From the earliest years of the Christian era, church members realized that not every marriage matched the ideal described so eloquently in Gaudium et Spes. As is often the case in any society, particular cases of difficult marriages were brought to the attention of authorities for study.
Over the centuries, the collective wisdom of many cases and decisions recognizes that in some situations the “I do” spoken by the couple does not express consent to a true Christian marriage. In such situations, when requested by one of the parties, after a close examination of the circumstances, the Church issues a decree of invalidity, a statement that an essential element or property was lacking in the consent the parties gave. These include a partnership ordered toward the good of the spouses, openness to and education of children, fidelity and indissolubility in marriage (Canons 1055, 1056). When something essential is lacking, consent is invalid. When the consent is invalid, no marriage bond was created, so the bond is null. A number of reasons can cause the consent to be invalid.
To begin, all marriages are presumed to be valid, unless proven otherwise, as C.1060 clearly states. No human power on earth can dissolve a valid bond of marriage consented to by two baptized persons. When a man and a woman present themselves to a priest to prepare for marriage, it’s presumed that they know what they’re doing and are capable of living out the consent they freely pledge in the presence of the community (Canons 1101, 1057). Because the law favors the validity of marriage, it’s necessary to prove that some essential element or property of marriage is lacking in order to declare the bond to be invalid.
A marriage bond could be considered invalid for three reasons:
1. Defect or lack of required form (for Catholics)
2. Defect of consent
3. Presence of an undispensed impediment
How to Get Started
The first step is for the person to speak with a priest or pastoral minister at the local parish. That person will assist the petitioner in filling out a simple Application Form to be sent to the Tribunal. From this form, the Tribunal will be able to determine the type of case a person may have. After the type of case is determined, the person will receive a packet of the necessary forms to carry forward his or her petition.
The person who takes the initiative to get an annulment is the petitioner. He or she makes an appointment with the priest or pastoral associate in the parish to talk over the circumstances of the marriage and get advice as to whether or not an annulment is possible. This person agrees to serve as the petitioner’s official Representative/Procurator, providing advice and assistance throughout the process. If it appears that there are serious reasons to challenge the validity of the marriage, the next step is to write out the basic facts on the application form. These facts include baptismal status, date and place of the marriage and divorce, name and address of the former spouse (the respondent), and a preliminary statement as to why the marriage failed, as well as information about any subsequent marriages. The application form is sent to the Tribunal, where the type of case is decided, after which a packet of forms is sent to the petitioner. You will regularly be kept apprised of the progress of your case.