The merging of two unequal co-rotating vortices in a viscous fluid is investigated. Two-dimensional numerical simulations of initially equal sized Lamb-Oseen vortices with differing relative strengths are performed. Results show how the disparity in deformation rates between the vortices alters the interaction. Key physical mechanisms associated with vortex merging are identified. A merging criterion is formulated in terms of the relative timing of core detrainment and destruction. A critical strain parameter is defined to characterize the establishment of core detrainment. This parameter is shown to be directly related to the critical aspect ratio in the case of symmetric merger.