Surprising annulment statistics!

Some interesting statistics pulled from “Canon Law Digest” (1943) which shows how strict the Church has always been in granting annulments. In the 1920s you were as likely to hit the lottery than to obtain a marriage annulment. Compare that to now!


I used to think the Church granted declarations of nullity too frequently. Now, I recognize that it’s difficult to make generalizations, simply because you now have a greater incidence of both divorce and mixed marriages. I suspect that most people requesting a declaration of nullity fall into a few different categories:

  1. Divorced non-Catholic wishing to marry a Catholic
  2. Divorced and remarried non-Catholic wishing to become Catholic
  3. Divorced Catholic wishing to remarry (often history of poor catechesis leading to marriage outside the Church and/or person is a revert)

This suggests at least the possibility that many of these cases the person may have had little or no preparation for marriage.


I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is a true reflection of this issue.

Back them, society had an EXPECTATION that marriage was for life. Divorce wasn’t an option, so people had the mind set that marriage was for life. Therefore, there were a little better prepared for the sacrament. People knew that marriage was for the creation of a family and to have lots of babies.

Today, society teaches that we HOPE marriage is for life, but it’s not an expectation. That divorce is ok if you realize its too much work, and society teaches that we need to use birth control because having too many kids is too expensive and not responsible.

Therefore, today, due to the toxic culture, we have far too many people (starting with the Baby Boomers) who entered into marriage WITHOUT a proper understanding of what marriage really is. Therefore, they potentially never entered into the sacrament because their vows were empty words.

Intent is always a big part of Catholic Sacraments, esp in regards to the Sacraments of Confession, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.

So, yes, it used to be far harder to get an annulment in the past. But I would argue that was because there were far more real sacramental marriages back then because the culture was doing a better job preparing people for marriage.

God bless


Not to mention that most people who were seeking declarations of nullity were likely Catholics. In these cases, in a declaration of nullity the Church was admitting that they had dropped the ball and allowed an attempted marriage to proceed when it never should have happened. I think part of the reason this has changed is that I suspect many people seeking declarations of nullity were never married in the Church. (My husband wasn’t, for example. He and his ex married civilly - neither was Catholic at the time - and had no marriage preparation.) Consequently, the Church didn’t drop the ball because there was no ball to drop.

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Look at the divorce stats for that time.


Back then spousal abuse was legal and there wasn’t - in the US - a prevalence of no-fault divorce (I’m not even sure states had it back then, but I can’t speak for all of them, of course).

People also didn’t divorce and re-marry as a rule back then either.

People were also less likely to marry outside the Catholic faith than they are today.

I’d also bet there weren’t a whole lot of converts back then either.

The whole cultural landscape has changed - you’re talking about over ninety years ago at this point.


In the case of women, it often wasn’t so much “better prepared for the sacrament” as it was “no other options”.
A woman, and especially a woman with children, was usually dependent on the husband and father to support her and the children. Many of these women didn’t have parents or other family or friends who were willing or even able to take them and their children in if a marriage didn’t work out. Plus, there was generally a huge societal pressure from your parents, the priest etc. to stay married. A woman who got a divorce anyway would probably get a lot of judgment, even if she did not remarry.


In the 1920s, divorce was just starting to become more available to the average middle-class person, and there were quite a few divorcees. They tended to be looked upon as being rather “fast”. The women often did remarry. I read a lot of historical stuff from that time and divorce is pretty common. Unless you were Catholic, as it was well known that they could not just go get a divorce without leaving the Church.

Edited to add, bigamy was more common too, as it was much harder to check up on whether somebody had a wife and kids three states away than it is now. My husband’s great-grandfather was actually a step-parent because the great-grandmother had unwittingly married a man who was later arrested for bigamy and got left in the lurch with several kids.


What it doens’t tell us is how many people petitioned for a decree.

These are decisions of the Rota. I guess things were different then because today the Rota is the final judge yet here it says that 20% of these decisions were later reversed. Does that mean that back in the day the tribunal of first instance was the Rota and the Holy Father was the final judge? How daunting that would be for anyone who wanted to have their marriage looked at!


Getting divorced back in those days was scandalous. Divorced Catholics were shunned within the Church, but also outside in social life. Money could get you an annulment, but the average Catholic was out of luck.

FYI, back then if you were getting married to a non-Catholic, you exchanged vows back of the church and there was no Mass.



I’m looking at 1924 and the 1 case of mistaken gender. A part of me is really wondering how that even happened.

I’m not sure if my great grandmother is mother is in those statistics, but I know I’ve also heard about how rare it was. (In her case I would say she did the right thing for her and her children.)

Like this:


This doesn’t mean what you think it means.

This is only decisions of the Roman Rota. Not any tribunals in the United States. The Rota only deals with appeals. Very few (at least now) appeals ever make it to the Rota. Moreover, this doesn’t say “out of how many”. However, of the cases the Rota heard, 80% were granted decrees of nullity. That’s pretty good odds for a lottery.

What is clear is that this table says nothing about “how strict” the church was in granting annulments back then. In all likelihood, very few petitions for annulment were even filed back then.


I feel bad for the person who got an annulment because the gender of one of the partners was mistaken. How does that happen?

Considering that people wore a lot more clothes then, and often were even modest around their spouses, it seems like it may well have happened pretty easily. There are also documented cases of women who pretended to be men in order to travel or fight in wars.
Not to mention that there were probably people with some degree of intersex characteristics and their gender might have been debatable in those days.


Upon what do you base this assertion?


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To, “compare that to now!” wouldn’t we need the statistics for more current decisions of the Rota?


Wealthy people I knew who got annulments when hardly any were being given.


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So, you also know of poor people who were refused based on financial means? And when did these people you know go through the process?


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Yes I knew poor people who applied and were refused.

After Vatican II, they reapplied and were given annulments.


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