ASK FATHER: Can divorcees with “annulments” be prevented from marrying if there are young children?

From a reader…


Something that I have been wondering about is whether or not the Church could deny marrying a couple where one intended spouse was previously married, had children then the Church granted an annulment [declaration of nullity] saying the marriage was invalid. Could it be argued that, for the sake of the children from the first marriage, a new marriage would not be possible until those children were adult age and the damage minimized from a parent’s new marriage and family? I’m not sure I explained my question well but I see so many damaged children struggling with assorted wounds and disorders from marriage and remarriage and new children and new step parents and all that instability. If Amoris Laetitia guides Pastors to consider what’s better for children in new unions, shouldn’t the Church also be mindful of protecting children from [of?] previous unions, even if those first unions were granted annulments?


A monitum (warning) or vetitum (prohibition) is usually only applied to one party or both if one or both of the parties simulated their matrimonial consent (i.e., said “yes,” but meant “no”), and therefore either should not or must not attempt marriage in the future until it is certain that nothing stands in the way of a valid and licit celebration of marriage, in accordance with canon 1066 of the Code of Canon Law; or if there is still present in one party or the other (or both) a serious anomaly or grave affliction of the psyche which rendered the marriage null due to incapacity to contract marriage (e.g., this can be anything from alcoholism or drug addiction to schizophrenia) as under such circumstances it is also necessary to verify ahead of time that any possible future attempt at marriage will not result in an invalid marriage (emphasizing once again the immense importance of canon 1066, the admonitions of which are gravely incumbent upon those who prepare people for marriage).  [Fr. Z adds: Can. 1066: Before a marriage is celebrated, it MUST be EVIDENT that NOTHING stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration. – EMPHASES added!]

I have never heard of anyone who had a marriage declared null — having been declared free to marry and not having monitum or vetitum attached — having their right to marry (ius connubii) impacted or restricted due to the age of any offspring involved.

A Tribunal’s competence is to make a determination about the marriage presented at the request of one or both parties and, if necessary, to make provisions regarding any possibility of a future invalid attempt at marriage.

Ultimately, there is only so much any Tribunal can do. Painful family situations can often be addressed at the parish level or through counseling. Most family dysfunction is beyond the scope of any Tribunal’s competence to address or resolve.

That long-term, delicate, and time-intensive work must be left to others, in other sectors of the Church outside of the judicial branch.

Canon law can only do so much.


In addition to the monitum and vetitum, when a party is bound by a natural bond to a children from a previous union, can. 1071 §1, 3° requires the permission of the local ordinary before it may proceed.

It would be good for that to be spelled out in decrees.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. VexillaRegis says:

    What a coincidence! Just the other day I happened to bump into the father of some small children in the parish, whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. He mentioned that he was now divorced – and had obtained an annulment. That was more information than I would ever ask for, gosh. Something about the whole situation, however, indicated to me, that he was looking for a new wife.

    Well – I thought that he should be forbidden to bring another woman into the lives of his innocent children. He is, and has always been, a bit “over the top” personality wise. [Not your call.]

  2. frjim4321 says:

    “In addition to the monitum and vetitum, when a party is bound by a natural bond to a children from a previous union, can. 1071 §1, 3° requires the permission of the local ordinary before it may proceed.”

    I really appreciate this illumination, since it’s never really been emphasized here.

    On the other hand, I think the permission would pertain to liceity, and not validity.

  3. catholicjen says:

    Speaking as somebody who lived as a child in the sort of situation described in the OP… I don’t think these people can or should be forbidden from entering into new marriages. “Free to marry” means exactly that.

    But I do think they need to be educated about the chaotic lifestyle their children entered after the divorce, and how new layers of chaos will be added to their lives as each parent remarries (and, Lord forbid, divorces again, remarries, and so forth). The Ruth Institute has a lot of information about this problem, with books and other resources that describe what happens to the children in these situations. It is not a pretty picture, and many parents bury their heads in the sand about it, to the children’s detriment. Dr. Laura also urges single parents to forego dating until the children are 18, because it is just too chaotic for the children.

  4. chesterton63 says:

    It seems to me that, today, regarding marriage and christian life in general, there is a lot of discussion about what is “legal” and not enough concern about what is “true, noble and beautiful”.
    If someone contracts an invalid marriage, he/she is committing a sacrilege, is very gravely damaging his/her spiritual life, jeopadizing his/her eternal fate, and harming the lives of the children that might be born in that false marriage. But this seems of little concern to a lot of people.
    Pope Francis himself said he believes that a great part, if not a mojority, of marriages are null. If he really does believe that, I’d have expected that his first concern would have been to take any possible measure to prevent such null marriages, even though such prevention would be cause of conflict against the world. This should come even before the adequate pastoral care of remarried people, because when in a boat there is a large flaw, your first concern is repairing the flaw, and only afterwards you take care of the water that poured in.
    But, after the two synods, I haven’t seen any important measure to avoid such null marriages, just some generic recommendation that there should be a good preparation for the marriage.
    Did I miss something?
    Also, it seems to me that there is little consideration for the spouses that have been unjustly abandoned (in the case of men, many of them even lost their house and the possibility of cohabitating with their own children; some eventually committed suicide), and nevertheless stay faithful to their marriage. These people seem to be considered more of a problem than an example. But shouldn’t the Church always stay on the side of the oppressed?
    Then, to come back to my first sentence, let’s put it clear: there is no way to really prevent remarried people not living in continence from getting the Holy Eucharist: it’s enough for them to attend the Mass in a church where they are not known; or, they can falsely claim to be living in continence, as long as a child is not conceived; and if one is conceived, say that that was just a moment of weakness and start again. Or, they may try the annulment process, which, with the new rules, is likely to have success; and, if necessary, lie about the first marriage to be sure.
    But, in all those case, as St Paul teaches, these people eat and drink their own condemnation.
    I believe that there should be a severe warning to the sinners (obviously, not just “these” sinners) that they need to repent and change life before going to the Communion. And that, if they take the Holy Eucharist without satisfying the proper conditions, it is not a medicine, but a poison.
    Sadly, this kind of warning seems to be missing nowadays in a lot of parishes (surely it’s missing in mine).
    Yet, there is one work of spiritual mercy that says “to admonish the sinner”, but none saying “to accompany the sinner”…

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  6. Rebekahjoyce says:

    On the subject of damage on children from remarriage. In my observations of working in child care and early education for 15ish years, the damage comes from the separation (divorce, annulment, or other). But the situations that can damage children are endless. A good loving marriage be it the first or second usually is beneficial for the child, this opinion also coming from my observations.

    This only speaks to the emotional and physical needs of the child not the spiritual needs or formation of the child or adult.

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