What is Marriage?
Marriage is an intimate community of life and love between a man and a woman which is directed toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. By God's design, marriage is both permanent and exclusive.
Is Every Marriage a Sacrament?
No. Although every valid marriage reflects God's design, not every marriage is a sacrament. To be a sacrament, both partners to the marriage must be baptized in a Christian denomination (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant).
Is Every Marriage Valid?
Although not every marriage is a sacrament, every marriage is presumed to be valid. This presumption, however, is open to contrary proof. As a matter of fact, not every marriage is valid.
What is a Declaration of Nullity?
A declaration of nullity is a statement, made after a careful study by the Church, that a particular broken marriage was not valid.
What Are Some Reasons That a Marriage May be Invalid?
A marriage can be declared invalid if it can be proven that something essential was missing at the time of consent. A valid marriage is freely entered by mature persons who understand and have the ability to assume the essential rights and responsibilities of marriage. If one or both parties lacked the necessary freedom, understanding, intentions, or ability, the marriage is invalid.
If a marriage involves at least one Catholic, it must be celebrated in the presence of an authorized deacon or priest and two witnesses. (This norm, however, may be dispensed.) A marriage celebrated without the deacon or priest and two witnesses (if no dispensation has been given) is invalid.
It must be stated that a declaration of nullity does not intend to put blame for the broken marriage or its invalidity on either party. A declaration of nullity is simply a statement that, for whatever reason, a particular marriage was never valid from the very beginning.
Who May Petition?
Either partner to a broken marriage may petition the Church to study the former union in the hope of obtaining a declaration of nullity.
How Does One Contact the Tribunal?
One may contact the tribunal directly by clicking here or through any priest or pastoral minister.
What Must One Do to Petition for a Declaration of Nullity?
After the initial contact, the person seeking the declaration of nullity (called the Petitioner) will be asked to complete some forms telling about the marriage in question. The first form is called the Petition and the second form is called the Marital Dynamics Survey.
The intent of the Marital Dynamics Survey is to give a comprehensive picture of the marriage. It should be completed carefully and thoroughly. It is quite possible that the outcome of the process will depend upon the accuracy and detail of the account given in this survey.
What Happens Next?
The forms are reviewed by the tribunal staff to see whether grounds for nullity can be determined. Often the petitioner will be asked to come to the tribunal for an interview so that more detailed testimony can be given. Based on these responses, grounds are determined and the case is accepted. At this time the former spouse (called the Respondent) is contacted and given the opportunity to co-operate with the study. This is a crucial step in the process because the law of the Catholic Church is clear that the rights of both parties must be protected in marriage nullity cases. In addition, because the tribunal wishes to obtain a clear picture of the former marriage so that it can give a fair and accurate decision, the cooperation of the former spouse is very important since he or she can add much to that picture.
What if the Former Spouse Will Not Cooperate?
The former spouse may choose not to exercise his or her right to participate in the process. If this is the case, the study of the marriage will continue without any problem.
What if the Former Spouse Cannot be Located?
Because the issue of validity of the marriage affects both spouses, a diligent investigation will be made to locate the former spouse. IF the former spouse cannot be located, the petitioner should submit a letter to the tribunal detailing the reasons why and the steps that were taken to locate the former spouse. IF the former spouse cannot be found after all reasonable attempts have been made, the study of the marriage can begin.
Who May Serve as Witnesses and What is Their Role?
Since marriage is never a completely private affair between two persons, the law of the Church requires that the petitioner name witnesses who will be con-tacted by the tribunal to shed light on the marriage. The respondent also has the right to name witnesses.
Witnesses are extremely important. Before they are suggested to the tribunal, the party must determine their willingness to cooperate and their knowledge of the dynamics of the former marriage. Witnesses should be persons who knew the couple well before and during the marriage. They may be friends, family, counselors, priests, etc. Witnesses will be contacted by mail by the tribunal and asked to answer some questions about the marriage. Their prompt response is crucial if the study of the marriage is to occur in a timely fashion.
Who Decides Whether the Marriage is Valid or Invalid?
Whether or not the marriage is valid or invalid is normally decided by a panel of three judges—persons who are experts in marriage law. Due to a shortage of such personnel, however, in most instances the deci-sion is made by a single judge who is a priest.
What Happens if an Affirmative Decision is Given?
If an affirmative decision is given, the case will be reviewed by the Court of Appeal of the Province of Chicago. If the affirmative decision is ratified, the parties will then be able to enter a new marriage. If the affirmative decision is overturned, the case will then be reviewed by the Roman Rota.
What Happens if a Negative Decision is Given?
If a negative decision is given, the parties have the right to seek another study of the marriage by the Court of Appeal. Their desire for such a review is made known to the tribunal in Springfield.
If the negative decision is upheld, the parties may not enter a new marriage in the Church. If the nega-tive decision is overturned, however, the case will then be reviewed by the Roman Rota.
From Start to Finishi, How Long Does the Process Take?
There is no definite answer to this question. Much depends upon the work load of the tribunal, the quality of testimony from witnesses and the speed with which they cooperate, etc.
If an affirmative decision is given by the Springfield tribunal and if it is then ratified by the Court of Ap-peal, it can be estimated (NOT promised) that the entire process will take about eight to ten months.
When May A Date Be Set for A New Marriage?
A date may be set for a new marriage only after an affirmative decision has been ratified by the Court of Appeal and the parties have been notified of this ratification. Before that time, there is no assurance that the declaration of nullity will be granted. In addition, there is often a requirement placed on a party that he or she receive either psychological or pastoral counseling before entering into another marriage.
Does a Declaration of Nullity Have Any Civil Effects?
Absolutely not. A declaration of nullity is exclu-sively religious in scope. It is concerned only with the status of persons in the Church.
Before a person may approach the tribunal to begin the process for a declaration of nullity, however, the couple must have obtained a civil divorce. The Church will not consider such proceedings before that time.
Does A Declaration of Nullity Affect the Status of Children Born to the Broken Marriage?
Absolutely not. Children born to a marriage which later is declared invalid are considered legitimate in every way. Besides, it is against the practice of the Church to judge children in the light of their parents' marital status, whether that union be valid or invalid.
Is There A Fee?
As in any court of law, there are court costs. Peti-tioners are asked to pay a fee in order to meet these costs. The fee can be paid at once or in install-ments. It must be stressed, however, that this court administers justice regardless of the payment or nonpayment of fees. No one should delay petition-ing for a declaration of nullity because of money concerns.