Does the way annulment works result in de facto divorce?


I guess the title probably sounds a little provocative but I don’t mean it that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of opinions on the matter. I’m not even saying that lots of annulments is even bad per se as long as it follows a good process. I must just not understand it on some fundamental level.

The church assumes any marriage she witnesses is valid. But then some of them aren’t. But then what does it actually mean to be married in the church if it could all be fake? The reason I go to confession is because forgiveness is always there. The reason I recieve communion is that Christ is always present. Why would I trust the church with my marriage when she admits she only assumes I’m actually married?

While I have always struggled with the church teaching on divorce and remarriage somewhat, I assent to it because I want to be (remain) Catholic and I love the church. I’ve defended the church in this matter against friends and family, but I wish I could be convicted on a deeper level myself.

As Morty would say, sometimes annulments just seems like divorce with extra steps. “Oh your spouse cheated on you? That shows that he or she never intended marriage to be permanent, so you never had a marriage in the first place.” That 1) seems like an exercise in word gymnastics, 2) sounds even worse than a divorce (what you had is gone versus you’ve never had anything. In fact, all the sex you had was unwitting fornication and your kids were born out of wedlock), and 3) seems like a loose interpretation of the rules. But I see that logic on CAF a lot.

(TLDR)I guess my question boils down to this:

  1. Do annulments make it so that most people who could get a divorce/remarriage in a conservative Protestant congregation (apostasy, infidelity, abuse) can get an annulment?

  2. If so why do all the semantics to avoid agreeing with our Protestant brothers?

  3. Is there a lot of abuse in this system? Are valid marriages often dissolved today? Maybe someone could explain how we’re sure this doesn’t happen. It seems to me that dissolving valid unions is a bigger problem than not dissolving some invalid ones.


Dissolution and annulment are not the same thing - if a marriage is valid it cannot be annulled; by definition, only invalid marriages are annulled. That aside, in answer to your question, no there’s not “a lot of abuse in the system” although I’m struggling to understand what you’re asking here. The annulment process only begins after civil divorce proceedings are finalised and one (or possibly) both spouses apply to the Tribunal. Evidence is normally required from both the couple and people who knew them at the time of their marriage (as well as before). As for making sure it doesn’t happen (couple’s separating I mean) that’s what pre-marriage education is for but ultimately, you can’t keep people from themselves!


First, you can’t get an annulment–can’t even start the process–until you are divorced in a civil court. Only after you have the divorce decree in your hand can you begin the process of annulment.

Second, the priest is simply a witness at a marriage. The actual act of marriage is performed by the man and woman consenting to marry each other. And this is why the Church generally requires a period of time before the marriage to consider the seriousness of marriage, and why you are generally required to take classes about marriage. The Church doesn’t want anyone coming back and saying, “Oh, I didn’t realize what marriage meant.”

Third, think of marriage as a contract. Then compare it to contract law. If one party has no intention of carrying out the terms of the contract, there is no contract. If one party lies about a substantial thing in the contract, there is no contract. If one party does not have the capacity to enter into the contract, there is no contract (under age, acting under duress, etc.) And so on. These aren’t “loopholes,” they’re an essential part of any contract. The same with marriage.

Could one of the parties fool the tribunal and get an annulment under false pretenses? Theoretically, but keep in mind there have to be three (I think) witnesses who know both parties who give written testimony. And the other partner in the marriage gets to read the statement of the person asking for an annulment, the idea being that if they do not agree with the statement, they can raise objections. So COULD an annulment be granted because the tribunal is deceived? Possibly, but it would take collusion on the part of all involved. And then I think you would face another issue: would an annulment granted under false pretenses be valid? I’m not a canon lawyer, but I would think it would NOT be valid.

Keep in mind that a real marriage cannot be dissolved. The question is, was it a real marriage to begin with? The Church tries to determine that as best it can. But like everything else, only God really knows. You can fool the tribunal, but you can’t fool God.


The criterion for establishing there was never a valid catholic marriage in the first place are far different and stricter than that for divorce elsewhere.

The marriage is treated as if it were a real marriage even if annulled because both parties were in good faith. The children are not legal bastards. The sex was technically fornication I suppose but as it was not intended as such no personal sin attaches.


This is not true. The couple was legally married at the time.


One of the interesting things about the sacrament of matrimony is that it seems to be the only sacrament where both you and the priest can comply with all requirements for validity (correct intent, correct form, etc.), but the clandestine intent or misrepresentations of another lay party can cause it to be ineffective for you.

The very short answer to your questions is Matt 5:32 and its varying interpretations. I suspect you know that already. The only way around that for a Catholic is the annulment process. One can always find or create examples on the fringes where grounds for a declaration of nullity are questionable. Just keep assenting.


Well that’s because it is the only sacrament where multiple parties are required to be involved as well as the celebrant.


I suggest that you get the book Annulment: The Wedding That Was by Michael S Foster.

Yes the Church gives the favor of the law to those who marry following Church law. What that means is that the Church presumes that people’s intentions match their words and actions, and that they told the truth, and disclosed impediments.

A finding for nullity means that evidence can be produced that shows someone lied, hid, or otherwise subjugated a fundamental aspect of the vows and that the exchange of consent during the wedding was not valid for one or both parties or that an impediment existed that prevented a valid marriage.

Get the book.


That doesn’t seem to add up. If a Catholic goes and gets legally married without having a wedding with proper form they aren’t married and do indeed commit fornication. Why’s it any different if they had an invalid ceremony?

I mean sure, in the eyes of society they had a valid wedding, but I’m not asking for society’s opinion.


Neither of these statements is true.


If your purpose is to defend the Church’s position to your family, try pointing out to them that state law provides for annulments, too. In many states, the laws are grouped into one title called something like “Marriage, Divorce, and Annulment.” So, for example, when a woman’s husband is arrested and convicted of bigamy because he was lawfully married to someone else before her, she can file a lawsuit seeking an annulment to get a court order saying that she is not actually married to him. This would be very useful, for example, when the hospital sued her for his medical bills if she’s in a state in which spouses are automatically liable for each other’s hospital bills.

If their own state law provides for annulments, maybe the Catholic Church isn’t so weird?


Wanna explain why please? If formication is sex between unmarried people and the people had sex and we’re unmarried… I’m not attached to anything I’ve said, but I do need logical reasons.



It is not semantics.

No and no.


Sin requires intent. If you thought you were married, you couldn’t commit the sin of fornication — because you can’t fornicate with your spouse.


Hence my clever use of the phrase “unwitting fornication”. However you want to say it, it was sex that shouldn’t have happened since it was among unmarried person’s.


If at least one person of the pair celebrates the marriage in good faith, it is called a putative marriage.

In such a case there is no “fornication” which is a deliberate act of the unmarried. By law,
the children born of a putative marriage are legitimate.

If neither party celebrates in good faith, then we have fraud and they are both aware they are not married— this is not a putative marriage.


There are lots of things that shouldn’t’ve happened. All I’m saying is, it wasn’t a sin if you didn’t know all the facts.


Ok. That part of it is understood. Thanks :slight_smile:


But if it’s a marriage and then we allow it to split up that’s called divorce not annulment.


Really my purpose is to understand this so I can assent on a deeper level myself. I’d like to not just feel like a mouthpiece when I have to debate this.

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