Why is "no hope of reconciliation" a required condition for annulment


There was a case of one of the Kennedy family trying for and being denied an annulment - can’t remember which one.

I would imagine potential applicants; if they are not going to be successful, are quietly advised either to not bother applying or to withdraw their application.


Though undiagnosed, by every indicator I have been able to find in print and online my spouse is NPD/BPD. (There was a poster running a thread on here in 2008, LRH1957, whose case/life is exactly mine, minus the OCD; everyone should read it before judging me.) My children have indeed suffered from the unending conflict, the instability, and the emotional unavailability of their mother. And I like LRH1957 am becoming exhausted by attempting to cooperate functionally with his person (also, like him, I am beginning to be afraid for the mental health of my children). What I am trying to do is to go to the doctor, to see if my suffering is due to something chronic and irreparable (and present from the beginning, making the person in question unfit). This is not an act of despair. It is an act of prudence. I do not think my children want me drunk or dead (nor do I want them damaged).


Thank you for this helpful perspective.
Are you of the opinion that Pope Francis’ “streamlining” of the annulment process (of which I know little) was a proportionate response to the situation you describe above?


My ex is also BPD, and is an insensitive clod. When he discovered that I have a socially stigmatized health condition, all hell broke loose. I dedicated my life to hiding it and hiding from it. Now, with accumulated years of stress on my body, I have no choice but to deal with it. I was told that if I wanted to re-marry, I should choose someone with the same problem. Not real easy to find one, but a lot of lonely men across the country who have it much worse than me, and might be a good fit for me. So mine was easy.


I am glad you are no longer hiding. I feel that I am, in many ways. I’m afraid that to lance this boil, to shine the light of truth on this, might cause a lot of pain. Not to mention judgment within my own family and my parish, which is all I have, because people on the outside (and everyone in my life is on the outside right now) will just say “f*ck the truth, it doesn’t matter, don’t break up the home for the kids” (and I have zero training in standing up for myself contra mundum). I’m also afraid of alienating my children, though I suppose if the grounds were canon 1095, I could tell them that their mother is sick and so couldn’t (and still can’t) get married… but I have it on good authority that, for all I know, the grounds could be very different, and could come from me.

Also, their mother will never consent to anything, divorce, interviews, etc. More conflict, more pain for the kids. Like many NPDs, she just wants everything to be stable, but can’t do what it takes to make them stable and can’t avoid doing what makes them unstable. She says “I’m trying, I’m getting better.” I think she thinks she is, but she’s not (and I have one other person close to the case, who also has a psych Ph.D., who also knows it’s not). So then there’s that (possible) heartbreak on top of all the others.


I will be thinking of you through all this. It sounds like a very tough situation. May you find the strength further on.

All the best!


You are reading too much into the law.

The requirement that there be “no hope of reconciliation” simply means that the Church is not going to accept a petition for declaration of nullity UNLESS the couple themselves are certain that they are not going to make another attempt to live together in married life.

To put that another way, the Church requires that the civil divorce be truly final; that the couple did not just get a divorce (for some reason) while at the same time telling themselves that “if this divorce doesn’t workout, we’ll get re-married again to each other”

It’s really that simple and straightforward. No petitions for declaration of nullity unless we know for certain that the couple is not going to return to married life together.


Father David:
With all due respect, I don’t understand.
This doesn’t seem to address my question, which is: What does getting along or not getting along have to do with it, that is, with the conditions present at the time of the attempt to contract marriage? What is the theological reason why the Church cannot declare nullity prior to civil divorce (indeed, in concordat nations, annulment takes the place of civil divorce)? It seems better to admit, as Ed Peters has admitted, that it’s all about not getting sued in civil court.
Also… what couple ever says to each other “Let’s get a conditional divorce”? They might despair prematurely, might judge too quickly that there is “no hope for us” (which is exactly what the (US) Church takes divorce to signify, “no hope of continued life together”)… but who makes a tentative judgment that there is no hope?


First of all, “not getting sued” is indeed part of the reason, but I fear you are not quite getting the comments from E.P. the way he intends them. It is about respecting civil law. It is about respecting that if the state says that this couple is married, then the Church does not attempt to over-rule the courts and the law by saying that they are not married.

A marriage is a legal act of the state. The Church does not use ecclesiastical courts to overturn juridic acts of the state. We don’t do it for marriages for the same reasons why we don’t convene church courts (tribunals) to overturn zoning laws or fishing regulations or banking laws.

That doesn’t matter. How often something might happen is irrelevant here. It doesn’t matter how likely it is for couples to get a conditional divorce (very unlikely I admit); it only means that IF they get a conditional divorce, they can’t petition for a declaration of nullity.

Yes, exactly. The judgement that “there is no hope” is not likely to be made lightly. All the Church is saying is that such a determination must be made before petitioning for a declaration of nullity.

Again, you are reading too much into this very simple clause in the law. Way too much. You are taking something very simple and trying to make it into something much more complicated than it actually is.

It is very simple: no petition for nullity UNTIL there is no chance that the couple will reconcile. That’s it. Just leave it at that.


That’s right. But of course in a concordat nation, “overturning” wouldn’t be necessary (since there, an annulment would have civil effect).
I think we’re missing each other. I’m asking for the theology behind the (US) law, and it seems you’re simply repeating the (US) law.


The theology behind what exactly?

The fact that the Church does not use ecclesiastical courts to try to overturn juridic acts of the state? Do you actually want me to provide the theology behind that?

Or is it:

The fact that the Church insists on waiting to be sure that the couple is not going to get back together before considering a petition for nullity? Are you seriously asking me to provide the theology behind that statement?

I suppose I could do so for either one.

However, there is no point. What you aren’t seeing here is that this is a very simple and straightforward clause in the law.

The answer to your question is very simple and very straightforward:

The Church wants to be sure that the couple will not be returning to married life before considering a petition for declaration of nullity.

That is why the condition is there.

I am sorry if you are disappointed that your question has a short answer and that you apparently want to make this much more complicated than it actually is.


OK I see what is happening here.

You start with a question then you go off on all kinds of tangents so that it’s difficult for me to understand what you’re asking.

Please try to stay on-topic. Comments about condordat nations and E.P.'s comments, and all that other stuff is doing nothing more than making it difficult for anyone to understand your question.

I have isolated what I think might be your actual question.

So before I go any further:

Is this your question? The part of your text that I quoted?

Just yes or not. No commentary. Just yes or no, is this your question?


Yes. Please go ahead. And yes, that’s my question.



OK then.

First of all, there is no theology behind the practice. Not directly at least. We can say that everything the Church does has a theological foundation. But if you’re looking for something like a single verse of Scripture or even some principle of sacramental theology that upholds the practice, it just isn’t there. This very specific question deals with a matter of Church discipline. While discipline is always based on theology, there is not always a simple and direct cause-and-effect for every single instance of discipline.

The Church could actually consider petitions for declaration of nullity even without the couple’s participation or knowledge. The Church has decided NOT to do this, generally speaking.

See Canon 1674. The “promoter of justice” which is a canonical office in the church, and which every diocese is required to fill, can initiate a petition for nullity on the condition that the case (the grounds) have become public knowledge.

The first thing I’m trying to show is that the condition of “no hope of reconciliation” is not all-by-itself absolutely required. It is not, for example, a matter of Divine Law.

The value that the practice (waiting until there is no hope) is about protecting the dignity of persons and the dignity of the Sacrament of Marriage.

The Church does not want to treat the Sacrament of Marriage as something to be entered and/or declared null in a casual way.

We say that “marriage enjoys the favor of the law” that reminder in the law is there so that we do not go around questioning marriages without really having cause, and in such a way that does cause undue anxiety for married people. People have a right to be free from unnecessary, salacious, or even pharisaic inquiries into their married status. Every Catholic marriage is presumed to be valid unless and until it is absolutely proven to be otherwise.

Which brings us back exactly to what I posted earlier:
The Church does not want to have a situation where couples are applying for a declaration of nullity prematurely, for example if it is still possible that they might get back together.

The “theology” here is not very profound or complicated. It is rather straightforward. All Sacraments deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they are established by Christ and entrusted to the Church as outward signs of God’s Grace.

It would not be upholding the dignity of marriage for tribunals to go around declaring marriages null “just in case” the couple might separate someday. It would be an affront to the dignity of marriage were we to have situations where couples are perhaps legally separated on a trial basis, then declared null, then said couples would have to undergo second marriages to each other.



Thank you for your work here. I think we are in agreement on my original, fundamental point.

It seems you are now arguing that the US Church policy is a matter of prudence, i.e., respecting marriage means protecting it from idle, specious investigations into nullity (or, to use your very apt wording)…

But I’m afraid I have a couple of questions about this new line of argument.

First, I need to ask why the US Church, existing as it does in a culture of no-fault divorce, considers divorce as proof that petitioners do not, in fact, have a frivolous case. Anybody in the US can get divorced for any reason. Therefore it doesn’t seem the US Church can really look at a divorced couple and say, “Hm, well, I can see that there is no hope here.”

Second, it seems that you lay out the following hypothetical situations in service of a reductio defense of the US Church’s policy:

Father, with all due respect, I simply don’t see the problem with a couple asking the Church to rule on their marriage whenever they want, whether they are separated or no. (As it is, only 15% of divorced Catholics ever make a move toward a tribunal, so I don’t see this as being a problem of a potentially overwhelming case-load.) I also do not understand how one could apply for an annulment “prematurely.” When is it ever too soon to learn the truth, particularly the truth that one’s house is built on sand?

I also do not see how it would be “an affront to marriage” for a couple to separate on a trial basis (especially if they believe their marriage might not exist, maybe better not to co-habit and risk sex until they’re sure), then learn that their marriage was null, and then actually get married. Such a process, rather than trivializing marriage, takes it so seriously as to consider finding the truth to be quite worth the bother! Indeed, how could the truth about anything ever offend (except those that wish to hide from it)?

The Church is about truth. I don’t see why there should be unreasonable burdens placed upon, or indeed any impediments to, those who wish to learn the truth from Her. Unless, of course, it really is simply a matter of Her hands being tied by the threat of civil punishment.


Is this your real purpose for all these posts?

Is that what is truly bothering you? Is all of this just an elaborate way of getting at this particular issue?


Not exactly. It simply seems to be the only rationale left standing after all others apparently fail.


Actually, no. And, I have a sneaky suspicion I might know why it seems that way to you:

I’m guessing that this might be near the heart of your reasoning that “all other rationales fail”.

Here’s the answer to your question: a marriage that has taken place according to the prescriptions of canon law “enjoys the favor of the law”. So, whereas you’re thinking, “hey, this (on-going) marriage over here is, in reality, invalid!”, that’s not what the Church thinks. Rather, the Church says that if a marriage has been celebrated according to the (canon) law, then the Church will treat it as a valid marriage. Then, if the marriage fails and the spouses wish, the Church will investigate the validity of the marriage. But, there’s no such thing as a “potentially invalid marriage”, per se.

That’s why the Church waits until there’s no hope of reconciliation: up until that time, the Church considers it a valid marriage, and therefore, will not touch a cause for nullity.


Hello Gorgias (love the handle):

Again, not seeing it. Of course the presumption should be in favor of the validity of the marriage. Just not seeing why that presumption (in the US) has to require that the situation to be “collapsed beyond repair” prior to consideration. (Father David has conceded that the state of the relationship is not an absolute consideration.) Also still not clear why divorce is considered proof of “irreparability” in a maximally-easy “no-fault divorce” society. Also not sure why the spectre is here being raised (again, as by Father David) of someone (me? the Church?) “on the prowl” for “possibly invalid marriages.” It’s a pink elephant – not happening, not gonna happen.

I’m simply imagining a world in which a couple (or one member of the couple, as the law allows) could approach the (US) Church and say, “I’d like the truth, please,” whether separated or not, whether desperate or not, and get an answer. Why cannot rigor be applied within the process, and not before? Again, I don’t think, given the current statistics, that the (US) Church is going to overwhelmed with such requests. (And please don’t trot out the tired old deontological “what if everyone did it” horse; it’s not prudential thinking, it’s not how the universal Church thinks, extreme cases make bad law, etc.) Why cannot a simple petition, and not a house-fire, be the trigger? Especially since it’s easier and less potentially damaging to move children out of a house before it’s on fire?

N.B.: I feel it’s worth repeating that this is a conversation that wouldn’t be necessary to have outside of the US. The “no hope/divorce” condition simply doesn’t exist in concordat nations, which nations grant annulments immediate civil effect.

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