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An annulment is a declaration that despite all outward appearances, no marriage ever took place. The declaration does not break an existing sacramental bond; it is judgment that no such bond ever came into existence in the first place.

The sacrament of marriage requires consent, expressed by the vows made in public, and consummation of the consent through the act of sexual intercourse.

The man and woman are the ministers of the sacrament. No power can substitute for their personal act of consent to wed one another.

If the exchange of consent was not received by the Church, if there were impediments to the marriage that were not dealt with beforehand, or if there was some defect of consent, then the attempt to marry failed. No bond was created between the man and the woman.

The Church presumes that consent was intended and exchanged (canon 1107). "After a marriage has been celebrated, if the spouses have lived together consummation is presumed until the contrary is proven (canon 1061 §2).

"From a valid marriage there arises between the spouses a bond which by its nature is perpetual and exclusive. Moreover, a special sacrament strengthens and, as it were, consecrates the spouses in a Christian marriage for the duties and dignity of their state" (canon 1134).

The purpose of the process is healing of relationships

"Although it is often seen by many Catholics as a rather cold and intrusive proceeding, the annulment process has great potential for healing, growth, and reconciliation."[1]

"As canon 1752 puts it, 'the salvation of souls ... must always be the supreme law.' ... All laws in the Church ... must have a redeeming quality."[2]

Roman Catholic Canon Law

1. Lack of Canonical Form

For a marriage of a Catholic to be a sacrament, the vows must be received by a minister of the Church in the presence of witnesses (canons 1108-1123). In the case of a marriage between two baptized Christians, neither of whom is Catholic, the presumption is that the marriage is valid until proven otherwise.

2. Diriment Impediments

"Diriment impediments" are obstacles that prevent an attempted marriage from being a valid marriage. Some of them are from Church law and can be dispensed by the proper authorities; others are from the natural law or from divine law and cannot be dispensed by any human authority. "When an impediment is present it renders a person incapable of celebrating marriage validly."[3]



Prior bond

Disparity of Religion

Holy Orders

Religious vow of Chastity


Murder of partner's spouse

Consanguinity (close blood relationship)

Public propriety


3. Defect of Consent

The couple marry each other — they are the ministers of the sacrament. The representatives of the Church receive their vows and confirm, to the best of their ability, that the couple seem to have acted in good faith. "Consent makes marriage" (canon 1057). If the act of consent is flawed, then there is no marriage.

Canon 1057
§1. The consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons qualified by law, makes marriage; no human power is able to supply this consent.
§2. Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage.

Incapable of giving consent

Ignorance of the sexual nature of marriage

Error concerning the person

Malicious deceit

Error concerning indissolubility and sacramental dignity

Knowledge or opinion of nullity

Exclusion of the goods of marriage

Conditional consent

Force or fear

Not present during consent

Improper proxies
Vows not translated properly

Grounds for annulment in secular law

A secular view.:

Lack of capacity for marriage

  • Existing marriage.
  • Legal prohibition against one partner marrying.
    • Under age of consent (varies from place to place).
    • Lack of parental consent for a minor to marry.
  • Force or fear.
  • Mental incapacitation at the time of marriage
    • Temporary or permanent insanity .
    • Intoxication (drugs or alcohol) at the time of the marriage.
  • Impotence (lack of consummation).
  • Incest (whole or half siblings, first cousins, parents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, and the like).

Some type of fraud

  • Fraudulent statements or actions by the other party.
  • Lack of intention to marry.
  • Deception about identity.
  • Using the marriage for some other purpose (e.g., gaining citizenship or inheritance rights, financial gain).

Annulments in Catholicism


Kevin E. McKenna, A Concise Guide to Canon Law: A Practical Handbook for Pastoral Ministers (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2000).


  1. McKenna 5.
  2. McKenna 7.
  3. Kevin E. McKenna, A Concise Guide to Canon Law: A Practical Handbook for Pastoral Ministers (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2000), 67.