The confusion may have arisen because a distinction was not clearly made between canonical separation, declaration of nullity and divorce (or dissolution of marriage).
If a couple has been married, Roman Catholic Canon Law has no provision for the dissolution of their marriage (that is, the granting of a divorce) with the obscure exceptions of the Pauline and Petrine Privileges. These Privileges have nothing whatsoever to do with the behaviour of the parties (e.g. adultery, cruelty).
If married parties wish to live separately and apart, Roman Catholic Canon Law expects that they will have canonical reasons for doing so, because Canon 1151 requires that a married couple has the duty âto preserve conjugal living unless a legitimate cause excuses them.â
Canons 1152-3 identify legitimate causes for canonical separation (including adultery and cruelty). A separated couple remains married; their marriage has neither been declared null nor has it been dissolved.
If one of both or the parties wishes to marry another person, he or she would have to obtain a declaration of nullity (which is not a divorce) from the relevant Church authorities. This is a declaration that there is not and had not ever been a marriage, regardless of whether the parties went through a rite of marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. It is not a divorce nor the dissolution of a marriage. It is the acceptance that there were fundamental flaws in the supposed marriage rendering it invalid from the beginning.
Canons 1083-1094 prescribes those âdiriment impedimentsâ the existence of which means that parties purportedly undergoing a marriage are not in fact married. Adultery or domestic violence are not diriment impediments; nothing that occurred after the act of marriage invalidates the marriage. Where any such impediments (e.g. lack of consent, fraud, coercion) existed, no marriage has ever existed, and one or both parties may apply to the Church Tribunal for a declaration of nullity (commonly, but incorrectly, called âan annulmentâ). The Church does not âannulâ or âdissolveâ the marriage: it declares that no marriage has ever existed, therefore this is not a divorce.