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What is an annulment and who can get one?

Pope Francis thinks more of them is a good idea.

Image: Shutterstock/Bacho

THIS WEEK, POPE Francis moved to make it easier for Catholic followers to get an annulment of their marriage.

Or perhaps more accurately, the Pontiff said he wanted to make the option available to more people.

Multiple Catholic tribunals usually make the process lengthy and expensive meaning that in practice it’s much more attainable by the wealthy and powerful.

The Pope says he wants it to be equally accessible for rich and poor believers.

It’s an important issue because Catholic followers who divorce and remarry are deemed to be living in sin in the churches eyes and are not supposed to take communion.

But what is a Catholic annulment and how does it differ to a legal one?

Firstly, both are separate and a church annulment does not have any legal effect.

But the intention of both are the same in that a successful annulment means that the marriage was deemed never to have existed.

Vatican Weddings Pope Francis leaves after a wedding ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Catholic Church

The church says this can be granted when something was gravely wrong at the time of the wedding vows, stopping a valid marriage from starting.

Some reasons for this could include: Absence of consent among one of the parties. Physical violence to secure consent. An ongoing affair at the time of the wedding. A divorce very shortly after the wedding. An abortion prior to bearing other children indicating an unwillingness to procreate.

The State

There are two types of annulment, void marriages and voidable marriage. The first is when the marriage is regarded never having taken place. The second is when the marriage was valid until it is voided.

At least one party must apply for the marriage to be voided and and the courts decide that if the application succeeds. In a void marriage, such an application need not necessarily be made but it is advised.

Some reasons for this could include: When one party was unable to enter into a contract at the time of the marriage. Where at least one partner was already married. Where the parties were too closely related. Where there was a lack of fully informed consent, such as duress or an element of fraud on behalf of a partner. When one or more of the parties is incapable of sexual intercourse

shutterstock_199347314 Source: Shutterstock/Bacho

What do the annulments mean? 

Catholic Church 

In the case of the church the primary effect is that the parties can have remarry in a religious ceremony. If not, the parties are seen by the church as committing adultery.

The State

Legal annulments mean that the rights enjoyed by an individual as a married person are forfeited. A former partner will no longer be entitled to a share of their spouses estate should they die.

A partner does will also lose the right to apply for maintenance payments. Child support payments for children born during the marriage are separate, however. Annulments may also have consequence for married fathers who could lose joint guardianship of a child or children.

Read: Agreeing to disagree could be bad for your relationship>

Read: To thee I do wed: A century of marriage in Ireland >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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