Invalid Marriage?

Q. What are the Church’s criteria for arguing that a marriage may be invalid?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:  

The Church’s Code of Canon Law observes, “The matrimonial covenant ... is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Canon 1055). Church teaching also remarks that marriage is a permanent and exclusive union between a man and a woman.

Marriage is a contract — that is, “a promise enforceable by law.” Therefore, should some element be lacking at the time of the marriage, an argument might be made against the validity of the marriage.

What constitutes an invalidating element? Some common reasons are not understanding what is required by consent to marriage, not intending to be open to the possibility of having children, and a lack of freedom.

This latter can be manifested in numerous ways — for example, a woman is pregnant, so a couple feels they “must” marry; or one of the parties chooses to marry simply to escape unhappiness at home. If one of the parties suffers an addiction or severe psychological issue at the time of the marriage, this can also prove an invalidating circumstance. Essential in these cases is the time of the issue; any possibly invalidating element must be demonstrable (not necessarily evident) at the time of marriage.