Who needs a Formal Case for a Declaration of Nullity?

  1. Any marriage between two persons neither of whom was ever baptized in a Catholic Church prior to getting married. Yes, non-Catholics need a Declaration of Nullity from the Catholic Church even though the marriage did not take place in a Catholic Church and neither party was Catholic. 

  2. Any marriage that took place in a Catholic Church between two baptized Catholics.

  3. Any marriage that took place in a Catholic Church between one baptized Catholic and any other person.

 

How long does it take? There is no way to know for sure how long, but, on average, it takes two years from the time the Office of Canonical Services receives the petition. The time involved in reaching a decision in cases seeking a Declaration of Nullity varies, greatly depending on A) whether or not the former spouse replies (cases always move more quickly when the Respondent participates, and there is often great delay in searching for the former spouse and encouraging him or her to participate); B) how quickly and with how much detail witnesses reply; and C) do the facts of the particular case indicate nullity (a marriage that lasted six months and was entered into because the bride was sixteen years old and pregnant has more indications of nullity that a marriage that lasted 25 years and was entered into by two mature 27 year olds and had relatively few problems until the very end).

 

How much does it cost? Since August of 2014, there is no longer any fee for any type of annnulment. The elimination of fees makes the application for an annulment accessible to all people and avoids the impression that one can buy an annulment. Although there are no fees, you should be regularly tithing to your parish, as the Bible commands.  Like the ministry of Jesus was funded by the women who followed Him, so too the good work of the mission of the Catholic Church - including annulments - happens partly because of the obligation we have to give a percentage of our income to God.

 

Concerning the functioning of the Tribunal and its staff, the following are several points to be aware of in processing a Formal Case for a Declaration of Nullity.

 

  1. An Advocate must be appointed. An Advocate is a person experienced in handling petitions for a Declaration of Nullity. Ordinarily this will be a priest, a deacon or a qualified lay person delegated to fulfill this task. The Advocate helps determine the possible grounds for nullity as a part of completing the Preliminary Questionnaire. In that way the Petitioner can prepare the best possible petition in an attempt to prove that the consent given at the time of marriage by one or both parties was invalid. The Tribunal will ultimately determine the correct canonical grounds based on the facts provided, but it is the duty of the Petitioner to prove that the marital consent was invalid.

  2. The Respondent in the case is entitled to the same rights that are extended to a Petitioner in the investigation of the possible nullity of the marriage. Thus, a former spouse has the right to know the grounds on which the case is being pursued, to object to a finding of nullity, to appoint an Advocate, to know who the witnesses are, to designate his or her witnesses, and to review the testimony of witnesses at the Office of Canonical Services.  Thus, it is essential all contact information for the Respondent be provided to our office. The Petitioner does not need to have contact with the Respondent, but our office does.

  3. The evidence on which the request for a Declaration of Nullity is made must be corroborated and substantiated by the testimony of witnesses and/or by other physical evidence—documents. Three or four good witnesses are necessary for each case. A good witness is one who knew the parties before and/or during the marriage, particularly from the beginning. A good witness is one who is willing to provide answers to questionnaires or telephone inquiries relevant to the issues of a particular case. A good witness is one who will reply to questionnaires promptly and not delay the processing of the case. A good witness is one who has first hand knowledge of the facts leading to the failure of the marriage. Naming a person as a witness who can only offer speculation about the failure of the marriage is counterproductive to the case. Only the Tribunal staff, the Petitioner and the Respondent have a right to review, at the Office of Canonical Services, the evidence of the witnesses. 

  4. Experts are used for opinions in some cases. Typically, such witnesses are doctors, psychologists or counselors. Such professionals require a release from confidentiality to discuss a case or supply a report. An authorization for the copying of records may also be needed.

  5. At any point in the trial either the Petitioner or Respondent may be contacted to be interviewed by a member of the staff of the Office of Canonical Services, in some cases by one of the Tribunal Judges. An interview of this type may include a deposition under oath, which will be recorded for the review of the judges.

  6. If an affirmative decision is not possible, given the existing testimony and under the facts of the case as presented, the parties may be notified of a likely negative decision.

  7. In some cases an affirmative decision may be rendered with a condition that one or both of the parties participate in counseling sessions before a subsequent Catholic marriage may be witnessed by a Priest or Deacon. Ordinarily such counseling must be with a Catholic Psychologist or Marriage and Family Therapist familiar with Catholic teaching concerning marriage. 

 

The Petitions for a Formal Case are to be accompanied by the following: 

 

  1. A copy of the Catholic party’s baptismal certificate issued by the parish of baptism within the six months prior to      the filing of the Petition.

  2. A copy of the civil marriage license/certificate for the marriage for which a Declaration of Nullity is sought. Each state or nation will have a different form. We are looking for the form that provides statistical information, in particular which marriage this was for each party, 1st, 2nd, etc. It should also contain the name of the minister or official who performed the ceremony as well as his or her title.

  3. A copy of any church certificate for the marriage for which a Declaration of Nullity is sought if any church wedding was performed. 

  4. A copy of the Final Decree of Judgment of Dissolution, Divorce or Nullity issued by the civil court terminating the civil aspect of the marriage. Each state or nation will have a different form. We are looking for the form that specifies the date on which the marriage is terminated by the civil authority. The copy must bear a stamp or imprint showing that the Final Decree or Judgment has been entered by the court. (We do not want martial settlement agreements or copies of court orders regarding property.)

 

No Petition is to be sent to the Office of Canonical Services unless accompanied by each of these documents. The absence of any of these documents will prevent the case from being processed. In such a situation, the Office of Canonical Services reserves the option of returning the Petition to the Advocate without further action. If a document truly cannot be provided, the Petitioner must supply a complete written explanation for the inability to provide the document - why is it impossible to provide the document (e.g., "the church burned down," or "the marriage was never recorded civilly or in the church") and how the Petitioner knows the event actually took place (e.g., "I must have been baptized because all my siblings were, and I made my First Communion"). If the Petitioner is unable to provide a document, simply write a paragraph explaining why.

 

 

Formal Petition for a

Declaration of Nullity

Formal Petition for a Declaration of Nullity

Sample of Witness Questionnaire