Confused about anullment process


If two Catholics marry civilly first before getting married in the Church, the Church does not recognize their marriage as valid until after they are married in the Church. Yet, before the Church will accept a case examining the validity of a marriage it requires (at least in my diocese) that the couple be civilly divorced.This seems very very inconsistent to me. Why MUST a couple civilly divorce FIRST when the civil divorce has no effect on the validity of the marriage? Why can’t a couple petition for a decree of nullity and then if their marriage is found invalid pursue a civil divorce?


Because you can’t have a Sacramental marriage declared invalid while the two are still married civilly. The tribunal can’t start their process while the two are considered still married in the eyes of the law. How would that work? The State would see them as still married, with all the legal perks and legal responsibilities of being married, but someone wants that marriage declared invalid by the Church…it doesn’t work. You have to get divorced first and sever that civil bond.


It’s because a decree of nullify is supposed to be a last resort after all attempts to save the marriage have been exhausted. Divorce usually is accepted as proof that the marriage has no hope of being saved.

That said, while it’s the norm to require divorce in Notrh America, it’s not the same everywhere.


Because there are two aspects of marriage - civil and sacramental … the church is mainly concerned with the sacramental … but the legal - civil aspects have to be addressed … thus the church recognizes the civil - even between two Catholics - for instance - the Church would expect that all provisions of civil law towards the other party be respected and provided … even between civilly married Catholics …

And if those civilly married Catholics divorce - they would be expected to adhere to the civil action in regard to support, inheritance - etc.

Thus before a Church Tribunal can review a petition for a decision on the validity of the sacramental nature - a civil divorce in required … how would it be for a person to obtain a decree of nullity while that person was still civilly married?

Mere logic leads one to understand that both aspects have a reality that need to be dealt with … what good comes from being declared sacramentally free to marry but civilly married to someone? … and One can be divorced for valid reasons [safety from an abusive spouse] and still sacramentally married…


What are you implying? Are you suggesting that couples ask for a decree of nullity and then, if denied, that they work on preserving their marriage? Why not work on the marriage first and not petition for the decree?


Correct me if I’m wrong (and I really do mean that; I want to understand this) but if a marriage is invalid, it’s invalid, right? Isn’t the tribunal merely making a judgment one way or the other as to the validity of the marriage? The tribunal saying the marriage is invalid (or valid) doesn’t suddenly, magically make the marriage invalid. What the tribunal is saying is that ALL ALONG, from I do, until now the marriage has been invalid. So how would working on the marriage make it valid?
I would think that if the Church made it so BEFORE a couple could go through a civil divorce, the Church encouraged them to have the validity of their marriage examined by a tribunal, it might actually prevent some civil divorces from happening. I don’t know, but if I was in a marriage that was falling apart and Church came back and told me: Your marriage is valid; I think I might try harder at preserving the marriage.:shrug:
But that isn’t how the present system works. Instead, the Church waits until AFTER a civil divorce has happened, until after the marriage is no more in the eyes of the state before issuing a judgment. :confused:


If the couple believes they have an invalid marriage due to a defect in consent all they have to do is make a new act of the will concerning the marriage and the marriage would become valid. If this defect is known only to the couple, the new act of consent can be done privately. If only one knows about it, they can do it privately.

The couple has the power to make their marriage valid if the choose to.


I’m derailing my own thread a bit, but let’s say a couple gets married but one of the spouses, at the time of the wedding, does not intend for the marriage to be an exclusive union. This spouse goes on to have an affair early in the marriage, but after some time, realizes his mistake, repents and intends for the marriage to a be a permanent, exclusive relationship.
Ten years down the road, for a completely unrelated reason, the couple’s marriage falls apart. They get a divorce and then one of the spouses applies for a declaration of nullity. On the paperwork, it asks if at the time of the wedding, did you intend for the marriage to a permanent, exclusive relationship. (I haven’t seen the paperwork, but I would assume this is the sort of question it would ask). The spouse who originally did not intend an exclusive union, answers no, which is the truth.
Does this spouse also on the paperwork have to indicate that at some point AFTER the wedding, they changed their mind, thus performing a new act of consent? Is this the sort of thing tribunals examine?


The tribunal is quite thorough investigating all aspects of the petitioner and respondent’s lives: their upbrining, life before meeting, during courtship, leading up to marriage, the wedding itself, married life, the breakdown and divorce, and post divorce.


Really - there are two aspects of marriage … one is civil - a matter of law … and one is sacramental in nature … you say that a couple could approach the church for a determination of the validity of the sacramental aspect of their marriage and that might cause them to renew their efforts to save it … I hardly think this is the case …

First - most Catholics that divorce never approach the church seeking to determine the validity of their failed marriage … of those divorced Catholics who do seek the Church’s decision many do not approach the Church until they desire to marry again and for some - not until they have already remarried civilly.

I think it would be far more likely that people would use the Church’s decision as another weapon in their arsenal … and the scenarios are many where this is the case …

The Church uses wisdom in the process …


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