I read here point 33.

If a marriage is declared null, does it mean that the marriage never existed?

Not exactly. It means it did not exist in the way the Church says that marriages exist. A declaration of nullity does not deny that a relationship existed. It simply states that the relationship that existed was not what the Church means by marriage.

If it never existed according to what the Church means by marriage does this make their previous "relationship" full of fornicating after the church declare the annulment? Does the annulment make their previous cohabitation full of fornications?

  • Are you alluding to a decree of nullity becoming a default post hoc ruling of adultery? The reason that I ask is that now, regardless of how things worked a century ago, the process that may result in a decree of nullity isn't begun until after a marriage has been dissolved. That would render such a ruling moot. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 20:42
  • 1
    No sin was committed prior to the decree of annulment! If they have relations after the decree, then they have sinned.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 22:24
  • @KenGraham I think you've to an answer there, base (IIRC) on "the favor of law" passage in the Code of Canon Law. (Which I think you have in another answer somewhere?) Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 23:16
  • @KenGraham, if sin wasn't committed prior to the decree then church can't annul it because it's the annulment that removes the protection that marriage provides.
    – Grasper
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:25
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    @Grasper Not true because the bond of marriage is to be presumed valid until proven otherwise.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


The short answer is, “not exactly,” and they are probably not culpable for their sexual relations. In fact, to the degree that each party thinks he is fulfilling his marital obligation to the other, such acts, far from being sinful, would actually be meritorious.

The first observation to be made is that the text from the Diocese of Oakland, it seems to me, needs some clarification. A declaration of nullity (the term “annulment” is never used in Church legal jargon) makes no judgment regarding the sincerity of the parties involved. The marriage tribunal simply analyzes the relationship in question and asks, “Is this relationship a marriage?” If the answer is “yes,” then it is declared “valid;” if the answer is “no,” then it is declared “null” (invalid).

So, in fact, a declaration of nullity affirms that no marriage existed between the parties, or, if you prefer, that the conditions for a marriage were never in place.

As regards the O.P.’s question, as Geremia pointed out, sexual relations between two persons who are not married is called fornication not adultery:

Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2353).

On the other hand,

Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations—even transient ones—they commit adultery (CCC 2380).

However, before coming away with the idea that couples in a putative (but invalid) marriage are living in sin, it is important to recall that couples in a putative marriage usually believe sincerely that they are married while that putative marriage lasts. In that case, they are not (to use the terminology from moral theology) formally committing acts of fornication. In other words, they are not guilty of any personal sin for the mere fact of having sexual relations.* Indeed, since each party probably believes that he is fulfilling his marital obligation to the other (and to the degree the each one is convinced of that), the actions would actually be meritorious.

(It should be noted that one of the possible grounds for a declaration of nullity is the existence of a previous marriage, kept secret from the other party. In that case, the sexual relations would, objectively speaking, be a kind of adultery. Naturally, the degree of culpability would depend on the knowledge and deliberateness with which each party acted.)

* According to Catholic moral theology, three conditions must be fulfilled in order for a person to commit a grave (mortal) sin: (1) the action itself must be gravely immoral, (2) the person must know fully what he is doing, and (3) the person must give full consent of the will (he must be not be motivated by grave fear). Regarding condition (2), the lack of knowledge can be about the particulars of the situation (e.g., when a soldier mistakes a fellow soldier for an enemy and accidentally shoots him), or else about the norm itself (e.g., many Catholics are not aware that contraception is gravely immoral). See CCC 1857. In the case of a putative but invalid marriage, there is clearly a lack of knowledge of the particulars of the situation, even though, objectively speaking, any sexual act would be a kind of fornication (or adultery in a few cases). In such a case, the sexual act would not even entail venial sin (and, to the degree that each spouse thought he was fulfilling his duty to the other, would even be meritorious).

  • Well and thoroughly said. I think it makes a good answer better. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 14:59
  • well, I meant if they fornicate and not commit adultery like you state. But if they sincerely believe the are married how come the catholic church can say otherwise and annul the marriage?
    – Grasper
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:16
  • @Grasper Because for some reason they were mistaken (or possibly, one party was deliberately deceiving the other). For instance (for Catholics), there might be some defect in the so-called canonical form (e.g., they got married before a justice of the peace); there might be some impediment that they discovered only after the wedding; perhaps one of the spouses was hiding an important secret from the other; perhaps their freedom to give their consent was impeded by grave fear (so-called “shotgun weddings”)…. There are a lot of things can can bring about nullity. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:26
  • @Grasper Also, an important point: the Church does not “annul”—that is, she does not dissolve—marriages. She only declares that the necessary conditions for a marriage were never met. (There are a couple of very limited circumstances in which the Church can dissolve a marriage, but that is the general rule.) Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:28
  • @Grasper Also, note what I said: to the degree that that each party thought he was performing his marital duty to the other, he was acting meritoriously. (I am going to add that in to the short answer, actually.) Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:48

All annulments do is judge whether a marriage exists.

Sexual relations between unmarried people is called fornication:

An act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not validly married, although they are free to marry. It is by its nature gravely sinful. (Etym. Latin fornicatio, fornication; from fornix, a vault, arch, brothel.)

See also: Summa Theologica II-II q. 154 a. 2 & passim

  • Technically, the decree of nullity only determines whether or not the marriage was sacramental. There a licit marriages that are not valid due to the lack of the sacrament being present. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 20:45
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    An annulment is a statement within the eyes of the Catholic Church that the marriage is in fact is not valid. Thus no marriage truly existed. It is that simple. As regards the "state "that is another matter.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 22:19
  • I updated my question, you can remove you answer because it's not answering my question.
    – Grasper
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:23
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    @KorvinStarmast All valid marriages between the baptized are sacramental.
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 3:19
  • @Geremia Tribunals at diocese all over the world have to investigate and find facts. It's a process, not a glib assertion. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 5:51

Annulment is a man made rule. once you are married you are married. Annilment basically is encouraging adultry, read the bible where Jesus says 'anyone who divorces his wife and remarries commits adultry' furthurmore anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultry...if a marriage is for life then its for life...we all have a choice believe what you want, but we will all stand before God...i encourage anyone to read his word and decided for yourself...

  • 1
    no, you don't understand it. If someone was forced to marry or had mental issues, he would have a ground for an annulment. Which means the marriage vows was never exchanged. An annulment is not a divorce like you are suggesting but a statement that the marriage has never happened. Please educate yourself about the subject before posting an opinion.
    – Grasper
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 12:08
  • Annulment declares that that no "sacramental" marriage ever existed.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 13:06
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. If you are going to answer a question first please review how to answer a question. Part of that process is to cite sources and support your answer. This isn't a discussion forum where we share opinions, but a question and answer site that provides supported answers. For example, you can go on line and read Catholic rules for marriage (note the Catholicism tag on the question) in the Code of Canon law. Once you have done so, then edit/revise your answer. Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 13:28

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