What Are Grounds for Annulment in the Catholic Church?

by | Oct 12, 2023 | Catholic | 0 comments

In the Catholic tradition, there is no divorce. So if you want to be eligible to remarry within the Church, then you should first get your marriage declared null and void. But how do you do that? Well, here are the grounds for annulment to help you out. 

Weddings lacking consent, capacity, and form are grounds for annulment. These are the three areas generally recognized by the Catholic Church to declare a marriage null. Within these areas are practical grounds for annulment such as fraud, lack of intent to enter into a lifelong marriage, and more.

To know all the possible grounds for annulment and help you understand which one may apply to you, continue reading. But first, you must know what an annulment is and how it is different from a divorce.

What is the Difference Between Annulment and Divorce?

Divorce and annulment are two ways to formally end a marriage. But while they both have the same end goal, they are very different. Their biggest difference is that a divorce ends a marriage that’s legal and valid. On the other hand, an annulment declares the marriage null and invalid. 

To understand better, here’s a quick comparison of the two:

  • Divorce: This is a legal procedure that dissolves and terminates a legally valid marriage. So in the eyes of the government and the law, the marriage existed and has now ended. In such a procedure, the shared properties and income will be divided.  
  • Annulment: This is a legal ruling wherein the marriage is considered null and void. Therefore, the union was never valid. But this doesn’t mean that the marriage didn’t exist or never took place. Records will remain on file, but there will be no division of property or discussion of alimony. 

Now, there are two types of annulment: civil and religious. A civil annulment will invalidate the marriage and is granted by a judge. It is recognized by the state and not by the Church. Meanwhile, a religious annulment is issued only by the Church or a religious tribunal. However, this does not guarantee that a judge will grant you a civil annulment. Likewise, the church may not recognize the annulment you’ve obtained in a court of law. 

That said, annulments granted by the court and Church are independent of the other. So if you’re only objective is to remarry civilly or by the law, then you’ll only need to obtain a civil annulment. But if you want to get married again within the Church, then you’ll need both types of annulments. 

For this article, we will focus on the grounds for religious annulments, particularly in the Catholic Church. 

What are the Most Common Grounds for Annulment in the Catholic Church?

You should understand the grounds for annulment in the Catholic Church to know what applies to your specific situation. To help with that, here are the most common grounds a tribunal may find a marriage null and void:

Lack of Capacity

One of the requirements for a marriage to be considered valid is capability. If anything is lacking that’s required for one to be capable of marriage, then the union will be considered invalid, and thus, there will be grounds for annulment. 

The impediments or hindrances to a person’s capacity to marry are identified in the Code of Canon Law. To give you an idea, here are the requirements for a person’s capability to enter a valid marriage:

  • Men should be at least 16 years of age, and women should be 14 (Code of Canon Law 1083, 1)
  • Both parties should not be impotent as marriages in the Catholic Church are partly about procreation (Code of Canon Law 1084, 1)
  • Men should not be in the holy orders and should not have a religious vow of celibacy (Code of Canon Law 1087, 1088)
  • Parties should not be too closely related, including relatives up to the fourth degree (Code of Canon Law 1091, 1)

Lack of Consent

For a marriage to be valid, both parties must enter or consent to it willingly. This implies that both understand what it is they are getting themselves into. If either one has a different understanding of marriage that is different from that of the Church’s teachings, then there is a lack of consent. Therefore, there are enough grounds for annulment.

This can be seen in the Code of Canon Law, which states the following reasons for declaring a marriage null: 

  • Lack of sufficient use of reason (Canon Law 1095, 1): One or both of the parties didn’t know or fully understand what a marriage is due to insanity, lack of consciousness, or mental illness. 
  • Psychic-natured incapacity to assume essential marital obligations (Canon Law 1095, 3): Either of the spouses was unable to fulfill marital obligations due to psychological disorder or other serious conditions. 
  • Grave defect of discretion of judgment (Canon Law 1095, 2): Either of the parties suffers from some serious circumstances or factors, making them unable to understand their and their partner’s matrimonial rights and duties. 
  • Ignorance about the nature of marriage (Canon 1096, 1): Either party didn’t know that marriage is a lifelong union and ordered toward procreation. 
  • Willful exclusion of marriage (Canon 1101, 2): One of the parties entered the marriage as a means to obtain something other than marriage itself. For example, to make a child legitimate or to gain legal status in a country. 
  • Willful exclusion of marital fidelity and marital permanence (Canon Law 1101, 2): One of the parties entered the marriage with the intention not to stay faithful or create a permanent relationship. This includes being open to getting a divorce and committing adultery
  • Willful exclusion of children (Canon Law 1101, 2): Either of the parties married intending to deny the other’s right to sexual acts and procreation. 
  • Force and fear: (Canon Law 1103): Any of the parties entered the marriage due to force or fear caused by an external source. 
  • Past, present, and future conditions (Canon Law 1102, 2): Either party included a past, present, or future condition to get the other to agree to get married. For example, requiring the other to complete their education, stay in a specific area, or reach a certain salary. 
  • Error about the quality of a person (Canon Law 1097, 2): Either party married the other because they possessed or did not possess certain qualities, including education, social status, arrest record, religious conviction, marital status, or freedom from disease.

Lack of Form

According to the Code of Canon Law 1117: “The form… must be observed if at least one of the parties contracting the marriage was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it…” So for a Catholic marriage to be valid, it should be held within the canonical form. This entails getting married by a priest or deacon with two witnesses. 

So if the wedding is held outside a Catholic ceremony without obtaining dispensation from the Church, then the marriage lacks canonical form. Thus, it is not valid. This is grounds for annulment. 

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About: Maurielle

Maurielle is a content writer who has covered a wide variety of topics, from clothes to children's toys, gadgets, weddings, kayaks, and more. But more recently, she has focused her efforts on writing about her journey as a Catholic, exploring her faith, and strengthening her relationship with God. Raised in a conservative Catholic home, spent her childhood and teenage years in a Catholic school, and got married in a Catholic ceremony, her religion is a huge part of her being. Catholicism has also been the most meaningful and rewarding experience of her life. Today, she writes full-time about Catholicism and religion in the hope to help others understand the Word of God and the teachings of the Church.
<a href="https://walkingcrossroads.com/author/maurielle/" target="_self">Maurielle</a>

Maurielle

Maurielle is a content writer who has covered a wide variety of topics, from clothes to children's toys, gadgets, weddings, kayaks, and more. But more recently, she has focused her efforts on writing about her journey as a Catholic, exploring her faith, and strengthening her relationship with God. Raised in a conservative Catholic home, spent her childhood and teenage years in a Catholic school, and got married in a Catholic ceremony, her religion is a huge part of her being. Catholicism has also been the most meaningful and rewarding experience of her life. Today, she writes full-time about Catholicism and religion in the hope to help others understand the Word of God and the teachings of the Church.

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