All baptized persons have rights within the society of the Church. The Tribunal exists to vindicate these rights and to serve truth.
Jesus said, "What God has joined together, no one must separate." Catholics do not believe that a civil divorce decree ends a marriage; it merely terminates the legal effects of marriage. The Tribunal's ministry to separated and divorced persons is to uphold and preserve the integrity of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Through a judicial process, the Tribunal is asked to determine whether the previous relationship enjoyed the kind of wholeness, integrity, soundness and health that the Church requires for marriage. Persons in a relationship which never rose to this level are free to marry in the Church.
There are few aspects of Catholic life that raise as many questions and concerns as the annulment process. There are also very few aspects of Church life that touch so many lives in such an intimate way.
The annulment process is intended to be an extension of the healing and reconciling ministry of Jesus Christ toward those who have experienced an unsuccessful marriage.
It is also an opportunity for both parties in a marriage to look at themselves, their marriage and the furutre and evaluate these realities in light of the gospel.
Hopefully, the material that follows will not only assist you with questions regarding this process but also encourage divorced people to seek out the possibility of obtaining an annulment.
What is marriage?
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman for the giving and receiving of love and the procreation and education of children.
Is marriage a sacrament?
Yes, if both parties are baptized, a valid marriage is at the same time the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Can persons of other religious denominations also receive the Sacrament of Matrimony?
Yes, any two people who are validly baptized give the Sacrament of Matrimony to each other through their exchange of consent.
What about a marriage involving one or both of the parties who are not baptized?
Although such a marriage is not considered sacramental, it is presumed to be a natural, valid bond by the Catholic Church.
How can the Church declare a presumably valid marriage null and void?
The Church defines marriage as a covenant by which a man and woman enter into a communion of life and love with each other. Marriage, by its nature, is ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.
It takes more than a ritual, the passing of years or the producing of children to make a marriage valid. This covenant must be entered into responsibly and freely and with the intention that it be permanent. If a party marries for the wrong reasons, if th e will is impaired or if any of the essential elements of marriage are compromised or left out, the marriage is invalid. Or if one or both parties are unable to live out the marriage vows because of serious and debilitating immaturity or because of any ot her psychological reason that was present from the beginning, the marriage is invalid.
Is the Catholic Church compromising its traditional stand on the sacredness and permanence of marriage by granting so many annulments?
By no means! The indissolubility of the Sacrament of Marriage remains a central Catholic teaching. But, while carefully protecting Jesus' teaching of the sacredness of marriage, the Church also is obliged to provide justice for anyone whose marriage has f ailed when it can be shown with moral certainty that the marriage lacked, from its onset, some essential element for a true sacramental bond. Pope Paul VI stated that delayed justice is injustice and streamlined the annulment process.
The Matrimonial Tribunal
What is the Tribunal?
The Matrimonial Tribunal is part of the judicial structure of the Catholic Church. The day-to-day work of the Tribunal is supervised by the Judicial Vicar who is appointed by the Bishop. He must be a priest who is educated in the law of the Church. Other officials of the Tribunal are the Judges, Defenders of the Bond, Auditors, Advocates and Ecclesiastical (Church) Notaries.
What is the purpose of the Tribunal?
The Church, as a visible society, has a right and a need to know and declare who among her members are married and to whom. Marriage is a public event, a religious contract over and above a civil one. Consequently, many believers feel the need for an exte rnal, independent, religious judgment that their marriage was not valid. The annulment process can also be a very healing experience -- healing within one's self, with the Church, with the significant others in our lives and, above all, with the Lord.
Any person who believes that his or her marriage is not valid has the right to challenge its validity.
Can anyone obtain a Church annulment?
No. Each case is decided on its own merit. There must be grounds for nullity recognized in Church law. These grounds must be proven to the satisfaction of the judge who is directed by the requirements of the law regarding what constitutes proof. If after examining the gathered evidence the judge believes that he has obtained moral certitude, he may declare the marriage null and void from its inception.
The Annulment Process
Who may petition for an annulment?
Usually it is a Catholic party or another who wishes to marry a Catholic who would petition the Church for an investigation into the possible nullity of a prior marriage.
When can I petition the Tribunal?
The Tribunal can be petitioned at any time following the civil divorce.
Can I petition to any Tribunal?
Only the Tribunal which has jurisdiction can accept and process a petition for nullity. Jurisdiction is determined by the place where the marriage occurred or by the residence of the former spouse (respondent). The diocese where the applicant (petitioner) resides can obtain jurisdiction with the written or tacit permission of the respondent and of the Tribunal where the respondent resides. If the whereabouts of the respondent is unknown and cannot be obtained, the Tribunal where the marriage occurred or w here the petitioner resides has jurisdiction.
How do I go about making such a petition?
The petitioner would normally make an appointment to see the local Catholic priest or pastoral administrator. He or she will provide the "Formal Petition" form and assist in its being properly completed. The petitioner also has the option of petitioning t he Tribunal directly if he or she has a good reason for doing so. This can be arranged by telephoning the Tribunal Office.
Do I need to present any additional documentation to the Tribunal other than the petition?
Yes. A copy of the civil marriage record and civil judgment of divorce must accompany a petition. In addition, recent baptismal certificates for both the petitioner and respondent should be included (if applicable and obtainable). The unexplained absence of these documents will prevent the opening of the case.
Do I have to appear in person at the Tribunal office?
Yes. After your petition has been submitted and reviewed, an appointment will be arranged for you to meet with a Tribunal official. The purpose of this interview is to enable you to ask any questions that you may have. The interview also affords us the op portunity to ask you for additional information and/or clarifications. This is all done very informally over a cup of coffee, if you like.
What do I have to do after I have been interviewed?
The rest of the process is pretty much in the hands of the Tribunal. We will quietly conduct our investigation while you go about your business. However, if we need your assistance we will contact you. Be sure to notify the Tribunal if you have a change o f address.
Does my former spouse have to be contacted?
Yes, the respondent has a right according to Church law to be informed of the petition and given an opportunity to testify on his or her own behalf. The respondent also has a right to know of the alleged grounds for nullity.
What if my former spouse does not cooperate in the process?
It depends on the nature of the case in question. The respondent's testimony is very important for a balanced view of the marriage. Usually, if the testimony of the witnesses is quality testimony, the case can be concluded successfully without the respond ent's testimony. However, every reasonable effort is made to be sure that the respondent is given a chance to present his or her perspective of why the marriage failed.
Are witnesses necessary?
Absolutely! The Tribunal will ask both parties of the former marriage to provide names and addresses of people who are available to assist the Tribunal in gaining a better understanding of the problems that occurred in the marriage from its inception.
Witnesses should be chosen on the basis of their ability to be objective, on their knowledge of the facts and on their knowledge of one or both parties. These could include parents, family members, friends or counselors. Before their names are submitted t o the Tribunal, they must agree to your request to cooperate in the Tribunal process.
How do the witnesses provide testimony?
Once the witnesses have given their consent to cooperate in the process and once the case is accepted, the Tribunal will mail them the material to guide them in writing their reflections and insights concerning the failure of the marriage. If absolutely n ecessary, the witnesses will be invited to come to the Tribunal Office to give personal testimony.
What about professional witnesses?
Sometimes doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, priests, ministers, etc. have been consulted before or during a marriage in order to assist a person or a couple. If so, you may be asked to sign a form which releases these profess ional witnesses from confidentiality. These witnesses are often very valuable in the study of the marriage in question.
Study & Conclusion
What is the next step?
When the statements of the witnesses and of the respondent have been gathered, an evaluation of the gathered material is made by the officials of the Tribunal. It is at this time that a determination is made whether there is sufficient information to conc lude the case.
If the case is concluded, you and your former spouse have the right to read the case, except for testimony which was specifically designated by a witness to be absolutely confidential. An appointment must be made to review the case. This must be done in t he Tribunal office. No material from the case may be removed or copied!
When is a decision made?
Once the case has been concluded, the Tribunal officials offer their reflections. A decision is then rendered by the assigned judge in the case. When the decision is rendered, you are notified in writing.
If either party or the Defender of the Bond is not in agreement with the decision, the law provides for an "appeal." The request for an appeal must be made in writing to the Tribunal Office within fifteen (15) working days from the date of the sentence no tification letter.
What happens after an annulment is granted and no appeal is made?
Church law requires that every affirmative decision be reviewed by a second panel of judges from the Ecclesiastical Court of Second Instance (Archdiocese of Detroit) before anyone is allowed to enter into a subsequent marriage recognized by the Catholic C hurch. In most cases, this panel reviews the process of the First Instance Tribunal (Diocese of Gaylord) to verify that the proper procedure and law were followed and the decision was correctly rendered. After the review, notification is made of the "Prom ulgation of the Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity" which indicates that two ecclesiastical Courts have rendered affirmative decisions. This document is provided to you when the two courts have completed their work.
If an annulment is granted, does that mean both parties can remarry?
In most cases yes. However, in some cases there may be conditions which either or both parties must fulfill before a Catholic Church marriage can take place. The Church wants to be reasonably certain that the same factors which caused the invalidity of th e previous marriage are no longer present.
In some cases, the Tribunal might require professional counseling or an evaluation by a priest or counselor to verify that both parties have the proper intentions and are capable of assuming the obligations and responsibilities of a new marriage.
Does an annulment have any civil effects?
NO! An annulment is not the denial of an historical fact. All of the civil effects of the divorce should have been settled in the civil courts; therefore, the Church annulment has no effect on child support, property rights, alimony, etc.
Does an annulment affect the legitimacy of children?
NO! The Church considers the children to be a gift from God. Therefore, the law of the Church states that children born of a marriage that is later declared to be invalid are legitimate. Children cannot lose their legitimacy!
Is there a fee for Tribunal services?
No, not in the Gaylord Diocese. The cost of processing a case is paid for from funds collected during the annual Catholic Services Appeal (CSA). All members of the diocese are encouraged to support the work of the Church by contributing to the Catholic Services Appeal. No one is denied or discriminated against who is unable to make a contribution to CSA.
How long does it take to complete a marriage case?
The investigation process itself is not long or complicated. However, the great number of cases that are always before the Tribunal means that it takes an average of ten months to one year to process a case to completion.
Is an annulment always granted?
No. If the judge believes that the grounds have not been proven with moral certitude, a negative decision is given. This means that the validity of the marriage must be upheld.
Are there some cases which are never able to be completed?
Yes. Sometimes the witnesses will not cooperate or sometimes they are not knowledgeable enough to be of any real help to the case. If this cannot be rectified, a "Decree of Abandonment" is given.
What does the petitioner do if the Tribunal is not able to complete a case due to lack of evidence?
The Tribunal can only make a human judgement. To do so, it depends on certain data in the form of documents and testimony. If such data is not available, no judgment can be made and the marriage is to be presumed valid. However, the Tribunal is aware that in some cases, an annulment is probably justified even though it cannot be proven. This is when the petitioner should seek counsel regarding a "coming to terms" with his or her own conscience.
Is a divorced person excommunicated from the Church?
NO! A Catholic is not excommunicated when he or she is divorced. A divorced person is fully and completely a member of the Church.
Can a divorced person receive communion?
Yes. There is nothing in itself that prevents a divorced Catholic from receiving the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance.