When is an annulment necessary for remarriage?


I am rather confused about what constitutes a valid marriage in the Church. My original understanding had been that the Church recognises all legal forms of marriage as valid and therefore if one got divorced and wanted to remarry an annulment would be necessary.

Recently I read, however, that in order for a marriage to be considered sacramentally valid for a Catholic they have to get married by a priest or have special dispensation from a bishop.

The reason I want to clarify this is because my boyfriend was previously married. We are both Catholics and have been since birth. He got married very young in a civil ceremony with no religious involvement and this was never blessed by the Church. His marriage is now in the process of being legally dissolved but I am not sure whether he needs to apply for an annulment as well.

I think he certainly has grounds for an annulment: he felt pressured into marriage because he got his ex-wife pregnant and was too scared to refuse to go through with it as he was very young even though they hardly knew each other.

It’s important to me that if we get married we can do so properly in the Church and so I would be very grateful if anyone understands this doctrine better than I do!


He will need to petition the tribunal, but the effect of doing so is not technically an annulment. Because as a baptized Catholic he was not married according to the proper form, his prior marriage will rather quickly be decreed invalid by a process known as “lack of form”. (assuming he had no dispensation). It does not require the full “annulment” process of interviewing witnesses etc. However, he is not presently free to remarry in the Church. He must still file a petition.


Every person must be determined** free to marry **before entering into a marriage in the Church. For someone who has never been previously married (like you) that is simple.

For someone who has attempted marriage and subsequently divorced, there is more involved. There are four possible processes:

  1. Documentary case because of “lack of form” – this is what your boyfriend has. It is fairly straightforward (if the facts are as you stated them). This is for Catholics who marry outside the Church without a dispensation. Their marriage is invalid and has no presumption of validity. It must be simply documented that they are free to marry.

  2. Ligamen documentary case – this is for people who married to and divorced from someone who themselves had a prior marriage.

  3. Favor of the faith-- cases involving one or two unbaptized people who are petitioning for a dissolution of a natural bond.

  4. Formal case-- investigation of a presumptively valid marriage for nullity


That is correct. **
When is an annulment necessary for remarriage? **
Whenever one of the parties has been previously in a putative marriage.

This is not complicated. What is an annulment? An annulment is a finding by the Diocesan marriage tribunal that a previous putative marriage was null or not valid.
So, yes, he needs to submit his case to the Marriage Tribunal in your Diocese.
If the previous marriage is found to be null and void, then he will be free to marry.


edit not really the question.

it is best to look towards canon law for your answer. It likely addresses what to do when someone is civilly married. My guess is that you don’t need an annulment because they were never sacramentally married.

closed #6

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