As Catholics, we are taught that marriage is sacred and eternal. But what if your significant other, whom you have promised to spend your whole life with, cheats on you? Will it be enough grounds for an annulment or are you forever bound to someone who you know is unfaithful to you?
Adultery, in itself, is not grounds for an annulment in the Catholic Church. If your marriage is considered valid, nothing that happens after – even adultery – is grounds for an annulment. But it can contribute to a declaration of nullity if you/your spouse married with the intention not to be faithful.
Since adultery is considered a great sin, you’re probably wondering why it isn’t enough grounds to nullify a marriage. You’re probably also wondering what are the accepted grounds for declaring a marriage null and void. To answer these questions, you should first understand the position of the Catholic Church regarding annulment.
What is Annulment in the Catholic Church?
An annulment in the Catholic Church is a declaration of a decree of nullity of a marriage that’s found to be non-sacramental since there’s an impediment or legal obstacle that prevented one or both parties from giving their full consent. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “If consent is lacking there is no marriage” (1628). It also says that if consent is not given freely, then the marriage is invalid (1628).
A marriage can only be annulled if, after a tribunal investigation, it was found to be lacking at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union. From to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), these elements are:
- The spouses are free to marry
- The spouses are capable of giving their consent and freely exchange their consent
- The spouses intend to marry for life, to be faithful to one another, and be open to having and raising children
- The spouses intend the good of each other
- The spouses give their consent in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister
The authority responsible for granting annulments is the Church tribunal or the Catholic Church court. Once granted, the parties will then be free to get married again in the Catholic Church. Now, before you can qualify for an annulment, you will have to meet certain requirements. Such requirements are known as grounds.
Is Adultery Grounds for Annulment in Catholic Church?
As mentioned above, one of the essential elements required for a marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church is that the spouses should “intend to marry for life, to be faithful to one another…”
In the Code of Canon Law (1101, 2), you’ll also find that the willful exclusion of marital fidelity and marital permanence or indissolubility can be grounds for annulment. This entails either of the parties going into a marriage with the intention not to remain faithful, not to create a permanent relationship, and reserved the right to get a divorce.
So while the mere occurrence of adultery isn’t grounds for an annulment, it can be used as evidence that the unfaithful party entered into the marriage without the proper commitment needed for a valid union. Furthermore, if the Church tribunal can determine that the party at fault entered the marriage without the intention to be faithful, then he/she is deemed to have lied when stating his/her vows. Thus, a declaration of nullity may be granted.
You should know, however, that there’s also a possibility of applications for annulment being denied. If the marriage is determined to be valid, then you may have to accept the tragic reality that the person you married may not just be a good husband or wife. In such cases and if you are set on ending the marriage, you may choose to separate or get a divorce. However, these procedures will not free you to remarry.
What are Grounds for Annulment in the Catholic Church?
Aside from the willful exclusion of marital fidelity and marital permanence or indissolubility, here are the other grounds for annulment that you may find yourself in and apply for:
1. Lack of sufficient use of reason (Code of Canon Law 1095, 1)
You or your spouse didn’t know what was happening during the wedding ceremony due to mental illness, insanity, or a lack of consciousness.
2. Grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning essential matrimonial rights and duties (Code of Canon Law 1095, 2)
You or your spouse were affected by some serious factors or circumstances that made you unable to evaluate either the decision to get married or the ability to create a true marital relationship.
3. Psychic-natured incapacity to assume marital obligations (Code of Canon Law 1095, 3)
At the time of consent, you or your spouse were unable to fulfill the obligations of marriage due to a serious psychological disorder or other conditions.
4. Error about a quality of a person (Code of Canon Law 1097, 2)
You or your spouse intended to marry someone who may or may not possess a certain quality, such as education, social status, religious conviction, arrest record, marital status, or disease. It should be noted that the specific quality is directly or principally intended.
5. Fraud (Code of Canon Law 1098)
You or your spouse were intentionally deceived by the presence or absence of a certain quality in the other. The sole purpose of such deception was to obtain consent to a marriage.
6. Law (Code of Canon Law 1099)
You or your spouse didn’t know or understand the Church’s teachings about the indissolubility, sacramentality, and fidelity of marriage, and proceeded with the celebration knowing that you could end it at will.
7. Total simulation (Code of Canon Law 1101, 2)
Total simulation refers to a situation where you or your spouse decided to get married and the intention was to accomplish something other than creating a true marital relationship. For instance, you or your spouse got married to obtain legal status in a particular country, thinking that the Church ceremony is only for a blessing and not a real marriage, or to legitimize a child.
8. Willful exclusion of children (Code of Canon Law 1101, 2)
You or your spouse got married with the intention to deny the other person’s right to sexual acts open to procreation, either for a certain time or permanently.
9. Future, past, and present conditions (Code of Canon Law 1102, 2)
If you or your spouse attached a past, present, or future condition to your decision to get married. For instance, you should complete your education, reach a certain level of income, remain in a specific area, etc.
10. Force (Code of Canon Law 1103)
You or your spouse got married due to an external physical or moral force that you couldn’t resist.
11. Fear (Code of Canon Law 1103)
You or your spouse married because of grave or inescapable fear, which was caused by an outside source.
Now, it is important to understand the grounds for annulment before applying. If there’s anything you’re unsure of, make sure to consult your local priest.