The Formal Case is the most common type of annulment case. It requires a full Tribunal judicial procedure to legally prove that no valid sacramental union ever took place.
A formal case normally involves a union between two baptized persons (but can include a marriage between any two people, baptized or not). An annulment by a formal case is a declaration by a competent ecclesiastical tribunal that, in fact, the parties to a marriage never entered into a valid marriage due to defective consent. If there is no true consent, there is no valid marriage.
Defective consent is centered upon the intentions and capacities of each of the parties to a marriage at the time of the exchange of vows. Someone who had defective consent on the day of the marriage ceremony would not have possessed the minimum level of abilities or intentions for a sacramental union. Before an annulment decision is made, a thorough investigation of the circumstances and events surrounding a marriage ceremony must be completed (the judicial trial). Both the Petitioner and Respondent are asked to give testimony. Knowledgeable witnesses must be contacted for extensive testimony. The specially trained judge in a marriage case must carefully examine all of the testimony, and with moral certainty, decide a case. Moral certainty excludes a well-founded or reasonable doubt.
The presumption of the Church is that a marriage of two baptized persons is a valid sacramental union until the contrary is proven. Due to this presumption, the tribunal must obtain serious evidence of a grave defect in the consent of one of the parties to a marriage before a declaration of nullity can be given. Unlike a civil divorce decree which is concerned with the end of a marriage, the proofs for a declaration of nullity must be rooted in the intentions and abilities of the parties to a marriage at the time of the exchange of vows.
The most common grounds for declaring a marriage invalid include:
- a grave lack of discretion of judgment = i.e. a person must have use of sound reason and mature judgment
- an incapacity to assume the essential obligations of marriage = i.e. a person must have the psychological ability to take on and live out the lifetime obligations of marriage
- total or partial simulation of consent = to simulate consent means to say one thing externally, but to intend something quite different internally; i.e. the person “pretended” to marry
- force and fear = i.e. a person must freely choose to enter into marriage. Force is a grave threat from outside the person, and may be inflicted intentionally or unintentionally. Fear is the internal result of the external force. It must be both grave and compelling, so that a person chooses to marry to escape from this force and fear.
There are other grounds, too, in which a marriage may be declared invalid. For more information on the various grounds, please click here.