Not Valid?

Q. I am wondering how it is possible that a marriage of 20 some years and that produced children could be found to be invalid? How can it not be valid?

N.B., via e-mail 

A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D:

Many good people wonder the same thing, especially the children of such a putative marriage.

Still, upon investigation, ecclesiastical tribunals can discover incapacitating impediments or other factors that allow the Church authorities to declare that the marriage attempted 20 years previously was null and void. When that happens, the Church issues a decree of annulment.

Sometimes couples seek a divorce and annulment because marital life has become difficult over time, but difficulties do not mean that the original marital consent was invalid. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI reiterated this message in their yearly addresses to the Roman Rota.

However, declaring a marriage null does not necessarily address or resolve the deeper issues that led to the breakup of the marriage. What is needed is brutal honesty, humility and a spirit of sacrifice if couples are to remain married and find peace and joy in this life.