Sad Story, Annulment Question

Because of some painful family history, my dad and mom had to separate many years ago, and my mom’s lawyer convinced her that what my dad really wanted was a divorce. Hardly true — like most converts, my dad is very devout. For several years after this, my dad was hanging on by a thread taking care of myself and my little sister. About the time I was in high school, my sister became a boy-crazy seventh grader, one without a mom that meant anything to her. By my junior year, my dad started dating the woman who would become my stepmother, and they married before I left high school.

For reasons I only learned two days ago, my dad chose not to get an annulment. There would have been grounds for an annulment, easily. My mom is very severely bipolar and hid this from my dad until years into the marriage, at least until my sister was born and her condition worsened considerably. This issue — specifically, rarely taking her meds — was what lead to the separation and then divorce in the first place. Reportedly, he chose not to get the annulment because my sister needed a mom then and not three years down the road — three years rather than one or two because my dad feared that very likely my unbalanced mom, supported fiercely by her mother, would contest it as far as they could. This would have an even greater negative effect on myself and my sister, I am sure.

My understanding is that an annulment means that a marriage never took place to begin with, that for whatever reason it was always or became invalid or illicit. Clarity on this particular point matters to me. I know my dad acted with the best intentions, and I firmly believe that he made the right decision, for my sister’s sake and for his own.

I have one specific question: Is an annulment a formalization of the reality of a situation — an official declaration that a marriage doesn’t exist — or does the annulment process in and of itself formally dissolve the marriage? If neither, both, or incompletely understood, then what is it? I know divorce and remarriage is not one of those intrinsic evils. There must be some wiggle room when it might hypothetically be allowable, and, if so, I firmly believe and hope this situation is one of them.

(Would this be better asked to an apologist in the Apologetics forum?)

It is unfortunate that your father chose to make decisions without all the facts. However, that is water under the bridge. He can now choose to rectify the situation and reconcile with the Church by pursuing a decree of nullity and then convalidating his current, civil marriage.

A decree of nullity does not dissolve a marriage.

It is a finding of fact and a declaration that the marriage was not valid from its beginning.

You are mistaken.

There is no “wiggle room” regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage.

If your father believes he has valid grounds for nullity, he should talk to his priest as soon as possible to begin the process.

1ke is correct. That is why “declaration of nullity” is the technical term, even though “annulment” is the more popular term. By granting a declaration of nullity, the Church is formally observing that a valid marriage never took place from the beginning because some necessary element was lacking (in this case, it was probably informed consent that was missing).

In any case, it would be well worth it for your father to talk to the parish priest and/or the Diocesan Tribunal Office about the whole thing as soon as possible. It’s never too late to get the ball rolling. I had a family member who did so after 30+ years and finally had her present marriage convalidated. It was like a weight was lifted off her.

Really, the process is probably most accurately viewed as an investigation. The Tribunal Office would seek statements from both your father and your mother, but they would not need any cooperation from your mother to move forward. In addition, you need several witnesses from the time of the wedding who can corroborate important info. This helps to ensure that, if an ex attempts to derail the process through misinformation, the truth will win out.

To the bolded part. Others have given their answers but I wanted to perhaps clarify a point or two. What the decree of nullity determines is that there was an impediment to a sacramental marriage. The civil marriage existed and so children are still “legitiamte” etc. It was the sacramental element that was defective. Therefore there was no “Sacremental Marriage”, only a civil one.
Now the Church is not concerned with the civil aspect, she is concerned with the sacramental aspect and this is what the tribunal looks at.

The fact that your father has remarried without receiving an annulment is serious, but not insurrmountable. Have him get in touch with his parish priest who can put him in touch with the advocate in his area. This person can sit down with your dad and discuss the matter and get the ball rolling.
I’ve been through it and it is gives a great sense of closure.


Everyone said a lot of great stuff- just wanted to add that I am praying for your family.


2380 Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations - even transient ones - they commit adultery.

My thinking was that if there was no marriage then this wouldn’t apply.

You would be half right - sometimes when people try to explain the theory of anullment in a cursory fashion they do people a disservice by explaining it in this manner.

However, really marriage is a two part issues, a natural marriage and a sacramental one. The sacramental one is the one that the anullment seeks to investigate the validity of.

As long as someone is still sacramentally married to someone else they are not free to date or enter another legal marriage with someone else as that is adultery. I know this is kind of unclear and I apologize but it I am being a little quick in answering as I am running out the door and I wanted to give you a first look at it.

I’m sorry, Joan, but I just had to bring this up.

A declaration of nullity is NOT saying that no “sacramental” marriage took place. It is saying that no VALID marriage took place. The confusion comes in because it is not possible for a sacramental marriage not to be, also, a valid marriage. It is perfectly possible, however, for a valid marriage not to be sacramental. A valid, binding marriage is possible without said marriage being a sacrament. A natural marriage can be valid; it is the marriage of two eligible parties where at least one is unbaptized. If both parties to the marriage are baptized, then the valid marriage between them is sacramental. However, the marriage between the unbaptized parties can be perfectly VALID, and a tribunal would be morally obliged to point out this truth.

Thank you for the correction. Regardless, we don’t need to quite split hairs this far- the point is that in the case of the OP’s father he would be trying to say through the process that there was a defect of consent due to an undisclosed mental condition which actually would mean that valid sacrament could not be conferred nor consented to.

the former, not the latter
I am guessing that your dad, like many of us in his generation, were never taught what annulment really means because it was much rarer in our day.

your sister was deprived of the influence of a mother by your mother’s sad decision to absent herself from your lives, a decision undoubtedly made less culpable by her condition, so blame is fruitless. Since your mother took steps to obtain a divorce, an annulment would have done nothing, one way or the other, to dissolve the parental relationship, so your father was misinformed. He still has the option of seeking the annulment and convalidating his current marriage to this very fine woman who helped raise you, and thereby returning to full sacramental communion with the Church.

I think I undesrtand where you’re coming from. If the marriage never took place, then it never took place regardless of what anyone says. Thus, how could one commit “adultery” against someone they were never married to?

The thing to note, though, is that the Catholic Church always presumes validity until proven otherwise. Thus, until the Tribunal investigates the matter, we would operate under the presumption that your parents’ marriage is a valid one. Even if the result seems like a foregone conclusion, we must go through the proper channels. To do otherwise would be to open the door to mass moral confusion on the issue.

In any case, even if the marriage were found to be invalid, the fact that your father (a Catholic) is now married outside of the Catholic Church without the proper dispensation would mean that his present marriage is not valid in the eyes of the Church. That would be the case whether or not he was married previously.

I’m not trying to issue any value judgment on your dad or his situation. Members of my own family who I love dearly have done similarly. This is certainly not an insurmountable obstacle. But neither is it something about which he can do nothing and be just fine. It would be beneficial for him to take the steps to rectify all this.

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