Although originally thought to have been valid, a marriage that lacks the proper sacramental character of a binding union may receive a declaration of nullity, sometimes called an annulment.

Believing that the bride and groom’s wedding vows are sincere, the Church assumes that the marriage bond between them is valid and will last until the death of one or both spouses.

Since the Church assumes that the marriage bond is valid, a declaration of nullity is required before the divorced spouses can enter into another Catholic marriage.

After a civil divorce in a court of law, one or both spouses can petition a panel of three judges called a Catholic marriage tribunal, stating their case as to why they feel that the marriage should be declared null.

The tribunal conducts a thorough investigation of the couple’s time together leading up to the time they exchanged vows. Witnesses, including friends and family, are asked to provide testimony.

If the tribunal concludes that even one of the essential elements required for a binding union was missing at the time of the marriage, it is grounds for a declaration of nullity.

Because the couple has vowed to stay married until death in spite of difficulties, annulments are not granted for reasons that arose after the wedding.

A determination that a marriage was not entered into validly only refers to the marriage itself, not the children that have come from that marriage. They are not considered illegitimate.

Recognizing that something essential was missing:

Lacking what is required to establish a binding commitment:

Something lacking at the moment of the marriage:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 5: 31-32

Marriage enjoys the favor of the law:

A valid marriage is a sacred bond:

For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed. In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1629

A marriage but not a sacrament:

A wedding without a marriage bond:

Consequently no judge may pass sentence in favor of the nullity of a marriage if he has not first acquired the moral certainty of the existence of this nullity. Probability alone is not enough to decide a case. To any compromise in this connection, there could be applied what has wisely been said of other laws concerning marriage; any relaxation contains within it an impelling dynamic: “If the custom obtained, the way is paved for the toleration of divorce in the Church, although covered by another name.”

Pope John Paul II, Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, 4 February 1980

Recognizing that a valid marriage never existed:

What was attempted was never achieved:

The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Catholic Church

Christ is found in the contradiction of the Cross:

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