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The difference between divorce and annulment

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 09, 2014

A great many people have trouble understanding the difference between divorce and annulment. Some even refer to annulments as “Catholic divorce”. The confusion has been exacerbated by abuses in the annulment process. Whenever the discontents of the couple after marrying lead a tribunal, in effect, to invent pre-existing impediments to get them off the hook, this confusion grows worse.

But divorce and annulment are very different things, actually opposite things. A divorce purports to dissolve a marriage. An annulment is a determination that there is no marriage to dissolve. And the reason bad tribunal work obscures the difference is simply this: A divorce proceeding must focus exclusively on the condition of the couple after the marriage ceremony. An annulment proceeding must focus exclusively on the condition of the couple before and during the marriage cermony.

In any process of divorce, the only question is: What deficiencies have emerged since you took your vows? In any process of annulment, the only question is: What deficiencies were present before and during your vows? If those deficiencies were sufficient to make matrimony impossible, then the vows accomplished nothing; marriage never really took place. As such, the putative marriage is declared non-existent. In other words, it is null.


Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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