What does the Church teach about divorce? What about an annulment?

Married couples have always experienced problems that threaten their union: jealousy, infidelity, conflicts, and quarrels. Lust and arbitrary domination can ruin a marriage. These issues arise from the impact of sin, both Original and actual. The first sin disrupted the original communion of man and woman. Despite this, God’s plan for marriage persisted. He never failed to provide mercy and healing grace to help couples sustain their marriages. Sadly, some spouses fail to benefit from the Lord’s help and from the many professional resources and support offered to them.

The Church’s fidelity to Christ’s teaching on marriage and against divorce does not imply insensitivity to the pain of the persons facing these unhappy situations. When divorce is the only possible recourse, the Church offers her support to those involved and encourages them to remain close to the Lord through frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. In the case of those who have divorced civilly and remarried, even though the Church considers the second marriage invalid, she does not want these Catholics to be alienated from her.

Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons. (CCC, no. 1651)

Thus they are encouraged to participate in the life of their parish communities and to attend the Sunday Eucharist, even though they cannot receive Holy Communion.

A Declaration of Nullity (Annulment)

The marriage of two baptized persons celebrated according to the norms of Church law is always presumed to be valid. When a marriage has broken down, this presumption remains in effect until the contrary is proven. The examination of the validity of a marriage is undertaken by a Church tribunal or court. When a Church court issues a declaration of nullity, it does not mean there was no civil, sexual, or emotional marital relationship, nor does it mean that the children of the union are illegitimate. The declaration means that no sacramental bond—or, in the case of one party’s being unbaptized, no natural bond—took place because at the time of the wedding, the standards for a valid marriage were not met. Grounds for a declaration of nullity (annulment) include flaws in the rite itself, in the legal capacity of the parties to marry (i.e., an “impediment”), or in the consent they gave—whether they were lacking in discretion or maturity of judgment or were marrying due to force or fear or with an intent to exclude fidelity or the commitment to a life-long union or were placing unacceptable conditions on the marriage (cf. CCC, nos. 1628-1629). Once a declaration of nullity has been granted, if there are no other restrictions, one or both of the parties are free to enter a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

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