What is an Annulment?
What is an annulment?
An annulment (decree of invalidity) is a declaration by the Church that
a marriage was not valid to begin with. This does not mean that the parties
are free of the continuing obligations of the previous union such as
the support and welfare of children. An annulment does not deny that
there was a wedding ceremony or that a relationship existed. Nor does
it comment on any moral fault in the parties. Rather, a decree of invalidity
is a declaration by the Church that, at the time the couple attempted
to exchange wedding vows, an essential element was lacking in the consent
of at least one of them and thus the union which followed such a consent
was not valid according to the Catholic Church's understanding of marriage.
What about children?
Church law states that the children of any marriage, which is later declared invalid, were and are nevertheless considered to be legitimate (Canon 1137). An annulment affects only the marital status of the parties themselves and then only according to Church law.
Are there any effects in civil law?
In the United States ecclesiastical annulments have no civil affects. A civil decree of divorce must be obtained before any formal action to investigate a marriage may be taken in a Catholic tribunal process.
What is the role of the Tribunal?
Marital breakdown is unique among life's experiences. There is nothing, which can prepare or equip a person for the trauma or grief, which is involved. The breakdown of a marital relationship is a process which spans years of one's life and is not just restricted to when the parties actually separate. Separation and divorce are preceded by a history at least as long as the marriage itself. The causes often reach back to the wedding day, to the time of courtship, or perhaps even to the childhood environment of one or both parties. The ending of a marriage is a critical time for all concerned. Both parties may have invested a major part of their lives, their resources, their hopes, and their dreams in the relationship.
The Church is aware of the stresses in our modern world associated with marital breakdown and divorce. The Church endeavors to reach out to the pain and hurt of a divorced person, while upholding the permanence of a valid marriage. By declaring invalid those marriages which fall below the minimum standards set by canon law, the Church protects the dignity of marriage for those couples who have a valid marriage.
The Tribunal is a Church court, which makes investigations of possible invalidity and issues such declarations of invalidity if warranted. Such declarations can often help the divorced person who has remarried or is intending another marriage in the Catholic Church. It may also assist a divorced Catholic who is seeking clarification of his or her church status for peace of conscience, or for reassurance in developing relationships in the future.