The Annnulment Process
The process begins when a person inquires about an annulment through a parish priest or authorized pastoral minister. Assistance is provided on a parochial level in completing the initial paperwork, which is then sent to the Tribunal by the parish priest/pastoral minister.
A Petitioner must complete the initial petition form and submit a detailed account of the courtship and marriage in question. Only facts which bear on the alleged invalidity of the marriage (details of the courtship and marriage preparations, the history of the marriage, difficulties encountered, causes of separations, and reasons for the final termination of the marriage) need to be highlighted.
A Petitioner must also supply the names and addresses of witnesses (parents, relatives, friends) with direct knowledge of the facts. Witnesses will be contacted by the Tribunal and asked to supply testimony about the courtship and marriage in question.
In addition, several pertinent documents must be submitted: recent baptismal certificates for Catholic parties, the marriage certificate, and the divorce decree, or civil annulment. There is a filing fee of $100.
If the petition is accepted, a Procurator/Advocate will be assigned to -assist the Petitioner in developing the case.
Although the Petitioner need not interact with his or her ex-spouse during the process, the Tribunal will contact the other party to the marriage. Therefore an address for the Respondent must be supplied. The Respondent’s cooperation is not necessary, but he/she must be informed of the process.
When the case is accepted, the Judicial Vicar (the presiding judge of the Tribunal) will assign a date for a formal hearing. He will appoint a judge (or judges) and a Defender of the Bond, who, with the Advocate, will be involved in the formal hearing.
It is the judge's duty to make the final decision in the case.
The Defender of the Bond must highlight for the judge(s) evidence that might favor the validity of the marriage. Testimony from the petitioner and witnesses will be obtained under oath at the hearing. Hearings are conducted in private. The other party will also be asked to appear. S/he is seen at a time other than when the petitioner is present, and does not interact with the petitioner at all.
After the formal hearing, the judge(s) will review the evidence, the formal testimonies, and the opinion of the Defender of the Bond and the Advocate, then render a decision regarding the validity of the marriage.
Church law requires that every case which received an affirmative decision after the formal hearing must be reviewed by a Court of Appeal. The case is examined by a new group of three judges and a Defender of the Bond. When the Court of Appeal concludes its work, the Judicial Vicar informs the parties of the decision. Two affirmative decisions resolve the question of nullity.
If one of the parties or the Defender believes that the judgment in the first instance was unjust, the case may be appealed to a higher court. The only recourse possible after two agreeing decisions is an appeal to the Roman Rota, the highest court of the Catholic Church. This can only be accomplished by submitting new evidence. However, if the Court of Appeal opposes the original decision, the case must be sent to the Roman Rota for final settlement.
In informing both parties of a confirmed affirmative decision, the judge may find it necessary to recommend counseling or impose a prohibition. The recommendation is based on the hope that the person will pursue adequate counseling for the well-being of all parties to a subsequent marriage. A prohibition is given when there is serious doubt that a person is capable of entering a binding union. This restriction requires consultation with the Tribunal before another marriage can be celebrated in the Church.
As would be expected, expenses are incurred in the operation of the Tribunal. The petitioner is expected to bear a fraction of the actual cost involved in processing an annulment case. Contrary to false rumors, money is not a significant consideration in a marriage case.
The ordinary fee is $400, of which $50 must accompany the petition. The remainder is requested only when a case has been accepted for a formal hearing. The petitioner is asked to remit the total fee before the hearing date. If the amount cannot be met before the hearing, arrangements can be made for payment over a period of time. Petitioners should not be deterred by genuine inability to pay. No one is ever rejected for that reason.
When a medical expert is required by the Tribunal, there is an additional fee. Finally, certain cases cannot be judged in the Metropolitan Tribunal, and must be referred to Rome. In this case, Rome determines the offering.
The time involved depends on several factors: the time it takes for the petitioner to fulfill the Tribunal's requirements; obtaining the needed Church, civil and medical records; establishing canonical grounds; the cooperation of the parties; and the large number of cases before the Tribunal.
Whatever can be done to arrive at the truth will be done as quickly as possible. The Tribunal can never guarantee a favorable decision or how long a decision will take. Petitioners should never presume that a case will be resolved within a designated period, and absolutely no definite plans should be made for an upcoming wedding.
The Tribunal staff members try to make themselves as available as possible to persons seeking an annulment. Telephone calls are not the best way to contact the Advocates, who have many appointments and other obligations. Correspondence is best, and will be answered as quickly as possible.
The Tribunal Office is open Monday through Friday, between 8:45 AM and 4:45 PM. When calling or writing, please refer to the case by the names of the parties to the marriage (the man's name followed by the woman's maiden name, e.g., Doe-Smith).
A Church Tribunal is an institution of healing. We are concerned that the individuals who approach us obtain peace of mind and reconciliation with Christ and His Church.
The Tribunal cannot dispense the Lord's mercy carelessly or without reflection. We must follow definite procedures or norms that the Legislator, the Holy Father, gives. Our aim is the salvation of persons, which must be founded on truth and justice. We seek the truth of the causes that led to the breakdown of a marriage, to determine whether the claims of a party to justice are founded on grounds specified in the law. By a compassionate and conscientious probing for truth, we desire to be instruments of the Holy Spirit's love.
Our fervent desire is to bring you the consoling, healing ministry of the Lord, so that His Peace and Joy may be yours again.