Historical Link With Church Law
The concept of annulment draws its heritage from the ecclesiastical courts of England and canon law of the Roman Catholic church. In sharp contrast to Roman law, which considered marriage and its dissolution to be determined by the free will of the parties concerned, the Catholic church believes that a valid marriage entered into by two baptized Christians (classified as "sacramental") cannot be dissolved by any human power. Consequently, if a valid marriage is sacramental and consummated through sexual intercourse, it can be dissolved only by the death of one spouse. Hence the focus on annulment to prove some impediment or defect that would render the contract itself invalid from the outset; this would prove that the marriage never existed.
When an individual falls under the jurisdiction of both state and church law because of an affiliation with a specific religious denomination, the rules of law of both state and church become significant.
For those religious organizations that permit divorce, the usual procedure is to recognize the legal authority of the state to dissolve the marriage in civil court. The denominations would then accept the decree of divorce as valid, thereby freeing both parties to remarry according to the rules of both state and church.
The Roman Catholic church does not allow its members to divorce. If Catholics who previously had exchanged marital vows wish to marry a different partner, a lengthy annulment procedure in the ecclesiastical tribunal is usually required. While the state may allow an individual to remarry within its jurisdiction, the church would forbid a new marriage within the church until an annulment procedure had declared the previous marriage null and void. On the other hand, even though the church has issued a "decree of nullity," the state would require a civil procedure to be completed within the divorce court of the state before allowing either of the parties to enter a new marriage.
See also: CATHOLICISM
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WARREN F. SCHUMACHER (1995) BIBLIOGRAPHY REVISED BY JAMES J. PONZETTI, JR.