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What Are the Grounds for an Annulment?

Question:

What are the grounds for an annulment?

Answer:

An annulment is a declaration of nullity by a Church tribunal that a marriage thought to be valid actually fell short of at least one of the essential required elements. It is lawful consent by both parties (canon 1057 §1) that makes marriage.

Marriage requires:

  • the spouses are free to marry
  • they are capable of giving their consent to marry
  • they freely exchange their consent
  • they have the intention to marry for life,
  • to be faithful to one another, 
  • and be open to children
  • they intend the good of each other

In addition to these essential elements of consent, Catholics are also required to observe canonical form (married in the presence of two witnesses and a properly authorized Church minister).

If a presumed valid marriage is to obtain a decree of nullity it must be shown that one of the essential elements of consent or canonical form was missing at the time of the exchange of vows (canon 1060).   

Within the essential elements of consent for marriage there are various ways someone could fall short:

  • Getting married out of fear, to escape an abusive home, forced into an arranged marriage, etc. are things that can affect someone’s ability to freely grant consent to the essentials of marriage.
  • One of the spouses lied so extensively about their past that they essentially obtained the other’s consent through fraud.
  • One of the spouses attached a condition to his or her consent.  For example, the person agreed to the marriage with the condition that they would never move to a different city or state.
  • Psychological issues or addictions affected one of the party’s ability to truly consent.

In order for the Church tribunal to decide that the marriage was not valid, evidence needs to be offered in the form of testimony and witnesses who can shed light on the lack of proper intentions. Tribunal judges are required to arrive at “moral certainty” that the exchange of vows was not valid. Moral certainty is a much higher bar than probability, it is more akin to beyond a reasonable doubt.

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