A sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church is a sacrament bestowed on each other by a man and a woman inviting God to join them in their holy union. A sad truth of life is that not every marriage in the Catholic Church is sacramental in nature. If after doing everything possible to nourish your marriage you discover you are not in a sacramental marriage, you do have the option of seeking a Declaration of Nullity, also known as Annulment.
Within the Catholic Church, a Declaration of Nullity states that a marriage was invalid from the very beginning, no matter how many years the couple lived a common life, and is therefore not binding. According to Church law, if a given marriage was not valid at the moment of the sacrament, it is not binding upon the couple. A Declaration of Nullity should never be thought of as Catholic “divorce” because divorce is a legal term presuming a lawful, valid marriage occurred, and ended in a civil divorce.
The differences between a Declaration of Nullity and a civil divorce can be confusing. Both are intimately connected, yet, entirely separate. According to the teachings of Christ and His Church, divorce is not recognizable by the Church. The Church recognizes and upholds all true and valid bonds of marriage. Annulment (the Declaration of Nullity) means that, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the marriage never existed in the first place. At the time of the wedding, the relationship of the couple made entering into a valid union impossible according to the teachings of Christ and His Church. This does not deny the existence of a relationship, just the absence of sacramental nature.
Annulment pertains only to the internal governance of the Catholic Church. Divorce pertains only to the civil effects and laws of the state and federal governments. Another way to state this relationship is that Annulment assesses the validity of the sacrament; divorce dissolves the business agreement of marriage.
The Catholic Church carefully protects the right of divorced people, no matter what their religious affiliation, to ask the Church to determine whether or not their previous marriage is valid and binding. You may talk with a parish priest, deacon or delegated pastoral minister or contact the Columbus Tribunal at, 614 241 2500.
The Columbus Catholic Connection: the Annulment Workshop at Coshocton Sacred Heart Church continues with the second of three sessions on marriage annulment with Deacon John Crerand of the diocesan Tribunal from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on Thursday, February 25, 2010. For information call, 740-622-8817.