Marriage, Divorce and Annulment

Hello all,
I have a few miscellaneous questions about Catholicism’s position on marriage, divorce, re-marriage, and annulment. if someone can help me, I’d greatly appreciate it.

  1. Does Catholicism consider valid a marriage of two Protestants that took place in a Protestant church? If one of them decides to become Catholic, will he need to have the marriage validated in the CC to be considered valid or blessed by the Church?

  2. What is the difference between divorce and annulment? I heard it once jokingly said that annulment is considered "Catholic divorce’. When would a Catholic seek one as opposed to the other?

  3. I realize that Catholicism (and God) highly regards marriage and hates divorce, but does the CC allow annulment or divorce in the case of marital infidelity? For example, if one spouse was unfaithful and was unrepentant or even moves out of the house to live with their lover. What options or recourse does the remaining spouse have?

Background:
I am happily-married for 34 years with my first wife. We’ve been through a few rough patches in our marriage but divorce has never been an option for either of us.

I recently saw a thread that contained some back-and-forth about re-marriage and the RCC, which prompted my questions that I’d like to have clarified.

In general, yes.

The marriage enjoys the favor of the law. However, in some specific situations it would not-- for example, prior marriage attempts of one or both parties.

No.

It is not possible to convalidate an already valid marriage.

A divorce is a civil dissolution of a valid marriage. It is the dissolution of a civil contract.

A decree of nullity is a finding of fact by the Church that an impediment or defect existed at the time the vows were exchanged that prevented a valid marriage from occurring.

Which is completely untrue.

I can recommend the book Annulment: The Wedding That Was, by Michael Smith Foster. This would be a comprehensive explanation for you that would answer all of your questions in an organized fashion.

A Catholic would seek a civil divorce in order to protect children or property rights.

A Catholic would seek a decree of nullity if they believe an impediment existed that prevented a valid marriage from taking place. The outcome of the investigation would determine their freedom to marry. Some want to know for their own peace of mind. Others want to know to determine whether or not they seek a new relationship. It would be pointless for a validly married, but civilly divorced, Catholic to date because they are not free to marry.

A non-Catholic who seeks a determination of their marital status usually does so because they want to become a Catholic or marry a Catholic.

No.

The innocent spouse could petition for a civil divorce if they believed it necessary to protect their rights or those of their children.

Adultery is not *grounds *for nullity. Although it might be *evidence *of an impediment. Or it might not be. Again, I suggest that you get a copy of the above mentioned book.

The book I mentioned is excellent, see if you can get it on inter-library loan.

The marriage of two Protestants in a Protestant Church is considered valid by the CC and nothing further is required. However, the marriage must not have been a second marriage after divorce. In that case, the party that remarried would have to file for an annulment before the second marriage could be convalidated in the Church.

  1. What is the difference between divorce and annulment? I heard it once jokingly said that annulment is considered "Catholic divorce’. When would a Catholic seek one as opposed to the other?

Divorce is a civil degree of separation of a married couple. Annulment is a declaration that no marriage ever existed. There are many and varied reasons for an annulment to be granted depending on the circumstances involved.

  1. I realize that Catholicism (and God) highly regards marriage and hates divorce, but does the CC allow annulment or divorce in the case of marital infidelity? For example, if one spouse was unfaithful and was unrepentant or even moves out of the house to live with their lover. What options or recourse does the remaining spouse have?

Since the Church considers all marriages to be valid until proven otherwise, those who apply for annulments must have reasons better than infidelity after the fact. If the unfaithful spouse never intended to remain faithful, that would be grounds for an annulment because it would mean they didn’t mean to keep their vows, therefore they didn’t make a valid vow. Most annulments entail answering questions about the marriage to determine such things. Only those that were “lack of form” need not answer such questions. My dh, for instance, was a Catholic who married in the Episcopal Church without the permission of the bishop, therefore his first marriage was a “lack of form” one, so it was simple to get an annulment.

Other attempts at annulment aren’t usually that easy. It may seem unfair to put people through an examination of their marriage at such a time, but there is no other way to determine if a marriage existed or not at the time the vows were exchanged. In the CC it is the couple who exchange vows. The Church is merely the witness in the person of a bishop, priest, deacon or lay person delegated to do so. It is up to the couple to know if they are ready for marriage or not.

As you say, God considers marriage binding “until death do us part” not until one of the spouses gets tired of being married. This is why the Church has Cana classes–to try to limit the number of cases in which an innocent spouse cannot remarry if their partner is unfaithful, abusive, leaves the marriage, etc.

Originally Posted by Tommy999 View Post
I realize that Catholicism (and God) highly regards marriage and hates divorce, but does the CC allow annulment or divorce in the case of marital infidelity?

1ke No.

One important note here that if the Tribunal demonstrates that it was never the intention of the offending party to remain faithful to their spouse, a decree of nullity can be declared.

Thanks, Della and 1ke. Very helpful.

Who in the CC decides whether someone’s previous marriage was valid? Is it someone at their diocese or does the case go to someone else at the national level or even to Rome to make that determination? Pardon my lack of knowledge on the subject.

Every diocese has a tribunal of Canon lawyers that make these decisions. Each decree of nullity judged upon has to be validated by a court of second instance which is usually either the archdiocese or a neighboring diocese.

Certain types of cases are judged in Rome however, and appeals can always be made to Rome.

No worries unless you have gone through the process or studied the canons you would not know.

Thanks, Bill.

From what I’ve learned recently by starting a thread with annulment questions, there is a difference between “valid marriage” and “sacramental marriage”.

From the responses and my own further reading, this is what I understand:

The Catholic Church assumes all marriages are valid, no matter where they take place or by whom they take place (Christians, Catholic-Christians, non-Christians, etc.)

However, the Church teaches that only valid marriages between two baptized Christians are sacramental in marriage, meaning that they are a means of grace to the individuals. Just because a marriage isn’t sacramental in marriage at the onset doesn’t mean it’s not valid. My recently converted friends had their marriage blessed, but from what some have said, this may or may not have been necessary.

If a Catholic marries outside the Church and Canon Law (i.e, they married in a civil ceremony or they remarried without an annulment), they may, at some point, have their marriage “convalidated” by the Church, if the proper requirements are met.

  1. What is the difference between divorce and annulment? I heard it once jokingly said that annulment is considered "Catholic divorce’. When would a Catholic seek one as opposed to the other?

The Catholic Church teaches that while a couple may get legally divorced, their marriage cannot be “divorced” in the eyes of God because marriage is a covenant, not a contract. A contract implies that if one party fails to live up to his or her part of the contract, then the contract can be voided by the other party.

A covenant, however, is an exchange of persons and means that each side has to live up to his or her respective part regardless of whether the other side does or not. This was hard for me to understand for a while but if you understand the view that earthly marriage is representative of the covenant between God and man and when you study salvation history in that EVEN when man failed in its part of the covenant, God was still faithful. The only way to end the covenant (and begin a new covenant) is for one party to die, which is one reason Jesus died on the cross, so that a new covenant could be established.

Therefore, in the eyes of the Church, a valid marriage cannot be “voided” through divorce, so the question is whether the marriage was “valid” at the onset, which is what the annulment tribunal is for.

Here is a list I found in my research of reasons that an annulment may exist.

  1. I realize that Catholicism (and God) highly regards marriage and hates divorce, but does the CC allow annulment or divorce in the case of marital infidelity? For example, if one spouse was unfaithful and was unrepentant or even moves out of the house to live with their lover. What options or recourse does the remaining spouse have?

Infidelity during the marriage is not enough for grounds for an annulment investigation (see covenant explanation above). However, it could be symptomatic of a mental state prior to marriage (i.e., the offending person did not enter the marriage with the intent to remain faithful). Again, all this has to be investigated very thoroughly.

The Church does permit civil divorces (and for couples to live separately) for various reasons, but that does not grant the innocent spouse the ability to remarry because again, the couple is still married in the eyes of the Church, unless an annulment has been granted stating that the marriage was never valid to begin with.

Very helpful, slh3016. Thanks for that. Your post is like drinking water from a fire hose – tons of info. it might take some time to digest it all. :slight_smile:

FYI… one reason I ask is the following:

When I was a teenager, I had a Catholic buddy with whom I hung out some. We were on the same high school basketball team. His parents were Catholic, but his mother was the only practicing one. I had a high impression of her. She was graceful and dignified and was nice to me and welcomed me into their home and made me feel welcome – always offering food even if I mentioned I had just had dinner a little while ago.

Her husband – my friend’s dad – was outgoing, wealthy, but a scoundrel. He cheated on her all the time. He would up moving out on her and lived with a shack-up. His long-suffering wife never divorced him and continued to live and raise the kids to the best of her ability.

She was awesome and deserved a better fate, in my opinion. However, she never complained. I was mainly curious if, under Catholic doctrine, if she could’ve ever remarried.

My friend eventually moved away and we lost contact, but I always wondered about his mother – and now that I am interested in learning more about Catholicism – I was wondering what her options would’ve been and why she made the decisions she made. Thanks again.

Right–

Adultery is not *grounds *for nullity.

Adultery might be *evidence *of an defect of consent or intent.

Only if her marriage was found to be invalid and therefore that she was free to marry. This would require an investigation that she or her spouse would have to initiate with the tribunal-- if they had grounds (and proof).

For whatever reason she did not desire to do this, perhaps because she believed her marriage to be valid, perhaps because she did not wish to pursue any future romantic relationship, perhaps because she loved him even though he was a scoundrel and hoped he would come back.

We will never know.

Sorry, I just tried to answer your question the way I needed it to be answered since I fully understand the perspective you are coming to it from. A lot of answers I got from Catholics assumed I knew certain theology and/or terms so I thought I’d do you the favor of going ahead and explaining/defining those :smiley:

FYI… one reason I ask is the following:

When I was a teenager, I had a Catholic buddy with whom I hung out some. We were on the same high school basketball team. His parents were Catholic, but his mother was the only practicing one. I had a high impression of her. She was graceful and dignified and was nice to me and welcomed me into their home and made me feel welcome – always offering food even if I mentioned I had just had dinner a little while ago.

Sounds like a classy lady living out her faith well :slight_smile:

Her husband – my friend’s dad – was outgoing, wealthy, but a scoundrel. He cheated on her all the time. He would up moving out on her and lived with a shack-up. His long-suffering wife never divorced him and continued to live and raise the kids to the best of her ability.

Unfortunately, this sounds like my dad a lot. I’d venture to guess he was very narcissistic, which, also unfortunately, has only recently come into light as a true mental condition, which may or may not have affected the validity of their marriage.

She was awesome and deserved a better fate, in my opinion. However, she never complained.

But, that could be said about many, many people who experience terrible suffering due to illness, abuse, or persecution. Sounds like she accepted her cross and carried it well since she remained so graceful and gracious.

I was mainly curious if, under Catholic doctrine, if she could’ve ever remarried.

Only if an annulment was granted or he died.

This makes me think of a quote that Ruth Graham (Billy Graham’s wife) once said when asked by a reporter if she ever considered divorce because Billy was gone away from home and their family for so long. She replied, “Divorce no. Murder yes.” :smiley:

My friend eventually moved away and we lost contact, but I always wondered about his mother – and now that I am interested in learning more about Catholicism – I was wondering what her options would’ve been and why she made the decisions she made. Thanks again.

I know many Protestants who have done the same thing your friend’s mother did in eras where divorce was so taboo and not well accepted by Protestants either. My grandmother suffered in her marriage to a raging alcoholic for 38 years without leaving. She was abused by him, when drunk, and by her father-in-law who was also an abusive drunk. She stayed the course because divorce was unacceptable. She carried her crosses and never lost her faith.

Your friend’s mother sounds like a wonderful lady who provided consistency for her children and raised them well. Either she didn’t pursue a civil divorce and church annulment because she didn’t believe she had valid reasons to do so or she just accepted her lot/cross in life and wanted to make the best of it for herself and her children.

She is to be commended, whatever her reasons.

Very true, 1ke. Thanks again for helping me better understand the issues involved.

If I understand correctly then, divorce is civil, so even if one of them had gotten a divorce, they still would’ve been married in the eyes of the Church unless or until she petitioned or filed for an annulment and was granted it, right?

If that’s the case, wouldn’t serial adultery on the part of the other spouse, especially if he was unrepentant and wound up divorcing her – which I think he did – be a strong case to allow for an annulment for her?

It’s all academic now because I don’t think she ever asked for one, but I was mainly just curious.

I would hardly commend a person, whether Male or female who stayed with a serial adulterer. Can you imagine sleeping with your spouse when you know that they are sleeping with others who might have an STD? In addition, do you want your children to think that you have so little self respect that you would stay in a sham marriage? What if you are being beat by your wife or husband? Staying with your abuser is beyond imagination. These are just a few of the reasons that IMHO that the annulment process needs to be streamlined. :cool:

I agree, slh3016. No need to apologize, by the way. You answered in advance a lot of what would’ve been more follow-up questions from me :thumbsup:

Thanks again.

She seems to be a good Catholic mother and wife, forgiving and humble. Some have the graces to undergo this type of situation and persevere in their faith regardless. I would call them saints. God bless her for her strength and may God bless you in your discernment!

I see your point, kozlosap, although I assume she was taking the high road and wasn’t just being a doormat. She seemed like that a high quality person to me, but once again I was in high school and that was several years ago.

I had the following verse in mind: Matthew 19:9
"And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

This kind of implies to me that that would be an exception that would allow for an annulment, and maybe it would’ve had she pursued it, but obviously it is not as cut and dried as I thought it was.

This is speculation on my part, but my impression of my friend’s mom, even though I was only in high school at the time, was that she would’ve probably welcomed a sincere repentance and reconciliation with her husband to keep the family intact, but sadly it never happened.

But, you are assuming grounds for an annulment existed in this marriage. We cannot possibly know if there were or not so we have to assume not (just like a tribunal does).

We also have no indication that she was abused in any other way so we cannot inference that either.

Given that, it sounds like she did what only one can do. You endure.

Sounds like she did that well by maintaining her graciousness and kindness instead of turning bitter and sour. She continued to live out her faith in front of her children and their friends. Her range of influence was obviously immense if Tommy is still remembering her demeanor all these years later.

Thanks again, Bill. I go back and forth between admiration of her and wanting to kick her ex in the you-know-what. It was not only hard on the wife, but it also took a toll on my friend and his younger sister as you might imagine. .

Tommy, I don’t have it on hand but I believe there is a difference in the original language regarding this verse which is why Protestants and Catholics view it differently. From what I understand, the “except for sexual immorality” part uses different wording and means something to the effect of “breaking an engagement”, and means prior to marriage. I’ll see if I can find where I read that.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.