It’s confusing, for sure!
I like the way it’s explained on our archdiocese website.
**What is a Declaration of Nullity?
“A declaration of nullity is a decision that is made by the Church, which acknowledges that a couple never established the sacred bond of marriage.”
**Does an annulment mean that my marriage “never existed”?
“No. Obviously the couple was wed according to civil law and lived together, and possibly had children. They have a “history” from being together. It is presumed that both parties entered the marriage with good intentions. No one can deny that a relationship existed in some fashion, at least for a time, with its own joys and sorrows, its own hopes and disappointments. Good and bad memories will always remain. In almost all cases, a civilly recognized union was at least certainly present.”
Even if one or both parties entered into a marriage with imperfect intentions, imperfect understanding, or an inability to live up to the obligations of marriage there was still a civil marriage and a real relationship. The Church annulment has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the spiritual aspect of the marital bond and if that bond was established or not.
When I civilly married 20 years ago I did so with intentions against permanency, children, and fidelity. Obviously, it was not a valid marriage as understood by the Church. But my ex could have believed our marriage to be valid right up until the separation and divorce. I honestly don’t know how he viewed it then or now. We simply didn’t talk much about personal matters. Considering his behavior and his mental state, I don’t think he could then or even now enter into a valid marriage. But that’s another thread.
For purposes of this thread, let’s assume my ex entered into marriage with perfect understanding, ability, and intent. For him, the cat was alive. For me, it was dead. Perception makes reality. Which is why Tribunals exist. They look at both former spouses and determine which reality was real, for lack of a better way to phrase it.