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An annulment, on the other hand, is an official declaration by a Church Tribunal that what appeared to be a valid marriage was not actually one (i.e. that the marriage was in fact invalid). While a civil divorce dissolves an existing marriage, an annulment declares that a marriage bond never existed in the first place.
While the process of seeking a declaration of nullity may be challenging at times, many people have found the experience can be part of the healing process following the breakdown of a union. The important thing to remember in initiating the process is that our experienced staff care about what has happened to you.
Importantly, an annulment does not declare that the spouses never really loved each other, nor that the divorce was more the fault of one party than the other, nor that one party is a better Catholic than the other. The process in no way concerns itself with compensation, reward, favours, retribution or sentiment in determining a decision.
A declaration of nullity (i.e. an annulment) is a statement that at the time of a wedding a permanent, binding union never came into existence because some essential element for a valid marriage was lacking. The essential elements concern the knowledge, freedom or capacity of a person to enter into marriage. For instance, one of the parties was incapable of marriage due to serious mental illness or a serious psychological condition that prevented him/her entering into a marital union. In practical terms, if a union is declared null, the Church considers the parties free of the marriage bond that would have otherwise arisen. The parties are then free to contract marriage in the Catholic Church.
Christ calls upon the community of believers, the Church, to be a community of healing and reconciliation. The legal procedures of the Church and their application are based on the teaching on marriage of the Lord himself (i.e. that marriage is a permanent covenant between one man and one woman). However, the Church also cares very much about those who have suffered through the pain of separation and divorce, and thus has, over time, developed these procedures with great care. Ultimately, the annulment process represents the Church’s desire to find a pastoral solution for people who have experienced a marriage breakdown while remaining faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and respecting the rights of all involved.
For more information on divorce and annulments in the Catholic Chuch, download the following documents: