What is an Annulment?
An understanding of a Church annulment has to be based within the Church’s teaching of the Sacrament of Marriage. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a community of life and love, an enduring partnership between a man and a woman for the giving and receiving of love and for the procreation and education of children. Marriage is a permanent and exclusive covenant, an interpersonal union, which extends to the couple’s total life together, to physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual community, and to the procreation and education of their children.
According to Catholic church teaching, every valid marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament, and thus it is permanently binding and cannot be dissolved. In addition, the Church recognizes the validity and permanence of the marriages of unbaptized persons. The Church teaches that certain elements must be present in order for a marriage to be valid. Some of these would be minimal maturity, a personal commitment to marriage and to the other party, average emotional stability, a belief that marriage is a lifelong and faithful union, an openness to children, and a sufficient evaluative judgment in entering marriage.
An annulment (also called a “decree of nullity”) is a judgment of a Marriage Tribunal of the Catholic Church concerning the invalidity of a particular union. If an annulment is granted, it means that in the eyes of the church a basic element was missing from the union in question from the very beginning, and that on account of this, it was not a valid sacramental marriage from the start. The annulment does not deny that a real relationship may have existed, nor does it imply that the union was entered with ill will or moral fault. Rather, an annulment states that the relationship fell short of at least one of the elements seen as essential for a true, valid Christian marriage. Finally, an annulment does not seek to establish guilt or innocence, but rather validity or invalidity.