Monday, June 25, 2012

On divorce and annulment

This is an oddity of Catholicism that has always bemused me. I saw it posted on Aggie Catholics and thought it worth posting.

A person who wants to be done with the relationship needs to look for a crack in the form of the marriage to prove that it never really existed. Where else does something like this exist? Not being Catholic I don't have to defend it, but (by the figures I was able to locate) some 97% of Catholics in the US who seek an annulment receive them. That is a hard figure to not blink at a few times. Tribunals were able to find fault in all but 3% of all cases. That's a pretty porous contract by any metric I've pondered using.


  1. These numbers are in sharp contrast to what happened before Vatican II. Back then the numbers would essentially be reversed. Unfortunately annulments are often treated as divorces now, and some of the most ridiculous grounds for annulment are used today. For example I once heard someone said if you were married at say 18 years old you could get an annulment on the grounds that one is too young to actually know what they are doing. Hopefully these things will soon be reformed and fixed as well.

  2. The annulment is simply a catholic divorce based upon a legal fiction in many cases. I wonder if the church ever considers the effects that granting an annulment, with it's clear teaching that the marriage NEVER existed, has on the children of the marriage. It is effectively bastardising them.

    1. I concur with your view that annulment is simply the Catholic word for divorce. But children of a putative marriage are generally considered to be legitimate as long as the invalid marriage was contracted in good faith. Of course in the modern world bastardy no longer has any stigma attached, either legal or social.

  3. Catholic apologists get mad when I say this but when they say the current system of annulments is not a form of Catholic divorce -- well, that's just double-talk. Their explanation only makes sense to Catholics who are trying to rationalize things.

  4. Although the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize divorce by a married couple, it does allow couples to end their marriages by two other means. One is annulling the marriage. The other is allowing a couple to separate.

    Annulling a marriage allows a couple to remarry in the Catholic Church, because it means, in effect, that the marriage never occurred. Separating in a marriage does not allow a spouse to remarry, because he or she is still "technically" married in the Catholic Church, even though the couple has separated. A separated husband or wife in the Catholic Church often finds another spouse to "live with" -- but not marry -- and thus remain in the Catholic Church.

    1. That is true George, it is also true that such parties who cohabit are forbidden to receive Holy Communion.

  5. With one caveat: if they live in a Josephite manner they may receive the sacraments.

  6. I am curious about how many divorces Orthodox bishops forbid? Somewhere there is a list of guidelines of reasons for granting Orthodox divorce...rules of thumb, I expect. Most of them are not covered in Scripture. I doubt there are 3% who are denied.

    There is also the difference between secular marriage and sacramental marriage that is never raised in these discussions or the variant history of secular and sacramental marriage between east and west.

    I am so happy everyone is shocked that there is gambling at Ricks. Let's me rest assured that the same old shibboleths are alive and well and kickin' attitude!! to speak.

    1. Certainly. But saying, "This marriage has died." and "This marriage never actually existed." would seem to be very different things needing a lot more to substantiate it. They do actually look rather similar:

      I don't know what Ricks is.

  7. Josephus--
    I think Elijahmaria's comment about Rick's is a Casablanca reference:

    See here:

    Contemporary Catholic annulment is de facto divorce because the percentage of marriages declared to not have happened is too high to leave any other reasonable explanation. Apparently, the conditions for validity to declare that a sacrament happened is rather minimal for everything but marriage. Confession requires some sort of contrition + the words of absolution, baptism require some sort of water sufficient to run off of the forehead + a Trinitarian invocation, but marriage, that seems to require that the couple be familiar with and consent to the entirety of Catholic sacramental theology about marriage otherwise the sacrament did not happen.

    The problem arises because Catholic theology has no place for economia. Just because an individual failed (or was failed) at marriage does not mean that he or she was called to be a monk. Yet, the Catholic Church provides no way for such a person to live out a call to marriage after the first one failed without excommunicating himself or herself. This has created a pastoral problem where the rules of the Catholic Church are at odds with the mission of the Catholic Church. A medieval theological construct designed to explain the mystery of marriage has replaced the sacrament itself. Thus, to fix this pastoral problem, the Catholic Church has resorted to a bizarre legal fiction wherein persons who have acted a believed themselves to be married for years suddenly discover that they were utterly deluded when they no longer wish to be married to each other.

  8. Unfortunately the harsh truth is both the Catholic and Orthodox have low standards on divorce and remarriage. And, yes, Catholics just call it annulment and say it wasn't a properly contracted marriage to begin with. It's sad how rampant divorce and remarriage is over all. :/

  9. 1) Why didn't you comment at the Aggie blog site instead of posting here where everyone will probably agree with you?
    2) In general the Aggie Catholic site is one of the more orthodox Catholic sites and is a campus ministry that is proclaiming a message of chastity and holiness that isn't found on most college campuses.
    3) We should also be lamenting the no-fault divorce in nearly every state in the U.S. Property & children's visitations are split 50/50 instead of the guilty party paying some sort of penalty...
    4) Is the divorce rate among Orthodox lower than other groups? (A serious question, not a leading question, I truly don't know if those statistics exist)
    5) Let's not over-look the pastoral aspect of annulments and the healing they can bring to individuals.
    6) While the annulment does seem to be a strange theological construct and due to high numbers being granted appears to be more of a "divorce" in practice than an "annulment"-- do we need to resort to petty attacking language like "bizarre legal fiction"?

    1. 1. That's a site by and for Catholics. I am not Catholic. As you can see not everyone agreed with me.

      2. True.

      3. Sure.

      4. The numbers say that Orthodox divorce is less common, but some have concluded that this is because people are getting civil divorces and not going through the church process unless they attempt to remarry.

      5. Are annulments supposed to be a healing act? If so I've never heard of that as the goal or intended impact.

      6.I don't know how petty that is. Do you see some way that it isn't a legal fiction?

    2. Dave in Dallas-

      The contemporary Catholic practice regarding annulments is most certainly in place for pastoral reasons. Gone are the days when Rome will risk schism with a country and her king, previously declared to be the Defender of the Faith to uphold a theological principle. The disconnect between this pastoral need and the Roman Church's theology of marriage is the source of the problem.

      Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that you all are correct that divorce CANNOT, by definition, occur. For the Catholic Church to then condone a practice that is clearly divorce is a scandal and a betrayal of the Church's mission to proclaim the truth. One might wonder then, what other "truths" are susceptible to pastoral re-interpretation, justified by tortured legalisms.

      My interpretation is that the Catholic Church is wrong about the impossibility of divorce. Granting that divorce SHOULD not occur, the idea that divorce CANNOT occur is belied by the fact that it could occur under the Law. Are we to believe that in this instance only, Grace is more rigorous than the Law? It is certainly one thing to call all men to perfection, but quite another to demand perfection as the precondition for receiving the help of the Church in the form of the Holy Mysteries. The Roman practice of disallowing divorce would make a whole lot more sense if the Roman Church also refused to repeat the sacrament of Confession. If an individual is called to marriage, the fact that he or she might screw it up does not change that vocation. There cannot be anything particularly special about one's husband or wife in the cosmic sense because in the Kingdom there is no marriage. The first partner one chooses cannot be a necessary element of the marriage any more than having one's confession heard by the priest who baptized one is a necessary element of confession. Refusing to bless a second marriage, in practice, acts as a punishment for screwing up the first one and serves only to deprive individuals of the other sacraments--which are arguably needed more after the failure of the marriage.

      Our solution is the principle of economia. Recognizing the ideal of marriage, we are willing to bless a second union for the good of these individual Christians who need the Church. While we do not pretend that the second marriage is the equal of the first (as reflected in the rite), we nevertheless refuse to force the broken individual to choose between excommunication and a monasticism to which he or she is not called (or for which he or she is not ready)

  10. Divorce is a court proceeding used to dissolve a marriage. During an adversarial divorce, each party to the divorce is represented by their own lawyer. The judge grants the divorce and makes the decisions about the marital assets and child custody. Many times, one or both parties to the divorce are not happy about the judge's decision.

    Dating for divorced men

  11. Let me offer three explanations of the extremely high percentage of annulments being granted. My best theory is that a combination of the three is the correct explanation.

    1. American canon lawyers are too flexible. Rome has criticized the number of annulments being granted, after all.

    2. I assume that just about everybody who applies for an annulment is miserable in the relationship. After all, a couple who is not miserable in the relationship and suspects that they are not validly married is much more likely to seek out the validation of their marriage, if this is open to them. But the sacrament of matrimony provides one with graces for marital life together. Thus, for supernatural reasons, one would expect invalidly married couples to be more miserable. Moreover, couples who have an insufficient understanding and maturity are less likely to be happy together. So for natural reasons as well, one would expect invalidly married couples to be more miserable. So one would expect a strong correlation between invalidity of marriage and relational misery, and hence a strong correlation between invalidity of marriage and one's application of annulment.

    3. This one is very speculative, and I want to emphasize that I am not a canon lawyer. I think that as a result of the widespread culture of divorce and remarriage it may have got more difficult to validly marry. In centuries past, people consenting to marry could simply say to themselves: "We want to do what our parents and grandparents did, what our friends have done, etc." They would easily understand what they were getting into because they would see almost everybody around them getting into that. But in our time, to say "We want to do what our parents did, what our friends have done, etc." is not the same as to say "We want to marry for better and for worse until death doth part." The individual couple needs to shoulder more of the load of clearly understanding on their own what they're getting into. And thus it's harder to validly marry because it's harder to have an understanding of marriage when the culture misunderstands marriage so badly.