Does the way annulment works result in de facto divorce?


Leaving aside who may or may not receive a decree of nullity, I’d say that the issue is not the mature judgment itself–or lack thereof–which is a concern. The concern is the person’s very ability to enter into at least the rudiments of evaluating a particular decision to marry. It’s the difference between prudence/imprudence in marital decision-making and the ability to make a marital decision at all. The latter is the heart of a particular ground of nullity, not the former.



I have to make that argument day after day. I think I usually do a decent job of it. :slight_smile:



Those numbers might be more significant if we knew how many were petitioned for. Is it 20 or of 20? 20 out of 2000? There are so many factors to look at.

The number of Catholics who divorced in the 20s was not that high. Of those who divorced how many were even aware that petitioning for a decree of nullity was something that existed? How many bothered? Even today, when just as many Catholics divorce as non-Catholics, the number of those who divorce and don’t ever seek an annulment is quite high.


You get the civil divorce first.

Then you apply for the ecclestiastical annulment.


I’ve been recollecting my thoughts but I’ve been getting a lot of good answers here thanks everyone.

I suppose part of my issue comes down to this: The church seems to say that when she witnesses a wedding that she doesn’t have absolute certainty that there was actually a wedding. But is willing to claim absolute certainty when it comes to annulment? Do we know or not?

I don’t see why we can’t suspicious of people seeking an annulment to be guilty of saying that which they need to say to actually get one… (Of course I’m sure the tribunal does try to discern this as best as possible.) I get worried when I see people approach the annulment process as “how can I get an annulment” rather than “I want to find out the truth as to whether or not I was married.”


Um. That’s really disconcerting to me. If it’s really the case that you, an actual cannon lawyer, thinks anyone who gets a divorce can argue they never had a marriage and can get a declaration of nullity… I mean why even say we don’t believe in divorce? The issue then is really with the underlying metaphysics, not with any behaviors. Our actions aren’t justified before God by our knowledge of the underlying mechanism.

So if what you’re saying is true, why not just admit we agree with society already and leave the sematics to the theologians?


I think you misunderstood. He’s saying the opposite.


I guess I’ll let him speak for himself. I hope so.


Anybody can argue whatever they want, of course. However, I have never made that argument and would never make it. I’ve seen more than my share of nullity decisions that I disagree with but I don’t recall any such decision that included the argument that the fact of divorce supported the notion that a Party to the marriage was not capable of discerning what marriage is. I don’t recall many (if any) Parties to a marriage making that argument, either, to be honest.



Just to play devil’s advocate, can a person involved really have 100% certitude? Who is the arbiter of validity? An individual’s level of certitude, or the Tribunal’s judgment?

I would submit that an individual’s level of certitude concerning marital validity is, by definition, that individual’s personal assessment of whether he or she believes the legal system’s presumption of validity can be rebutted. And if that assessment depends on facts that an individual cannot know with 100% certitude - interior dispositions of his or her spouse - he or she cannot have 100% certainty.

For example: Husband, like you, knows he is married. The legal system, as you note, presumes it. With “full favor of the law.”

Unbeknownst to husband, wife has never wanted children. She has always felt this way, she expressed that to several credible witnesses prior to and following the marriage, and has been secretly using contraception for the duration of the relationship. All without husband’s knowledge.

50 years later, the childless couple divorces. Wife petitions the Tribunal for a decree of nullity. Husband opposes the petition. He knows he is married. 100% certain. Is he right?

This is how it has to be. OP may not like it. And, the odds of the example above are hopefully incredibly low. Can we not just admit it though?


That is not what is claimed. The level of certitude is termed “moral.” Pope Pius XII defined what it is in a speech to the Roman Rota in 1942. Basically, it’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” kind of certainty.



Sure. What you describe (generally speaking, anyway) can happen, has happened, and will happen.



When a couple seeks to marry in the Catholic Church, the priest is supposed to interview the man and woman to determine IF the couple can licitly marry under the rules of Canon Law and IF they intend to marry. If their is a legal impediment to forming the marriage or an expressed lack of consent, the priest is supposed to try to resolve this conflict or not allow the wedding to take place.

When a couple seeks an annullment, they are arguing that the original priest failed his job. He failed to see a particular legal impediment or he did not do his due diligence to discern that the man or woman were holding back essential parts of matrimonial consent. One party may have consented. The other party may not have. People can lie. Priests can have varying views on the red tape and decide it’s not important. Those who marry outside the faith don’t go through this interview.

“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.”

There IS the possibility that members of the tribunal are just trying to make people’s lives as easy as possible within the laws of the Church and will search for the most subtle things as evidence that matrimonial consent was lacking. Certainly, there are those who want to get rid of the process and simply forgive divorce.

But it’s ultimately an issue of which is the sin, The divorce or the remarriage after the divorce? There is the view that divorce is not always a sin. Indeed, it may be necessary. What IS is sin is viewing divorce as an actual dissolution of marriage instead of a dissolution of the civil aspects of marriage. In fact, the Church REQUIRES you to get a divorce BEFORE submitting your case to the marriage tribunal.

Popcak described possible reasonable reforms would be to allow annulments with the cause being listed as “lack of educational formation on the meaning of matrimonial consent,” REQUIRING Catholics seek an annulment if they get a divorce (as opposed to waiting until they’re engaged to someone else), and allowing married Catholics to submit their cases to the tribunal without a divorce. If the annulment is denied, the tribunal can give the couple their reasons why they believe the marriage is valid and refer them to a therapist or whatever.

The way annulments are handled today seem to stem from an ideological compromise over the issue.


Out of curiosity, how do you usually approach this particular issue, keeping in mind the distinction between the permanence and the indissolubility of marriage?


You can’t ask hard questions like that at the end of the day! I’ll try to give an answer tomorrow.



One big problem with this, every major fight would be one spouse asking the Tribunal to review. If people think the wait is too long now, imagine those floodgates opening!


I mean I get your practicality point. And I agree. But doesn’t it seem more important that we’re asking people to do something that might be grave matter before we will consider whether or not it’s grave matter? Does anyone get remarried when the annulment doesn’t come through? I doubt it.


I think there’s one key point missing here, and that is the fact that not everyone who petitions for a declaration of nullity was married in the Church.

Divorced non-Catholics need a declaration of nullity to marry Catholics. Divorced and remarried non-Catholics need a declaration of nullity in order to convert. People such as Hubby who weren’t Catholic when they married and later converted and divorced, who now wish to remarry, need a declaration of nullity.

In NONE of these cases did the Church drop the ball because there was no ball to drop. Hubby and his ex married civilly (neither was Catholic at the time) and had no marriage preparation.


You’re right that those situations exist. That doesn’t really excuse how the church acts in other situations according to other posters:

“We wanna get an annulment.”

“Well, get a divorce first.”

Like wut? WHAT??? That thing you go on and on about being a horrible sin??? Excuse me?


There are really two reasons, as I understand it, that the Church requires a civil divorce first.

  1. It demonstrates that there is no likelihood of the couple’s marriage being salvageable.

  2. I believe that this also reduces the risk that a person would claim spousal alienation of affection as grounds for divorce.

The reality is that a declaration of nullity really only has ecclesiastical effects, but can you imagine the damage that could result if a person came home and said to their spouse, “Well, the tribunal said we weren’t married in the eyes of God so I want a divorce and I’m getting one!”

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