Annulment or

Declaration of nullity

The Church’s Code of Canon Law summarizes the essential Catholic teaching on marriage by stating:

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized”.

“For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament (can. 1055).

What is an annulment? Rather is a statement of fact concerning the marriage bond itself.
For a valid marital consent are necessary:

– the capacity of the parties for making such a commitment and fulfilling the obligations of marriage;
– the intention of the parties to enter into marriage as the Church understands marriage;
– the knowledge of the parties on marriage itself and of the person they are marrying.

When there is a serious deficiency in any one of these three areas, the marriage is/could be considered and declared invalid.

The Catholic Church comes to a decision about marriage validity or invalidity through a formal judicial process governed by Code of Canon Law, with no civil effects, that follows certain step and is designed to respect the rights of both parties and to allow both parties to have their say.

The formal process is not adversarial and does not make a moral judgment on any person involved, it simply makes a statement of truth regarding the validity of the prior bond according to Church teaching.

The Church presumes that every marriage is valid unless proven otherwise.

In order to declare a marriage null it must be proven that at the time of consent an essential element of marriage was lacking even though it may not have been obvious to the couple at that time.

Ex. gr.: adultery or other serious problems taking place during the marriage, are not necessarily sufficient proof that a marriage was invalid at its inception.

Canon law

and procedures


the grounds

A declaration that there was no bond of marriage must be based on grounds consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church and arise from the nature of marriage as a partnership of the whole of life freely consented to by the parties.

Grounds can be found: in the failure of one or both parties to understand the essential obligations of marriage or may be found also in a lack of freedom to give consent or in the lack of ability to assume the obligations of marriage due to cause of a psychic nature.
Other grounds include:
– intentions deliberately excluding some essential aspect of marriage, such as the rights to children, fidelity or permanence, or the entire partnership of the whole of life giving the external appearances that consent was being given, while internally, by an act of will, excluding essential element or property of marriage (can. 1101);
– future conditions (can. 1102);
– deliberate or fraudulent deception about an important marital quality (can. 1098);
– force or grave fear from outside the person so that marriage becomes the only viable way to be free of the fear, which compelled the marriage (can. 1103);
– mistaken ideas about marriage (can. 1099);
– error concerning the person married or an error about a quality of the person that was principally and directly intended (can. 1079).

This list is not exhaustive, but grounds must touch the essence of marriage and they must be proven to the certainty of the Tribunal.
The length of a marriage, problems in the common life, children born of the marriage and the circumstances of the breakup do not of themselves establish validity in a marriage. Rather, it is the quality of the consent given originally that affects a marriage’s validity or invalidity.


the process

The first step for the person who is asking for the declaration of nullity (the petitioner) is to call his/her trusted canon lawyer that will assist him/her in the entire process: first of all writing the libellus, the petitioner personal history and a testimony about the marriage.

Libellus is the document that formally asks the Tribunal to study the validity of the marriage bond and in which the petitioner must include an address for the respondent for protecting his/her rights and must attach all the necessary documents: a copy of his/her baptismal certificate, a copy of his/her marriage religious certificate and a copy of the divorce decree.

The petitioner also will need to submit a list of persons (at least two witnesses) to provide testimony regarding the spouses and the marriage. Since this is a canonical-legal process, proofs and evidence are required.
The judge either accepts or rejects the libellus after examining it to determine whether or not the local Court has jurisdictionem to examine the case.
After consulting both parties, also the respondent is cited and invited to participate, the judge determines the grounds through the formula dubii.

After all of the information has been gathered from the petitioner, respondent and witnesses, the case is bound.
The judge issues a decree publishing (i.e., make known to the parties) the acts of the case and set
an appropriate time limit for the advocates
and the defender of the bond to make final pleadings for the case.
Then the judge in the case makes a decision regarding the validity of the marriage. The sentence is published, that is, it is issued to the parties.


the effects

If a marriage is declared null it means that the marriage did not exist in the way the Church says that marriages exist. A declaration of nullity does not deny that a relationship existed. It simply states that the relationship that existed was not what the Church means by marriage.

A declaration of invalidity does not render children illegitimate nor does it have any civil meaning or effect. All children remain fully legitimate according to both civil and Church law. It has no effect on the rights of property ownership, inheritance, and custody, visitation of children, child support, alimony, visitation or similar legal matters.
The legitimacy of children is determined by the laws of the states. Just as a divorce does not make children illegitimate, neither does an annulment granted by the Church. The laws of the Church state that children born of a supposedly valid union are legitimate children. Therefore, if the marriage is later shown to have been invalid, the status of the children remains unchanged: they are legitimate.

This also means that it does not absolve parties from their moral and legal obligations to the spouses and children of former unions. A parent remains parent, regardless of civil divorce or ecclesiastical annulment. There are certain moral obligations that must be fulfilled.

If an affirmative decision is given both parties are free to marry in the Catholic Church, but sometimes with certain other requirements. In some cases the judge will recommend that one or both parties engage in a program of counseling before attempting a new marriage. In other cases the judge may issue a prohibition where, ex. gr., there is serious concern whether a person has the proper attitudes toward the essential obligations of marriage.


The new simplified process can be applied to certain cases where both parties agree that their marriage should be declared invalid and there is clear and abundant proof to support their assertion.
The parties can now opt to have the diocesan bishop judge their case directly, instead of going through the ordinary tribunal process.
However, once an application has been submitted to the diocesan tribunal, the judicial vicar determines if a case qualifies for the briefer process and he will then decide on what the investigation should focus by determining the formula dubii which must be answered in the sentence.
He will name an instructor, in order to collect the evidence or to hear the testimony of a particular witness on his behalf.
The parties will still need to present enough solid evidence for the bishop to make a confident determination of the status of their marriage, but in many cases this will be a simpler process.
The diocesan bishop taking into account the observations of the defender of the bond and, if any, the defense briefs of the parties, hands down the sentence if he has the required moral certitude to the invalidity of the marriage in question. Nevertheless, if the bishop is not convinced, he refers the case back to the ordinary process (cf. can.1687).

The Pauline Privilege

The Pauline Privilege is a dissolution of marriage in which both parties to a previous marriage were non-baptized throughout the entire duration of their married life. It can be requested when one of the parties either wishes Christian baptism or has been baptized Christian and the other party remains unbaptized.
The Pauline Privilege is only relevant if one of the spouses becomes a Christian and the other does not and can be applied if the unbaptized spouse is either unwilling to continue living with the newly baptized spouse, or if the unbaptized spouse is not willing to do so without “offense to Creator”.

The Pauline Privilege differs from an annulment because it dissolves a real but natural marriage. An annulment is a declaration that there never was a valid marriage to begin with.

The Petrine Privilege

A Petrine Privilege or Privilege of the Faith is a dissolution of marriage in which at least one of the parties to a previous marriage was non-baptized throughout the entire duration of their married life.
If the petitioner is the non-baptized party or was baptized in another Christian church, he or she must either wish to be baptized or received into the Catholic Church, or seek to marry a baptized, practicing Catholic.
If the petitioner is a baptized Catholic who was married to a non-baptized person, he or she must either wish to enter into marriage with a baptized Christian, or promise to enter marriage with a baptized Christian in the future.

Privilege of the Faith cases involve a special petition to the Holy Father and are decided in Rome.

what should I do to start an annulment process?

First of all talk to one of the priests in your parish, then call us