Marriage and Mental illness


If both parties agree that, at the time the parties were married, both Catholic, who intended and committed to all the elements required, i.e. open to children, commited only to the other and that the marraige will last until death, if one party becomes and is diagnosed with a mental illness aftewards, does that open the marraige to annullment?


My guess would be no, as the marriage as it was described apparently met all requirements for validity. However, I am not a canon lawyer and am thus not qualified to do more than guess.


Yes, it does open marriage to annulment if that’s how it’s regarded.

The thing is that there is no such thing as annulment in the Catholic Church.

Annulment means making a valid thing null. Cancellation, so to say. Retroactive deletion.

The reality is that a marriage is either valid or not. No authority on Earth can make a valid marriage invalid (in some cases, dissolution is possible - look at dissolution of unconsummated marriage, the pauline or petrine privilege… but never a change of a valid marriage into invalid). That would be like divorce, except with an eraser effect.

What we have in the Catholic Church is called declaration of nullity. Basically, if the marriage is invalid at the point it’s attempted, it stays invalid unless convalidated. If it’s valid, it can never be “invalidated”.

And whatever happens after the point marriage is contracted doesn’t affect that validity retroactively. Mental illness would have to have existed at the point when the vows were exchanged.


What ever happend to “in sickness and in health, until death do we part.” ?


**My thought exactly. If the marriage is valid then we have to honor our vows no matter what.

Mental illness can be severe, scary, and dangerous. But it can also be just something that’s hard to deal with.

If the non-ill spouse and any children are not in danger from the ill spouse then you have an obligation to do as much as possible to help the ill spouse. If they ARE a danger then you would be wise to separate and protect yourself and any children…but you cannot divorce and remarry under either circumstance.



I’m wondering if the OP meant that the mentally ill spouse was mentally ill at the time of the marriage, but it wasn’t discovered until a later time. I think that would make a difference. When you are talking about mental illness, I think it is pretty rare for it to just spur up out of the blue. In rare instances, I think you have a lot more of a chance of being able to deal with the problem compared to something that is long-standing and engrained in them. I’m dealing with a divorce from someone who has a personality disorder due to childhood abuse. From my experience in trying just about everything, there really is no reason to expect that he will ever be better.

Mental illness can make marriage hell. It can have profound effects upon the children growing up. It really is not a matter of “in sickness and in health” as the person who made the marriage vows wasn’t fit to make them. In the case of my marriage, my husband wasn’t fit to make the commitment to “love, honor, and cherish” me. I’ve been told by my counselor that he is incapable of real love.

Here is an excerpt from a good publication you can find here, The Catholic Teaching on Annulment.
"However, with some persons, psychological problems have become the compelling and motivating force of life.The sense of alienation or inadequacy,self-depreciation,hostility, sexual problems,impulsiveness or selfishness can be pervasive and chronic.It is most unlikely that such a psychologically burdened individual can establish and maintain the close, empathetic, cherishing relationship with a spouse which provides for mutual growth and the proper rearing of children.To put it briefly,a marriage can be annulled if the person entering marriage does not “have what it takes”to develop the community of life and love that is the substance of the marital pledge.

For some time now,the Church has recognized that psychoses, and such disintegrative mental illnesses as schizophrenia and manic depression,can so impair mental and emotional stability that one’s consent to marriage lacked the necessary discernment or capacity.More recently,using further insights,the Church acknowledges other dysfunctions of personality that may make a particular marriage union impossible. It is impossible to make general statements about such matters, because the human personality is so complex and the circumstances of each marriage vary widely.But with that caution,it can be asserted that conditions such as homosexuality and alcoholism often undermine the capacity for a permanent union.

Another group of emotional disturbances are called “personality disorders.”These may not show the acute episodes or the bizarre features of psychoses, but they are marked by deeply ingrained maladaptive patterns of behavior, usually with roots in early life,and often evident by the time of adolescence. Such persons may function quite well in their work, be excellent providers,efficient household managers,or spectacular entertainers. But they are psychologically unable to meet one essential criterion of marriage: the close and intimate personal relationship of mutual support and affection."


Not in a million years. IMO

I’d be scared to death to get married in the Catholic church because I have your garden variety chemical imbalance that causes depression. No manic/depressive, bi-polar, etc. It is easily controlled with medication. By the time I would get married, my future husband would have seen every side of my personality, good and bad.

There’s no one on the face of the earth who can say that I didn’t know what I was doing when I took my marriage vows. I’m very intelligent, well-educated and rational. I would probably have a more realistic view of marriage than anyone I could marry. Could be the reason I never married. :shrug:


Annulments are not biblical. Divorce is.


Funny how many fundamentalists advised me to stay in my abusive marriage, saying divorce was only acceptable in cases of adultery. I’m just glad that Christ gave us a Church to guide us.


no, not unless it was determined the mental illness existed at the time of the marriage and also that it was of a nature to render consent impossible, or if it was proven that the afflicted person or others knew about the condition but kept it hidden. (Mr. Rochester’s marriage in Jane Eyre would have probably been judged invalid by a Catholic tribunal because the wife’s illness was known by her family yet concealed from him, at least if being judged by a modern tribunal).


Yes. If it was already there, then the marriage might have been invalid. If it developed later, it has no bearing. Such distinctions are why I insist so much on the proper naming: it’s not annulment. It’s a declaration of nullity. Annulment means nullification, which is different from simply declaring something null to be so.


By itself, mental illness is not a basis for nullity, but it can be under certain conditions.

A person who marries must be capable of assuming the essential duties and obligations of marriage at the time of consent (c. 1095, n. 3). If the person suffered from serious burdens of a psychological nature, he or she might not have been capable of this. These duties and obligations arise from the nature of marriage as a permanent partnership of the whole of life by the spouses and its ordering by nature to the procreation and education of children. The capacity for interpersonal relationship, fidelity, et alia. are also involved in this. More could be, and probably should be, said, but that’s the gist.

The gravity of the psychological anomaly, its pre-existence, its perpetuity (cannot be controlled by ordinary means, such as medication, counselling, etc.) and its effects of rendering the person incapable of fulfilling the essential duties and obligations of marriage would have to be evaluated by a tribunal. So, each of those elements must be present: grave, antecedent, perpetual, and pertaining to essential matrimonial obligations.

A mental illness may exist prior to the wedding and not show itself with full force until later. One that originates after the time of consent (such as changed personality after a car accident and head trauma, for example) would not be a basis for invalidity.

A slight psychological deficiency or limitation would not provide basis of incapacity.

True disorders, even when not manifested until later, are presumed in jurisprudence to have been pre-existing.

These issues almost always require the assistance of a psychological expert who is grounded in proper Christian anthropology. These are difficult cases from a juridical perspective but also heart wrenching.

The underlying principle is that no one is obliged to the impossible. A person who is not capable of doing what he or she promises to do, cannot validly promise to do it either. Hence, such a marriage would be invalid at the time of the celebration. A decree of nullity only declares that as factual (as Chevalier is noting).


What is you basis for this statement? Fr. Serpa said otherwise. Link


Cameron Lansing is on a tribunal. He has more real world experience with this than Fr. Serpa. I think the key is “true disorders”. Such disorders are usually hereditary or are something ingrained from childhood. He did also say “these issues almost always require the assistance of a psychological expert who is grounded in proper Christian anthropology. These are difficult cases from a juridical perspective but also heart wrenching.” In other words, the tribunal would look at testimony from an expert to determine whether the mental illness was likely one that was pre-existing. I think the difference between his answer and Fr. Serpa’s was that he was going into more depth, explaining how a mental illness might have been present at the time that marriage vows were exchanged, even though it might have been diagnosed until years later. Fr. Serpa gave a quick answer on the assumption that the mentally ill spouse was mentally healthy at the time the vows were exchanged. It isn’t always perfectly clear.


Ill take a stab. First, there is a significant difference i potential levels of reason when comparing general “mental illness” to the more serious disorders. Part of the nullity petition I have before the tribunal now rests on a claim that some of my ex-wife’s “quirks” at the time we married where actually the early manifestations of a delusional disorder with schizophrenic tendencies mixed in. A more accurate way of saying this would be that in the cases where the symptoms of a major disorder led to the failure of a marriage there is a lot of consideration given to claims that the early stages of that disordered thought were already present on the wedding day. I thought of an explanation by way of analogy for using that as a potential ground for nullity: though it wasn’t yet a runaway train when I got on board, the brakes were broken before started moving and the throttle jammed as we pulled away from the station.

Still, it wouldn’t apply in cases where a serious disorder really just fell out of the sky. There have to me significant signs preceeding the marriage.


I’ve never believed in divorce and don’t think much more of annullments. Having been raised with Catholic values, I gave myself one shot at marriage and only one. I never took it. Thank God.

I became Catholic last Easter Vigil. It’s a good thing I waited so long to become Catholic and have given up on marriage because I would never have risked marrying in the Catholic church if what the two of you say is true.

What would have been the point if the marriage were invalid all along? I could cheat or do any other sinful thing you can think of, but have a managable problem with depression, noooooo!


If it is manageable, and the person who has it doesn’t exhibit a pattern of refusing to treat it at/before the time of marriage, then controlled depression at the time of the marriage would not constitute grounds for nullity in and of itself.

In my case, my ex had delusional tendencies before we married; the quirks she blamed on recovering from a rough childhood and said she was “working on” ended up being things she mostly hadn’t told her counselor (or later denied any recollection of) and the stories she told me of her childhood were eventually revealed to be more a mix of dreams and what-ifs than reality, with her limiting contact with her parents and much of her family being the way she prevented information from flowing that would have more quickly revealed the extent of her delusional thinking.

Am I making sense on the distinction?


I would agree with Ray Scheel, that controlled depression is altogether something different than a disorder that a spouse won’t acknowledge or do anything about. Imagine what it is like living with someone and counting on someone who acts in a hurtful and/or bizarre way, but instead denies their problems and projects them onto you.

I don’t think it is impossible for someone with a controlled mental illness such as depression to enter into a valid marriage. They just need to be open and honest about it, and be willing to continue treatment for it.


there is no such thing as an annulment.
the canon law tribunal, after a thorough investigation, can issue a decree of nullity, which declares that a valid marriage never occurred, because the conditions necessary for valid consent did not exist at the time of the marriage. This should be a rather rare occurance, but it is essential that Catholics have this canon law protection.

The Catholic Church assumes a marriage is valid until proven otherwise. A condition or action that arises after marriage does not affect validity. Just because a person develops depression, or a mental illness let alone a physical disability later in life also does not invalidate a marriage.

It is a very sad truth that in the last couple of generations many Catholics, infected with the culture of death mentality that prevailes in the secular world, did enter marriage with intent entirely contrary to Church teaching on marriage, with fraud, by deliberately withholding consent, and now the fruits of those invalid marriages are being reaped.


there is a whole range of mental illness, as described above, and not every condition would be a bar to valid consent. That is why each case is unique, is investigated thoroughly, and why it is impossible to issue a blanket declaration: such a marriage is always valid or always invalid. A person laboring under such a difficulty would make his intended spouse fully aware of the situation, and of what measures he takes to manage it, and would discuss it with the priest during the marriage preparation, and accept spiritual guidance in dealing with that as well as any other factors that make marriage difficult.

Yes living with mental illness is difficult and sometimes even dangerous. There is prohibition against separation, even civil divorce, if it is needed to protect the safety and welfare of the other spouse and children, but that does not end a valid marriage.

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