Catholic Wedding Q&A
What is involved in getting an annulment (declaration of nullity) for a previous marriage?
A person who has previously been married cannot re-marry in the Catholic Church, even if he or she has obtained a civil divorce, because sacramental marriage is an irrevocable covenant that the Church does not have the authority to dissolve (see Catechism #1639-1640). A new marriage is permitted, however, if a Church marriage tribunal determines that the previous marriage was invalid sacramentally from the beginning.
The process of investigating the validity of the marriage begins when one of the parties to the marriage petitions the diocesan marriage tribunal—a sort of "court" set up to judge such cases. The tribunal then investigates the validity of the marriage by interviewing the parties to the marriage as well as any witnesses; any supporting documentation is also reviewed. If necessary, a sort of trial may take place, with advocates arguing both for and against the validity of the marriage.
A marriage may be found to be invalid if the basic requirements for a valid marriage did not exist at the time of the wedding. The marriage tribunal might make a declaration of nullity:
- if a legal impediment to marriage existed at the time of the wedding;
- if full and free consent to marriage was lacking on the part of one of the spouses at the time of the wedding;
- if the wedding did not follow canonical form—that is, the Church's laws governing how marriage is to take place.
According to Father Joseph M. Champlin, the most common reasons for declaring a marriage invalid are "insufficiency or inadequacy of judgment (also known as lack of due discretion, due to some factor such as young age, pressure to marry in haste, etc.), psychological incapacity, and absence of a proper intention to have children, be faithful, or remain together until death" ("Ten Questions About Annulment"). See his article, or the other articles listed below, for more details on annulments.
For more information
An overview of the annulment process, from ForYourMarriage.org.
Do I Need an Annulment
Response to six common questions about Catholic teaching on marriage and annulment
What the Church Teaches: Annulments
An overview from Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.