Q. 1. What is the difference between a marriage annulment versus a divorce? It seems to me that a divorce is the worldly term to define a permanent marriage separation while an annulment is the spiritual term to define a spiritual marriage separation. One is recognized by the government while the other is recognized by the Church. Am I correct in this conclusion?
A. 1. In Matthew 19:3-6 (NRSVCE), we read:
"Some Pharisees came to Jesus, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at 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. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”"
"Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." How do we know if a marriage, no matter how legal it is, has been spiritually "joined together" by God?
People get married for many different reasons. Some marry for companionship, convenience (share the rent), by family arrangement, for love, money, power, prestige, property rights, sex, because of an unplanned pregnancy, etc... Are these marriages “ordained by God?”
What about when two fallen away baptised Catholics who disregard the Church's teaching and get married before a Justice of the Peace? Has such a marriage been spiritually joined by God? Have those two "become one flesh” in God’s eyes?
Marriage is a fulfillment of God’s plan, not our own. The Catholic Church affirms the teachings of Jesus, that only God can create a valid marriage. And once the two have been "joined together" by God, such a marriage cannot be separated by any human law.
So when an annulment is being considered, the question become, "Has this union, in fact, been tied together by God, or was it the result of human desires and/or foolishness?"
The Catholic annulment process is like a magnifying glass that searches the original grounds under which the marriage took place. Was God in the picture? Did God bring together the two individuals? Was there really a marriage? No matter how long the couple dwelled together as a married couple, if God did not join together the two spouses, in the eyes of the Church, there never was a marriage.
So what is an annulment? An annulment is a judgment made by the Church, after much investigation and detailed consideration, that no valid marriage ever existed in the first place. When a "valid marriage" never existed in the first place, a "separation" is not necessary because the two never became one in the way that Jesus defines a marriage in Matthew 19:3-6.
Example: Two teenagers got married because of an unexpected pregnancy. It was concluded that the marriage was a better choice than an abortion. This marriage came about because of sex. It was not "joined together" by God. Consequently, the marriage is not valid. There is a reason for obtaining an annulment.