Help me understand annulments

I am trying to wrap my head around the Catholic teaching of annulments. From I have read and heard, the annulment process invalidates a marriage, or more precisely, declares a previous marriage invalid from the inception as if it never truly existed because of some “defect” that prevent one or both of the parties from entering into a sacramental marriage. So, basically, it’s not undoing something like divorce does, it just simply declares “it never was” so there wasn’t/isn’t anything to undo.

Under this logic, though, what if a person that is currently happily married knows that at the time of his/her marriage there were [mutual] significants impediments to a valid sacramental, marriage existing. Maybe even the marriage suffered early on because both sides were trying to overcome those impediments and the couple is now happier and healthier than ever. Is their marriage truly valid now, 15 years later, when it likely wouldn’t have been two years into the marriage? At what point, then, did it become valid? It seems almost ludicrous that one could claim invalidity to a happy, healthy marriage decades into it, but yet, I know many people who suffered in terrible marriage that most definitely weren’t sacramental to begin with because they believed they could only get divorced for adultery or risk going to hell {a teaching by a certain Protestant denomination}, so I do see a certain annulments as merciful in that situation.

I know that many Catholics will say that a marriage is to be “presumed valid” but God doesn’t have to presume anything…He knows all. He knows if the marriage was valid or not as soon as the marriage takes place, does He not? :shrug: Therefore,how does one who persists in an invalid marriage technically not be fornicating since their marriage truly was invalid in the eyes of God, according to the Church criterion.

This may or may not be making sense…but I’m having a hard time seeing how an annulment is not just a loophole in many cases :shrug:

And as an aside to this issue, I know many, many happy, loving Christian couples in which one or the other was previously married and for whatever reason, got divorced. These couples are in church with their children every single Sunday, love God, serve others, etc., and it hurts and confuses me that, if the Catholic Church’s view is correct and I, while I may not understand it, must assent to it, these couples are committing grave, if not mortal, sin. :frowning: Surely, God’s mercy prevails in these situations and I pray that it does.

Correction: one or both parties from entering into a valid marriage.

Correct. It is not valid from its inception due to a defect of some sort.

That depends. If a couple is CERTAIN of an impediment, they can rectify it by a new act of their will if unless the impediment requires exchange of consent in the external form.

For example, Jane never intends to have children (an impediment to valid marriage) but she exchanges the vows saying she will accept children lovingly from God (i.e. she lied). The Church presumes the words she said to match her internal consent of the will (but they didn’t). Let’s say Jane later changes her mind. A new act of internal/private consent on her part is sufficient.

Joe is a Catholic who marries outside the Church without dispensation. Joe’s marriage is invalid due to lack of form. Joe cannot simply wish it valid by an act of his consent internally, he actually has to exchange vows in the Catholic form (external form).

Unhappiness does not mean a marriage is invalid.

A marriage purposely entered into with a known impediment by the couple is fraud. Yes, that is a sin and yes God knows it.

If at least one party honestly enters into the marriage in good faith, this is called a putative marriage. God does not hold a person who enters a marriage in good faith accountable for some unknown, theoretical defect.

They may be. They may not be. Only an examination of the first attempt at marriage could determine that.

These are complicated issues and have complicated answers. The good news is there are remedies to many of the issues you raised. 1ke gave very specific answers. If a couple has a question regarding the validity of their marriage they should be talking to their priest, a deacon, or if in the process of RCIA, the RCIA marriage case advocate.

The one thing I have learned about marriage, divorce, and the Catholic Church is everyone has a story and the story must be told for an answer to be given in a marriage situation. Fortunately marriage tribunals exist.

I went through the process myself as a convert and really struggled with some of the teachings. I did a great deal of research on my own and asked my advocate many questions of the “why” sort. (Advocates out there know those questions :)) Eventually it began to make a great deal of sense to me. So much so that I am now an Advocate myself.

Ok, this somewhat makes sense.

For example, Jane never intends to have children (an impediment to valid marriage) but she exchanges the vows saying she will accept children lovingly from God (i.e. she lied). The Church presumes the words she said to match her internal consent of the will (but they didn’t). Let’s say Jane later changes her mind. A new act of internal/private consent on her part is sufficient.

If Jane was married to John, could John later use the fact that Jane initially lied as a reason to apply for annulment, regardless of the fact that Jane later changed her mind and had made a new act of consent?

Joe is a Catholic who marries outside the Church without dispensation. Joe’s marriage is invalid due to lack of form. Joe cannot simply wish it valid by an act of his consent internally, he actually has to exchange vows in the Catholic form (external form).

But Protestants who obviously marry outside the Church would lack the form, correct? So, is the marriage blessing upon conversion the “fix” for that? My friend, who converted last year, made a comment that if she’d wanted to get out of her marriage, she probably could have gotten an annulment before entering the Church since she got married in a chapel in Vegas :wink:

Unhappiness does not mean a marriage is invalid.

That’s not what I meant or even said. I know people who suffered terribly in a marriage to someone who was VERY deeply flawed and mentally unstable. This marriage could have definitely been annulled if they’d been Catholic, but since adultery wasn’t the issue, she had to suffer through it in her Protestant church. This was not a case of simply being unhappy.

A marriage purposely entered into with a known impediment by the couple is fraud. Yes, that is a sin and yes God knows it.

In the case of mental illness or instability, sometimes the afflicted person doesn’t realize the impediment and often the person they marry is unable to see it as well because it’s so well disguised.

If at least one party honestly enters into the marriage in good faith, this is called a putative marriage. God does not hold a person who enters a marriage in good faith accountable for some unknown, theoretical defect.

Can the person with the actual defect seek to annul the marriage because they were the defective party or are they still bound?

They may be. They may not be. Only an examination of the first attempt at marriage could determine that.

And that’s the tricky and scary part, I suppose. There are some in this exact situation that I’d LOVE to share what I’ve learned about the Catholic Church, but I know I’d immediately be rejected because of this issue. They feel that they’ve made their peace with God, their sins have been forgiven, and now they are free to live their life in peace. I highly doubt they’d convert if it meant splitting up their family. :frowning:

Thanks for the answers!

QUOTE=slh3016;12925497]

But Protestants who obviously marry outside the Church would lack the form, correct? So, is the marriage blessing upon conversion the “fix” for that? My friend, who converted last year, made a comment that if she’d wanted to get out of her marriage, she probably could have gotten an annulment before entering the Church since she got married in a chapel in Vegas :wink:

Only Catholics are required to marry in the Church or get a dispensation. When non Catholics convert their marriage is considered valid until proven otherwise.

That’s not what I meant or even said. I know people who suffered terribly in a marriage to someone who was VERY deeply flawed and mentally unstable. This marriage could have definitely been annulled if they’d been Catholic, but since adultery wasn’t the issue, she had to suffer through it in her Protestant church. This was not a case of simply being unhappy.

The Tribunal looks at the factors at the time the marriage took place, not necessarily the factors during the marriage unless those factors help prove issues existing at the time the marriage took place. I feel for people who suffer in a bad marriage but if your friend was not/is not Catholic why would the issue of annulment even be considered?

In the case of mental illness or instability, sometimes the afflicted person doesn’t realize the impediment and often the person they marry is unable to see it as well because it’s so well disguised.

Again this would be a factor the Tribunal would look at.

Can the person with the actual defect seek to annul the marriage because they were the defective party or are they still bound?

Simple answer is yes they could…but…this could be a complicated issue and would take some time and very experienced Advocate and Tribunal staff.

And that’s the tricky and scary part, I suppose. There are some in this exact situation that I’d LOVE to share what I’ve learned about the Catholic Church, but I know I’d immediately be rejected because of this issue. They feel that they’ve made their peace with God, their sins have been forgiven, and now they are free to live their life in peace. I highly doubt they’d convert if it meant splitting up their family. :frowning:

I think I may have missed something here. A Decree of Nullity from the Catholic Church isn’t the same thing as a civil annulment in judicial system in the US. For non Catholics it only becomes an issue if they are seeking to join the Catholic Church. Am I making sense?

So, a Catholic would automatically have an invalid marriage if married outside the Church, but a non-Catholic is automatically presumed to have a valid one? Again, if the issue is whether the marriage is actually valid in the eyes of God, I wouldn’t think where would gets married is not the issue, it is the intent. I’m still not seeing the rationale clearly.

The Tribunal looks at the factors at the time the marriage took place, not necessarily the factors during the marriage unless those factors help prove issues existing at the time the marriage took place. I feel for people who suffer in a bad marriage but if your friend was not/is not Catholic why would the issue of annulment even be considered?

Again, if the Tribunal is trying to make an earthly declaration about a spiritual reality, then why is the standard different for Catholics and non-Catholics? The friend I mentioned in my last quote was talking about how they had their marriage blessed when they converted but that since her husband hadn’t been a Christian at all (she was) and they didn’t get married in a church, that likely, she would have had an easy time getting an annulment if they’d decided to not be married to each other anymore. It was all said tongue in cheek but if there was any truth to it, those same implications are somewhat disturbing, really.

I think I may have missed something here. A Decree of Nullity from the Catholic Church isn’t the same thing as a civil annulment in judicial system in the US. For non Catholics it only becomes an issue if they are seeking to join the Catholic Church. Am I making sense?

What I meant is that I’d love to share with some people (remarried) the beauty and truth that I’ve found in Catholicism because I want them to experience it, too, but I’m afraid that they’d never even consider the Catholic Church because they’d essentially have to break apart their family and go through a LONG process before they could even enter the Church, with no guarantee that the former marriage(s) would be annulled. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them, but it saddens me that they will likely never experience the fullness of the faith because of that issue.

I’m not saying the Church is wrong, but I just still don’t understand it yet.

Only Catholics are bound by Church laws, so the Church can only require baptized Catholics to observe canonical form for marriage. The addition to this is that members of the Orthodox Churches need to also follow their own Church disciplines.

Being that non-Catholics are not bound by form, as long as consent is validly exchanged, and no diriment impediments are involved, Hindus can marry before a Justice of the Peace and have a valid natural marriage. Anglicans can marry before a minister and have a valid marriage (sacramental already, if they’re both baptized.) Wiccans can have a handfasting ceremony, and as long as that’s taken to be a civilly valid marriage, it is valid as far as the Church is concerned.

Can you explain the difference between valid and sacramental. I think that maybe where I’m getting confused….thanks!

The Church has decreed that as Catholics we have to marry in a Catholic church, in front of a priest or deacon or lay person appointed by the bishop or, if we are marrying a non-Catholic, have a dispensation to marry outside the church. That rule doesn’t apply to non-members.

Why does not following the rule make the marriage invalid?

Because of Matthew 18:18***Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. ***

Sacramental depends on the baptismal status of the husband and wife.

If both are baptized and the marriage is valid, it is automatically sacramental. So two Anglican in a valid marriage are also in a sacramental marriage.

If one or both are unbaptized, even though the marriage is valid, it can not be sacramental. It is a natural marriage. A Catholic and a member of the Salvation Army would have a natural marriage. Two Hindus would have a natural marriage.

If both are baptized but there was an impediment, they are in an invalid marriage. An invalid marriage can not be sacramental.

In some cases marriages get convalidated without a huge new ceremony, and it’s actually possible to have your marriage convalidated without even knowing that convalidation was necessary and took place, so it’s not like subsequent changes of heart or mind play no role.

Yes it is saying, in order to have a true marriage you needed to know what marriage was so you could properly consent. You didn’t know what marriage was so you could not consent so you are not married.

Under this logic, though, what if a person that is currently happily married knows that at the time of his/her marriage there were [mutual] significants impediments to a valid sacramental, marriage existing. Maybe even the marriage suffered early on because both sides were trying to overcome those impediments and the couple is now happier and healthier than ever. Is their marriage truly valid now, 15 years later, when it likely wouldn’t have been two years into the marriage? At what point, then, did it become valid? It seems almost ludicrous that one could claim invalidity to a happy, healthy marriage decades into it, but yet, I know many people who suffered in terrible marriage that most definitely weren’t sacramental to begin with because they believed they could only get divorced for adultery or risk going to hell {a teaching by a certain Protestant denomination}, so I do see a certain annulments as merciful in that situation.

Validity is not based on happiness or unhappiness. It is based on proper consent. So imagine you and I had a contract. I thought we were signing that you would sell me your house and you thought it was just to rent the house. We go to court and I say he’s supposed to sell me the house and you say, I just wanted to rent the house. The judge will say that there was no verbal contract because neither of us understood properly the terms we tried to enter into.

I know that many Catholics will say that a marriage is to be “presumed valid” but God doesn’t have to presume anything…He knows all. He knows if the marriage was valid or not as soon as the marriage takes place, does He not? :shrug: Therefore,how does one who persists in an invalid marriage technically not be fornicating since their marriage truly was invalid in the eyes of God, according to the Church criterion.

All marriages are presumed valid if it is a legal marriage. This is just and how it should be. There is no fornication, the parties have committed themselves to each other and believe they are married. In our previous analogy if we had that verbal contract and I let you live in my house and then came and said time to leave and you said what I thought I bought this house, would you be guilty of stealing or trespassing? Only if you stayed after receiving the knowledge.

So if a couple goes through annulment and its granted and then sleeps together it’s fornication. This is partly why the church requires civil divorce before annulment proceedings.

This may or may not be making sense…but I’m having a hard time seeing how an annulment is not just a loophole in many cases :shrug:

The church teaching on marriage is very strong snd specific, but sadly our culture has moved away from what the church teaches on marriage. People don’t enter valid marriages as much anymore because the culture encourages marriage for the wrong reasons.

And as an aside to this issue, I know many, many happy, loving Christian couples in which one or the other was previously married and for whatever reason, got divorced. These couples are in church with their children every single Sunday, love God, serve others, etc., and it hurts and confuses me that, if the Catholic Church’s view is correct and I, while I may not understand it, must assent to it, these couples are committing grave, if not mortal, sin. :frowning: Surely, God’s mercy prevails in these situations and I pray that it does.

they would only be committing mortal sin if they know they are fornicating and do it anyway. In order for a sin to be mortal it must be grave matter AND entered into with full knowledge and will.

So Jane knows that it’s adultery to get remarried. She chooses to do it anyway. That’s mortal sin.

But Jill believes remarriage is acceptable, in fact her pastor told her so and advised her to get remarried, she gets remarried, she is engaged in grave matter but not sinning mortally as she has almost no culpability in it.

Jill later wants to become Catholic, she learns the church teaching And accepts it, now she has full knowledge and if she engages in sexual relations is culpable of adultery. So Jill needs an annulment or vow of celibacy to enter the church.

This last example is in discussion with the synod of the family right now as it is very difficult for someone to change their legal marriage situation, children are involved, and Jill maybe was taught extreme error. That said, marriages like these really can’t be valid if they were consented to based on erroneous teaching do an annulment should be no problem.

Protestants are not required to follow Catholic form to have a valid or sacramental marriage. If the Protestant church allows weddings in a “wedding chapel,” then their marriage was valid. When Baptized Protestants marry validly, their marriages are Sacramental, even if they did not know it.

I don’t know why your friends had their marriage blessed upon conversion, but it may not have been necessary. If a baptized Protestant and non-Christian were married validly, their marriage would be considered valid by the Catholic Church and would have become Sacramental when the other person was baptized.

And that’s the tricky and scary part, I suppose. There are some in this exact situation that I’d LOVE to share what I’ve learned about the Catholic Church, but I know I’d immediately be rejected because of this issue. They feel that they’ve made their peace with God, their sins have been forgiven, and now they are free to live their life in peace. I highly doubt they’d convert if it meant splitting up their family.

What I meant is that I’d love to share with some people (remarried) the beauty and truth that I’ve found in Catholicism because I want them to experience it, too, but I’m afraid that they’d never even consider the Catholic Church because they’d essentially have to break apart their family and go through a LONG process before they could even enter the Church, with no guarantee that the former marriage(s) would be annulled. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them, but it saddens me that they will likely never experience the fullness of the faith because of that issue.

I gather that you are referring to people with previous marriages and still living ex-spouses. Christ’s teaching against divorce and remarriage as adultery applies equally to Protestants and Catholics so there is no advantage to being Protestant in this regard. God will forgive us our past sins, but this does not make past marriages invalid, or justify remarriages.

One can apply for a Decree of Nullity for past marriages without “splitting up” one’s current marriage. It is true that one cannot be admitted to Communion in the Church while living in an objectively invalid multiple marriage, but, as I noted, this is not a Catholic quirk, this is Christ’s explicit teaching.

John would have to (a) know about the defect and (b) be able to prove through witnesses that Jane lied and had not subsequently made a new act of consent.

No. The Church does not extend the requirement of form to the marriages of non-Catholic Christians that do not involve one Catholic party nor do the marriage of the unbaptized come under the jurisdiction of the Church.

A validly married non-Catholic who becomes a Catholic has a valid marriage, it cannot be convalidated.

Which shows a lack of understanding regarding the status of her marriage. The fact she married in Las Vegas is not grounds for nullity.

I did not understand your comment. However, I would not say “definitely”. There would need to be evidence of mental illness and that it actually caused an impediment or defect of consent.

Mental illness isn’t per se an impediment. It **might **be.

Yes, that could happen. Again, proof is required.

The truth can be hard. I’d share the truth anyway. You never know when God will give someone the grace to respond-- it may even be down the road when their situation has changed (a former spouse dies, a current spouse dies, the couple no longer engages in marital relations, etc.)

The Church, through the exercise of the power of the keys has the authority to bind her subjects to canonical regulations such as form.

It isn’t.

Your friend does not properly understand validity and nullity. Your friend is incorrect on this point-- there isn’t any truth to that statement. First, the friend had a valid marriage to start with, it is not possible to convalidate it. I don’t know why, if the facts are as you state, that the marriage would be “blessed” (“blessed” is usually a colloquialism for convalidated) in fact it could not be.

The Church would not ask a family to “break apart” in such a circumstance. The couple would need to live in continence, but the Church is not in the business of disrupting children and families.

I’d recommend the book Annulment: The Wedding That Was by Michael Smith Foster.

It’s possible that when they converted the priest gave them the Nuptial Blessing. Just a blessing, not a convalidation, but even those who’ve been Catholics since birth often don’t understand the difference.

Ok, thanks everyone. I did some more reading on the subject after reading your comments and I think I now understand the Church’s position.

Again, thanks!

Ok what about I have severe mental illness (OCD). My husband knew it was severe and difficult to handle prior to marriage. I didn’t tell the priest cause I was afraid he might not let me marry, I had already been kicked out of a convent because of it and didn’t want to loose the possibility of getting married too. My illness has improved some with medical assistance but is still very difficult on my husband, more so as he ages, and I could easily regress at any time. He does not want an annulment and neither do I. But i also don’t want our marriage to be invalid and fear that we could be living in mortal sin. I asked the priest who married us, told him that we hid the mental illness, didn’t realize it could affect validity (I did not know about validity, only that I might not be allowed to marry cause I had been previously kicked out of the convent for it) and he said to stay together and presume validity. Is he right?

So, can we stay married? And can we continue to have sex? Or are those mortally sinful now? Do I need to mention this in confession?

The best thing you can do for your own peace of mind is to listen to what the priest told you and stop reading these threads that cause you to doubt his advice.

:thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:

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