“Annulment” is an unfortunate word that is sometimes used to refer to a Catholic “declaration of nullity.” Actually, nothing is made null through the process. Rather, a Church tribunal (a Catholic Church court) declares that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union.

For a Catholic marriage to be valid, it is required that:

  1. the spouses are free to marry;
  2. they are capable of giving their consent to marry;
  3. they freely exchange their consent;
  4. in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to having and raising children;
  5. they intend the good of each other; and
  6. their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
    Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by Church authority.
Why is an annulment required for someone who wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church?

In faithfulness to Jesus’s teaching, the Church believes that marriage is a lifelong bond (see Matt 19:1-10); therefore, unless one’s spouse has died, the Church requires a divorced person to obtain a declaration of nullity before marrying someone else in the Catholic Church or before actually becoming a Catholic. The tribunal process seeks to determine if something essential was missing at the moment of consent, that is, the time of the wedding. If so, the Church can declare that a valid marriage was never actually brought about on the wedding day.

If a marriage is declared null, does it mean that the marriage never existed?

A declaration of nullity means that a marriage that was once thought to be valid civilly and canonically was in fact not valid according to Church law. A declaration of nullity does not deny that a relationship existed. It simply states that the relationship was missing something that the Church requires for a valid marriage.

Can I still get an annulment if my ex-spouse doesn’t agree?

Yes. Your ex-spouse’s participation and agreement are not necessary to the Catholic annulment process. The tribunal will get in touch with the ex-spouse, let them know the marriage is being investigated for an annulment, and give them an opportunity to participate. However, their agreement or lack thereof will not inhibit an annulment from being granted. Including the ex-spouse is primarily to give them the opportunity to review any investigative materials, and to have an equal opportunity to participate in the proceedings.