Many people come to the Tribunal thinking that a marriage, e.g. between two Catholics, can only be "annulled" if it was not consummated. The natural and correct thinking behind such a view is that some essential part of marriage was missing and therefore is not a true marriage in the fullest sense. However, a non-consummated marriage is still considered a valid marriage because it is the consent expressed by the parties on their wedding day that actually brings a marriage into being even if afterwards the marriage itself was not consummated through no malicious or contrary intention on the part of either party. A marriage might not be consummated for a number of reasons, e.g. physical impossibility on the part of a spouse or lack of opportunity (viz. if a marriage takes place in a prison or some similar institution). Consent brings marriage into being and is presumed to have been given validly even in a non-consummated marriage, i.e. freely, with knowledge and a willingness to commit to a life long relationship. Because there is something essential missing in a non consummated marriage it may be referred to the Pope, who, in turn, as the only competent authority, may grant a dissolution of the marriage bond. The dissolution of the marriage bond by the Holy Father is quite different from a declaration of nullity (annulment) issued as a consequence of a canonical judicial nullity process.
The Armagh Inter-Diocesan Marriage Tribunal deals principally with the nullity process. The matter is not referred directly to the Pope but is a treated in a judicial way before a single Judge (permitted only at First Instance with the permission of the Moderator) or, more usually, a panel of three Judges who come to a prudent human judgement whether the invalidity of a marriage is actually proved, i.e. whether a petitioner (the one who introduces the case) has provided proof that the marriage is invalid for a particular reason or number of reasons. Every Tribunal begins with the presumption that a marriage is valid. However, if proofs are presented which the Judge or majority of Judges agree overturn the presumption of validity of consent then an affirmative or CONSTAT decision is given. The first affirmative decision needs to be confirmed by a higher Tribunal before a Decree of Nullity can be issued. To use strict legal language, which better describes what the Church does, a Decree of Nullity (annulment) is never granted, rather, it is issued only in the circumstances described above. Below you will find examples of some of the grounds used in nullity cases. For further information you would be best advised to contact the Tribunal.
As the title of the ground suggests, a marriage can be declared invalid if one entered into marriage with a person who was previously married. The prior bond creates an impediment to a second marriage in the Catholic Church. Consequently, persons who have been married before and have been granted a Decree of Divorce Absolute by the civil authorities are still bound in Church law by the prior bond of that marriage and cannot presume to go ahead and arrange a marriage in the Catholic Church.
Grave Fear / Force
If a person is obliged to enter into a marriage because they are afraid of the serious consequences if they do not...that marriage may be declared invalid because the person did not have sufficient personl freedom to choose whom they married. Similarly, if a person is forced into a marriage that person is robbed of their free will and the consent is invalid.
Grave lack of Discretionary Judgement
This is a frequent ground proposed in many petitions submitted to the Tribunal. It is a generic ground, i.e. the Code (can 1095, 2) does not define it in the strict sense. Instead, the canon must be understood in the context of the Church's understanding of marriage as principally exemplified in the body of jurisprudence on this ground produced by the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota. The Church requires only a basic understanding of what marriage is and involves...it does not set the bar for marriage higher that what is within the capacity of most ordinary individuals. However, it would be fair to say that in some circumstances a person may be grossly immature when they get married or incapable of making a weighed decision about the direction of their future life which, in marriage, will necessarily involve another human being. This canonical ground frequently presents serious questions for a Judge and the Tribunal may have to seek the opinion of an expert witness, such as a trained psychologist, to better enable the court to come to a decision on the matter. It would be fair to say that the meaning of immaturity as understood by the "man in the street" is not precisely the same as that understood in Church jurisprudence and grave lack of discretionary judgement has a particular significance in canon law and jurisprudence. Incapacity to assume the essential obligations of marriage.... If a person cannot, as opposed to will not, assume any one or more of the essential obligations of marriage then the consent to marriage is invalid....i.e. if it is not within a person's capacity or power to establish what marriage is, then they cannot reasonably be expected to be able to give consent to it...it's not within their grasp to do so. So what can we say the essential obligations of marriage necessarily include: from the context in which the canon (can 1095,3) is set and in the context of the Church's understanding of marriage the essential obligations certainly include the capacity to remain faithful to one's partner, to establish a community of life with one's partner, to sustain and confirm the heterosexual nature of marriage. Again, this ground often presents many and varied difficulties for Judges and the use of an expert, unless it would be totally superfluous, would be an inevitable consequence when considering this ground.
Simulation There is total simulation and partial simulation.
Total simulation means that a person simply uses a marriage ceremony with the intention of not entering into marriage as understood by the Church, e.g. a person can simulate consent to marriage solely for the purpose of obtaining a passport or of getting money or of gaining admission to a country, an institution etc. etc.
Partial simulation suggests that a person may intend to be unfaithful to his/her spouse, avoid the possibility of ever having children or ending the marriage with the withdrawal of his/her consent (e.g. divorce mentality). In partial simulation a person suits themselves rather than agreeing and accepting what the Church understands marriage to be. In partial simulation a person denies a right which is intrinsic to marriage to his/her spouse. There is, therefore, no reciprocity or mutual giving and receiving between the parties, rather, a manipulation or restriction by one party of the very nature of marriage.