Few topics are more sensitive than ecclesiastical declarations of nullity, or, in common language, "annulments." This declaration is granted by an ecclesiastical tribunal competent in law to answer the question, "Was a particular marriage, now ended in civil divorce, valid or invalid?" That is to say, does the marriage covenant still bind the husband and wife to each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death parts them, despite the decision of a civil divorce court. If the tribunal declares that the civilly ended marriage was not permanently binding (i.e., that it was invalid) from its very beginning, both parties are then free to enter a new and valid marriage. However, at times special counseling may be required as part of the preparation for this new marriage.
While recognizing that with the exchange of marital vows God takes two persons and makes them one flesh, the Church knows that there are times when an element necessary for a valid marriage is missing. If a person claims that something was missing from a marriage to make it invalid, that person has the right to seek the assistance of a tribunal. Most often the person asking for a declaration of nullity will be a Catholic or a person who is now seeking to marry a Catholic. Whether the parties to the marriage in question were Catholic or not, questions and answers concerning "annulments" are the same; however, because of different needs and understandings, the answers may be slightly nuanced.