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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 28 Apr 2002

marriage annulment QUESTION from e curry July 7, 1999 Please advise valid reasons for annulment. I thought there were only three (being forced, not knowing, did not plan on having children)- I have been told there are several valid reasons.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on July 13, 1999 Dear Mrs. Curry:
Marriage laws can be very complicated and indeed the subject of Marriage as more canon laws to it than any other subject in canon law.
In terms of any specific information about a specific situation, people need to contact their diocese Marriage Tribunal. They can give anyone specific information about what sorts of circumstances might be eligible for a decree of nullity. Only the former decision of the Tribunal, of course, can determine for sure whether a particular case is qualified for a nullity decree.
A Decree of Nullity, of course, is saying that the marriage of the parties was not a sacramental marriage, thus it is declared Null – that is, it never existed (sacramentally). Since it never existed sacramentally, the Church considers the parties single and thus eligible for a proper marriage or for religious or clerical celibacy.
We have a whole section in our Library with many articles on Marriage that I would recommend. The URL is:
As for a quick answer to the reasons for a Decree of Nullity, there are several which include (please do not quote these as definitive. I took them from Canon Law, but in some cases I paraphrased the issues. Thus it is possible that my paraphrase could be inaccurate on the details. Also, many of these issues have many details that go into them before they can be considered an item eligible for Nullity. I offer this list for general informational purposes only. Please consult your diocese for definitive information):
Previous marriage not yet declared null or determined dissolved by other means such as the Pauline Privilege
The Presence of an undispensed impediment (i.e., any number of this list can, in some instances be dispensed, such as lack of age or disparity of cult, etc)
Pauline Privilege: previous marriage was between two non-baptized persons
Lack of canonical form (i.e., if one party is Catholic thus requiring the presence of Catholic clergy
One of the parties, or both, having an intention contrary to marriage (i.e., getting married with no intention of ever having children)
Failure to consummate the marriage
Physical impotence on the part of either party (sterility DOES NOT invalidate the marriage, unless that fact was kept secret from the spouse)
Lack of Age (male must be at least 16; female 14)
Disparity of cult (a catholic marrying a non-baptized person without dispensation)
Marriage of parties on Holy Orders or Religious vows of chastity
Marriage by force (abduction)
Marriage by murder (a spouse is murdered so that marriage can be contracted with lover)
Marriage by family members too close in consanguinity
Marriage by concubinage (living together in common law marriage)
Ignorance of the permanent nature of marriage (knowledge of this is presumed after puberty)
One party does not truly reveal their true identity to their partner
One parties personal character was not that which the spouse believed to be at the time of marriage (the guy is really a criminal, does not have the job and income he said he did, is not really a Catholic, does not have the education he says he had, is not as healthy as he claimed. In other words, the person lies about what type of person he is as a matter of course, what his status is, what his health is)
Fraud to get the person to marry (this is more serious than the previous. It is the deliberate perpetration of a fraud in order to get consent of the partner to marry and when the fraud is discovered it significantly alters the relationship to the extent that the offended party realizes that there is no community of life.
THE BIGGEST ONE: Consensual incapacity due to psychological factors that render one or both parties incapable of knowing what they are doing or of assuming the fundamental responsibilities of marriage (i.e., immaturity, mental defect, insufficient use of reason)
This last one is where most of the Decrees of Nullity come from in the United States. This country is a profoundly immature culture across the board, and that includes our ideas about marriage and how and when we get married.
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