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An “annulment” is a declaration that when a man and woman exchanged consent at their wedding, one or both of them truly did not consent to marriage as the Catholic Church understands marriage.
A common question is, “How can the Church say a marriage is null?” It is not a question that is easily answered. To understand “nullity,” we must first understand what the Catholic Church believes constitutes the Sacrament of Marriage.
Not every wedding produces a marriage – at least a marriage that contains the essential elements and fruits understood to be present in the Sacrament of Marriage. On the other hand, not every marriage that ends in divorce means it is a null marriage! Simply put, to declare a marriage as “null” or “annulled,” it must be demonstrated that an essential element was missing from the consent of the parties at the time of the marriage.
Unlike other sacraments, the Sacrament of Marriage is created by the consent of the parties – their intention and capabilities at the time of consent. Nullity does not mean that the wedding never happened. Nullity does not mean that the parties never cared for one another. Nullity does not mean that someone has failed. Nullity means that at the very moment of consent an essential element was missing from the consent of the parties – either because of psychological factors or because one or both of the parties did not consent to marriage as the Catholic Church understands marriage.
Many marriages start off on a rocky road, especially in today’s culture. However, when discussing nullity, please remember that we are discussing only marriages that have ended in divorce with no hope of reconciliation.
Many marriages survive very rough starts and mature into loving, lasting partnerships for life. The presumption is always that a marriage is valid, which is why a declaration of nullity requires a serious and thorough examination of the facts and circumstances that may have caused the marriage to be null from the start.
When a person approaches the nullity process, it will require courage and strength to look at the marriage honestly and as objectively as possible. It will require reflection and an honest assessment of the marriage from the very beginning. This thoughtful examination, along with the assistance of the canonists and professional members of the Tribunal, will serve in a just and correct decision regarding the nullity of the marriage.
A “Field Associate” – see “Getting Started” below – will assist you in beginning your case. Your field associate will also assist you in determining what type of marriage case to pursue.
Certain other types of cases may be possible other than a formal annulment proceeding depending upon the facts concerning the baptismal status of each party and/or any prior bonds of marriage that may exist. Your field associate is trained to assist you in discerning the correct case type to pursue.