On what grounds may the Church declare a marriage invalid?
The Church may pronounce a declaration of nullity of marriage if it can be proved that, at the time of the ceremony, one of the spouses was not free to marry, did not have the use of reason, was suffering from a severe lack of judgment concerning the essential rights and duties of marriage, or for psychological reasons could not assume the essential obligations of marriage. Those who get married must know that marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman, established for the procreation of children by a certain sexual cooperation. The recent development of human sciences facilitates better judgment in some cases.
Here are some legitimate reasons for the recognition of the invalidity of a marriage, as outlined in a document published by the spokesperson of the Bishops of France, July 1992:
- absence of internal freedom for the husband or wife
- force or grave fear imposed from without (Canon 1103)
- lack of intention to get engaged until death
- exclusion of fidelity or of procreation
- severe emotional immaturity
- major impossibility to live in marriage
- absence of judgment
- psychological and physical incapacity to assume the essential obligations of marriage
- deceit or misrepresentation of the person
The fact remains that the Church, faithful to Christ's teaching, believes in the indissolubility of a valid marriage. However, at the request of one of the parties, after a serious investigation, she can declare that a marriage was null from the beginning: that there had never been a marriage.
In some instances it may also be that proof of invalidity cannot be made: "In doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven" (Canon 1060).
Other reasons exist that make a marriage null, for instance, the existence of a previous marriage bond. This is one of the prohibitive impediments leading to recognition of invalidity. Other impediments exist for which a dispensation can be obtained from the bishop, for example in regard to certain family ties of consanguinity.
The Code of Canon Law published in 1983 (Canons 1055ss), contains the Church's law on marriage.
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