Unlike a divorce, which states that a marriage that once existed no longer does so, an annulment is a declaration by the Church that no valid sacramental marriage existed, because there was no true Sacrament of Marriage as the Church teaches it from the beginning.
The Roman Catholic Church considers a marriage valid when:
- It is celebrated in a ceremony which is acceptable according to Church law;
- Both parties are free to marry each other;
- Each partner intends, from the beginning of the marriage, to accept God's plan for married life as taught by the Church;
- Each partner has the physical and psychological ability to live out the consent initially given to the marriage.
If any of these requirements is lacking from the beginning of the marriage, then the Tribunal, acting as the bishop's representative, can declare that marriage invalid.
The fact that a marriage is accepted for consideration by the Tribunal is no guarantee that an annulment will be granted. Grounds for annulment and positive proof must both be established.
Church declarations of nullity have no civil effects. Children born of the marriage maintain their legitimate status.