to read your response.


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