Annulments and cohabitation

The Roman Catholic Church holds the position that divorce is never authorized. However, it has also found a convenient way to get around that pesky belief, and still dissolve marriages. How? By simply declaring the marriage never existed. That’s right, after 20 years and 3 kids, the marriage can simply be declared to have never existed. Divorce is justified by simply defining it as “not a divorce.” While this problem is widely recognized, there is a very similar process that Protestant churches are using to accomplish the same end, and it gets far less attention.

If you’re Catholic, the answer to “when is a marriage not a marriage?” is “When it is annulled.”

If you’re Protestant, the answer to the same question is “When we call it cohabitation.”

The Catholic church says “Don’t worry, we can nullify your marriage based on the technicality that it wasn’t officially approved by the church.”

Protestant churches say “Don’t worry, we can nullify your marriage based on the technicality that it wasn’t officially approved by the government.”

Both seem more interested in providing excuses for marriage destruction than in promoting marriage permanence.

Both seem all too happy to justify that which God hates.

I’ve written before that marriage is a joining performed by God, not the state. I think it’s time for a refresher.

And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH ‘? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” —Matthew 19:4-6

Here we see that God’s joining makes a male and a female one flesh. If we have any doubts as to how this is accomplished, Paul clears it up for us.

Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” —1 Corinthians 6:16

It is through the sex act that God joins a man and a woman together in marriage. This is why adultery is such a big deal, punishable by death. It is also why defining cohabitation as “not marriage” is wrong. If God has joined you and made you one flesh, man is not to separate you. Not through divorce, not through annulments, and not through pretending your joining doesn’t constitute a marriage.

It is a marriage.

It is binding.

You shall not dishonor that marriage through the sin of adultery. You shall not dishonor that marriage through the sin of divorce. You shall not dishonor that marriage by pretending it doesn’t exist. If you do any of these, you mock and dishonor not only your marriage, but the sovereign God who performed it.

God is not mocked.

Don’t fall for the trap of cheapening marriage.

Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. —Malachi 2:15

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6 thoughts on “Annulments and cohabitation

  1. I think you are misunderstanding the purpose of annulments here.

    I believe you are correct in your criticism against the Church for allowing annulments at the level they are at; over the last 20 years the rate of annulments has increased and it’s worse coming from the U.S. Often people have to appeal to the Vatican to get an annulment reversed because their marriage did indeed “happen.”

    Let me explain this issue of whether or not a marriage “happens.” The people who get a divorce after 10+ years and have children are playing the system. The Church goes along with it for– well, I’m not really sure. I have my own criticisms against the Church but as a Catholic (and a convert) I understand the purpose of annulments and why they exist.

    I’m going to insert a shameless plug, but it’s an issue I’ve taken some time to research and understand. Annulments were really intended for very rare circumstances where the consent of a person or both people marrying was defective. What does that mean? It means at the time of their marriage, one or both people had no true intention to be a spouse or could not freely give consent. This can happen if one person was having an affair and continued it beyond the wedding date; it can be due to a forced marriage on a person due to parental pressure; this can also apply to cases where a person withholds information directly pertaining to their ability to be married (already married). As I have said, these instances are rare, which is why annulments were rare.

    Annulments were not meant to be “do-overs” for people who want to get married again in the Church. I’m sure what I explained might seem like “technicalities” but receiving consent is integral to the validity of a marriage and its sacramental nature. Since there is no “by the power invested in me, I proclaim you husband and wife” from the priest, the bride and groom are the ones who create the sacrament. There is no sacrament from the State; a sacrament is a mystery which is why it cannot be broken. It is also the reason why at the wedding ceremony the priest asks both people “have you come here freely and without reservation…?” Infidelity is with reservation. Hiding information about already being married is reservation. A lot of annulments from the Church are given to (ironically) convert Catholics in the cases of ligamen where in the previous marriage the appealing spouse did not give their consent (based on an investigation).

    There are a lot of people out there who would like to say because their spouse had a mental disorder, it means their marriage was invalid. There are people out there who say if their spouse contracepts, it means their marriage was invalid. Some even go so far as to say any type of abusive behavior warrants an annulment, even if a spouse wasn’t abusive at the time of marriage or afterwards. Even crazier, some people want to get annulments based on the fact they were baptized “incorrectly.” (Pauline privilege) The list goes on, but in no way are any of these actual reasons to get a divorce and then receive an annulment.

    The Church holds that all marriages are valid marriages until an investigation is conducted to find evidence that the marriage was invalid. The sacramental nature of marriage is from God, not the State. (Don’t get me started on why the Church thinks it needs permission from the State to officiate marriages, though.) What people aim to achieve is to find any reason to prove their consent wasn’t genuine, but the reality is a lot of people know what they are doing on their wedding day. I disagree with using behavior after the wedding as a reason to seek an annulment. People back out of agreements all the time, and they change their minds. Neither is a reason to believe one needs to have a civil divorce and then obtain an annulment.

    For Catholics, a marriage is not a marriage when there was a lack of consent. A lack of consent will be obvious, but people are willing to take irrelevant subtleties and use them to justify an annulment. Btw, I’ve been told I have a case for an annulment since I have no children as a married Catholic and my husband contracepts, but I do not own his sins– only mine. I’m also still married.

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  2. @ Laceagate

    Annulments were really intended for very rare circumstances where the consent of a person or both people marrying was defective.

    And yet we see no Biblical requirement for consent. For example Deut 22:28-29.

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  3. So you’re saying if someone was forced into a marriage, that makes a marriage? You’ve been paying attention to the Coptic women kidnapped by Muslims forced into marriages and converting, right?

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  4. @ Laceagate

    Sure. It’s not a new idea–“shotgun weddings” would never have existed if they weren’t regarded as binding.

    Deuteronomy 21:10-14 and Judges 21 are also relevant here.

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  5. Consent is relevant to the nature of marriage because marriage is a sacrament– you have to participate in the sacrament or else it is just a contract (as many shotgun weddings are).

    You say there is no Biblical requirement for consent. Where is the Biblical requirement to have a wedding ceremony and to exchange vows? If there is no Biblical requirement for consent, why is it Scriptural tradition to seek a parental consent and to have a betrothal? Consent isn’t something new.

    Furthermore, where is the Biblical requirement to have a Biblical requirement? I understand your aim to combat the lawlessness and liberalism of the modern Church regarding marriage and divorce, but I do think you’re going about it incorrectly. If you’re going to tell me raping a woman makes the rapist her husband, or the first man she has sex with is her husband, then I’m not sure we have much of a conversation going on here.

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  6. @ Laceagate

    Consent is relevant to the nature of marriage because marriage is a sacrament– you have to participate in the sacrament or else it is just a contract (as many shotgun weddings are).

    The concept of sacraments was invented out of whole cloth, and is nothing but a vain tradition.

    You say there is no Biblical requirement for consent. Where is the Biblical requirement to have a wedding ceremony and to exchange vows?

    There is none, which I have pointed out on multiple occasions. These things are not wrong, but are also not necessary.

    If there is no Biblical requirement for consent, why is it Scriptural tradition to seek a parental consent and to have a betrothal? Consent isn’t something new.

    Parental consent is not the same as consent. Betrothal is not the same as consent. Also, there is no such thing as “Scriptural tradition.” If it is Scriptural, it is more than tradition. If it is tradition, it is less than scriptural. Tradition is fine when it does not conflict with scripture, but is a man-made and inherently vain institution.

    Furthermore, where is the Biblical requirement to have a Biblical requirement?

    But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 1 Tim 3:14-17

    If you’re going to tell me raping a woman makes the rapist her husband…

    However, he would not listen to her; since he was stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up, go away!” But she said to him, “No, because this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you have done to me!” Yet he would not listen to her. 2 Sam 13:14-16,

    If you’re going to tell me… [that] the first man [a woman] has sex with is her husband…

    That’s exactly what I am saying, and I have said it quite plainly more than once, and provided numerous Scriptures as evidence.

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