Marriage Nullity Common Questions

COMMON QUESTIONS

The Tribunal Office understands that seeking a declaration of nullity (formerly known as an annulment) raises a number of questions and is often a misunderstood process.  See below some frequently asked questions and answers:

What about the children?

Are the children of a marriage declared null considered illegitimate?”  This is a question that is asked frequently and sadly is misunderstood by many people.  The answer is no.  The church law is very clear and definite on this point. Church Law states that the children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate (Canon 1137). The declaration of nullity has no effect whatsoever on the legitimacy of children of a marriage.

How does a Decree of Nullity differ from a Divorce?

A divorce dissolves the bond recognised in civil law.  A decree of nullity declares that even though the correct wedding formalities were observed and even though children may have resulted from the union the sacramental bond of marriage as understood by the Catholic Church did not come into being.

A decree of nullity does not claim that there was no love between the parties or that they were lacking in sincerity, effort or commitment. Once a decree of nullity is declared the parties are free to marry according to the rite of the Catholic Church; once all requirements of law have been fulfilled.

But I’m not a Catholic – do I still have to get an annulment?

The Catholic Church cannot accept that a civil divorce alone frees people to enter a marriage according to the rites of the Catholic Church.  This applies to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

When a person of any or even no religion has been married anywhere (either civilly or in a church) and wishes to marry again in the Catholic Church and the former spouse is still alive it is necessary to obtain a declaration from the Catholic Church Tribunal on their freedom to marry in the Catholic Church.

Who can approach the Tribunal?

Anyone Catholic or non-Catholic who wishes to clarify their marital status according to the law of the Catholic Church is free to approach the Tribunal.

Is the former spouse contacted?

Yes. It is a requirement of canon law that justice demands that the other party knows of the proceedings and be offered the opportunity to participate. If the former spouse chooses not to participate this is no barrier to the case proceeding.

Are witnesses necessary?

Yes. Witnesses are nominated by the parties to the marriage. They are usually people who have some knowledge of the persons of the marriage and of the marriage itself. Witnesses are interviewed confidentially by the Tribunal.

How is a decision reached?

When it is considered by the Tribunal that there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to judgement formal (private) sessions of the Tribunal are held. The parties are not required to attend. The marriage bond is defended by a Defender who upholds the ideals of the Church’s teachings on the Sacrament of Marriage.  The decision is then made by judges of the Tribunal who declare with moral certainty either that a marriage is sacramentally invalid or that the evidence is not sufficient to overturn the presumption that the marriage is valid.

Is every application successful?

No. The decision rests with the Tribunal after reviewing all the evidence. Sometimes cases are unsuccessful due to insufficient evidence or the evidence does not prove the marriage is invalid.

How long does it take?

Each case is dealt with individually. It is quite incorrect to believe that every case takes years. Sometimes less than a year is required – usually the case should be completed in no more than 18 months.

It is important to remember that no arrangements should be made for the celebration of a new marriage in the Catholic Church until the final decision has been given.

What if I am not baptised?

The above questions and answers address the concerns of a baptised person whose marriage has ended. Cases for unbaptised persons are handled differently. The staff of the Tribunal can advise you as to which process of investigation will be necessary in considering your case.

What is the cost involved?

The Tribunal charges differ according to the different types of cases. It must be stressed that financial difficulties do not hinder the processing of any case.