"...an official determination by an ecclesiastical tribunal that what appeared to be, from one or more points of view, a valid marriage, was actually not one." --100 Answers to Your Questions on Annulments

This, of course, is the Catholic point of view. If you aren't Catholic, it is not going to make a lot of sense to you, and no one should expect it to. You are likely to think this whole concept hypocritical.

However, from a Catholic's point of view, annulments make perfect sense. You see, in everyone's mind, there are many aspects to a marriage, and in the mind of a Catholic, there is the sacramental aspect. This aspect requires that both the man and the woman have the capacity for marriage and are able to give sufficient consent, and (if at least one party is Catholic), that the Catholic Church's rules are followed (called canonical form). An annulment, in the Catholic sense, means that the sacramental aspect was not present.

What does this mean practically? Well, first of all, there are no guarantees. But in general, annulments might be in order for the following cases:

  • A man and woman get married only because she gets pregnant.
  • A man gets married only to get a woman's money (she is about to die or something).
  • One of the partners has a serious mental illness.
  • A woman gets married to a man who has lied to her about something important, such as his long criminal past.
Here are some other random facts:
  • An annulment does not take a long time (usually about a year).
  • Of about 80,000 annual annulments worldwide, 50,000 of them are from America
  • A person does not have to have a lot of money for an annulment (if you can't afford the processing fees, they will be covered).
  • People with children can get an annulment (my ex had three children from her 1st husband and she received an annulment). This does not make the children "illegitimate".
  • Just because one of the partners has an affair, that does not automatically make them eligible to get an annulment.
A careful process is involved in an annulment, and it is all regulated by Canon Law. The petitioner requests the annulment and the other party is called the respondent. They each have to fill out a questionnaire and can call witnesses. There are many good books on annulments, two that I am familiar with are:
  • 100 Answers to Your Questions on Annulments, by Edward N. Peters, J.D., J.C.D.
  • Annulment: Do you have a case?, by Terence E. Tierney.