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 the design of God who created human nature, marriage is both permanent and exclusive.
DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH RECOGNIZE ALL MARRIAGES AS VALID?
The Catholic Church looks upon marriage as a natural institution. Our law presumes in favor of the validity of all marriages unless and until the opposite has been proved.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO DISSOLVE A VALID MARRIAGE?
The marriage of two unbaptized persons for which a divorce has been granted may -- under conditions which include the petitioner seeking baptism and the other party not wishing to receive baptism -- be recognized by the local bishop as dissoluble. Under these circumstances (the "Pauline Privilege" situation which is based on St. Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 7: 12-16) the now-baptized petitioner is free to enter a marriage which itself dissolves the previous marriage. There are other situations (non-consummation; one party certainly unbaptized throughout the course of common life) for which a person can petition for a dissolution by the Pope. Tribunal Services, of course, prepares these kinds of cases for forwarding to Rome. Beyond these situations, the Catholic Church holds that a marriage once validly entered is indissoluble by any means other than death.
WHAT IS A DECLARATION OF NULLITY OF MARRIAGE?
A declaration of nullity of marriage is a statement, made after a careful study by the Church, that a particular marriage for which a divorce has been granted was not valid.
WHAT ARE SOME REASONS THAT A MARRIAGE MAY BE INVALID?
Catholics are bound to observe "canonical form" for marriage. A Catholic party, when marrying, must have a wedding in accord with these requirements: the expression of marriage consent in the presence of the other party and in the presence of the properly delegated bishop, priest, or deacon, and two witnesses. In the event that there is a good reason for a Catholic not to have this arrangement (for instance, because of a desire of the non-Catholic party to have the wedding in his/her church or other place of worship), the Catholic party may ask for a dispensation from canonical form, in which case, the dispensation having been granted, the marriage is recognized as valid by the Catholic Church. If the Catholic party neither has had a wedding according to canonical form nor has had such a dispensation granted, the marriage is invalid. (Tribunal Services processes these situations as cases of "non-observance of Catholic canonical form.")
We understand that, by natural law, a person can be married to only one spouse at a time. If a person marries a person who is bound to a marriage, the attempted marriage is invalid -- although, depending on the possibility of the death of the third party and the religious status of the parties, the attempted marriage has the possibility of becoming valid upon the death of the third party. If a marriage has been attempted and the spouses are granted a divorce, and if during this period the third party has remained alive, it is possible to declare the attempted marriage null by reason of the natural-law impediment of prior bond or ligamen (li-GAH-men: the Latin word for "bond").
The Catholic Church recognizes the situations of non-observance of form and the impediment of ligamen as possible cases of nullity of marriage. In addition, the Church understands that marriage comes about through the CONSENT of the parties and through no other power. Valid consent is freely elicited by psychologically empowered spouses who agree to enter marriage as an institution ordered by God to comprise a "community of the whole of life" with the exchange of rights to permanence, fidelity, and the possibility of children.
A marriage may be declared invalid if it can be proven that something essential was missing at the time of consent. If either party or both lacked the necessary freedom, understanding, intentions, or ability, the marriage is invalid. It must be stated that a declaration of nullity does not intend to put blame 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 party to a marriage for which a divorce has been granted (and no one else) may petition for the Church to study the former union in hope of obtaining a declaration of nullity.
A NOTE ABOUT JURISDICTION. This note applies only to cases of defective consent (therefore, it does not apply to the dissolutions above described, nor to cases of non-observance of canonical form and ligamen).
A diocesan tribunal may accept only those cases over which it can claim jurisdiction. The Tribunal of Springfield in Illinois can claim jurisdiction over your case if one of the following is true:
1. the wedding was in our diocesan territory;
2. the other party lives in our diocesan territory;
3. you live in our diocesan territory (see qualification below*);
4. most of the witnesses are in our diocesan territory.
*If only the third basis of jurisdiction applies to you, we must consult with the tribunal of the place where the other party lives, provided that both of you live in the territory of the same national conference of Catholic bishops (that is, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, comprising the United States and the Diocese of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands); otherwise, it is not possible for us to claim jurisdiction.
If only the fourth basis of jurisdiction, or only the third and fourth bases of jurisdiction, apply to you, we must consult with the tribunal of the place where the other party lives before we can claim jurisdiction.
If the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois cannot consider your petition due to a lack of jurisdiction, you may use these links to find a diocese which can claim jurisdiction:
Dioceses of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
HOW DOES ONE CONTACT THE TRIBUNAL?
Our contact info.:
Catholic Pastoral Center
1615 West Washington Street
Post Office Box 3187
Springfield, IL 62708-3187
MUST THE OTHER PARTY BE INVOLVED IN THESE PROCESSES?
The respondent is not cited in the "documentary" cases (non-observance of canonical form, ligamen), although obviously the respondent can be a very helpful source of information. In all other cases, it is necessary for the very validity of the process that the respondent's rights be protected -- and so the respondent must be cited. Citation involves sending a certified letter to the respondent and giving the respondent an opportunity to participate. The respondent may choose not to exercise his or her right to participate in the process; if this is the case, the process will continue without any problem. Tribunal Services expects that the petitioner will act in good faith by providing the address of the respondent. If there is a need to search for the respondent, Tribunal Services expects an honest effort by the petitioner to locate the respondent. If the respondent cannot be located, the petitioner should submit a letter to Tribunal Services recounting the steps that were taken to locate the respondent. If the former spouse cannot be found after all reasonable attempts have been made, the tribunal process can begin.
WHAT MUST ONE DO TO PETITION FOR A DISSOLUTION OR A DECLARATION OF NULLITY OF MARRIAGE?
After the initial contact with Tribunal Services, parish leadership, or an advocate, the petitioner will submit a petition with necessary documents (marriage license, divorce decree, baptismal certificates, etc.). The petition form should be completed carefully and thoroughly. (The forms are not available on the web but are obtainable from Tribunal Services, parish leadership, and advocates.)
Non-observance of form cases are processed very quickly. Ligamen cases are also processed quickly depending on the completeness of the information submitted. Dissolutions require the tribunal's contacting of parties and witnesses. Therefore, Pauline cases can take three months. Petrine cases likewise require three months before they are forwarded to Rome; our wait for processing by Rome can be nine months.
WHAT MUST ONE DO TO PETITION FOR A DECLARATION OF NULLITY OF MARRIAGE ON THE BASIS OF DEFECTIVE CONSENT?
After the initial contact with Tribunal Services, parish leadership, or an advocate, the petitioner will submit a petition with necessary documents (marriage license, divorce decree, baptismal certificates, etc.) and a completed 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 IN A DEFECTIVE-CONSENT CASE?
The information submitted is reviewed by the tribunal staff to see whether grounds for nullity can be determined. If the judge finds indications of possible nullity, he accepts the case and determines grounds of nullity. At this time the respondent is cited as described above, and witnesses are contacted.
WHO MAY SERVE AS DEFECTIVE-CONSENT WITNESSES AND WHAT IS THEIR ROLE?
The law of the Church requires that the petitioner name witnesses who will be contacted by Tribunal Services to shed light on the marriage. The respondent also has the right to name witnesses. Witnesses are extremely important. Before witnesses are listed in the petition, the petitioner 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 Tribunal Services 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.
DO ANY OTHER PEOPLE TAKE PART IN THE DEFECTIVE-CONSENT PROCESS?
If the case is being tried on psychological grounds, the judge may have a court expert in psychology evaluate the parties based on the information provided by the parties and witnesses. After the reception of this report, the judge "publishes" the case file; in practice this means that the parties can exercise their right to read the information gathered. Normally the parties exercise this right by coming to the Tribunal Services office to read the file. After the parties have been afforded this opportunity, the file is closed and the case proceeds to the discussion phase, during which the parties' advocates may submit briefs (if requested by the judge) and the defender of the bond must intervene to bring forward reasonable arguments in favor of the validity of the marriage in question.
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 decision is made by a single judge who is ordained (a priest or deacon).
FROM START TO FINISH, HOW LONG DOES A DEFECTIVE-CONSENT PROCESS TAKE?
All that Tribunal Services can verify is how long a process typically takes once the tribunal has received the petition, Marital Dynamics Survey, and related documents. Needless to say, a petitioner will have to take considerable time to prepare the petition and especially the Marital Dynamics Survey; the preparation time will vary with each petitioner. The progress of the case -- once Tribunal Services has received the petition -- depends upon the quality of testimony from witnesses and the speed with which they cooperate. Assuming that an affirmative decision is given by the Springfield tribunal and if it is then ratified by the Court of Appeals, it can be estimated (NOT promised) that the entire process will take at least eight to ten months from the time the petition is received.
WHAT HAPPENS IF AN AFFIRMATIVE DECISION IS GIVEN IN A DEFECTIVE-CONSENT CASE?
If an affirmative decision is given, the case will be reviewed by the Court of Appeals of the Province of Chicago. If the affirmative decision is ratified, the parties are then understood to be free to enter a new marriage (provided nothing else stands in the way). If the affirmative decision is overturned, the case will then be reviewed by the Rota, the worldwide appeals court in Rome.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A NEGATIVE DECISION IS GIVEN IN A DEFECTIVE-CONSENT CASE?
If a negative decision is given, the parties have the right to seek another study of the marriage by the Court of Appeals. 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 negative decision is overturned, however, the case will then be reviewed by the Rota.
WHEN MAY A DATE BE SET FOR A NEW MARRIAGE FOLLOWING AN AFFIRMATIVE DECISION IN A DEFECTIVE-CONSENT CASE?
A date may not be set for a new marriage unless and until an affirmative decision has been ratified by the Court of Appeals and the parties have been notified of this ratification. It is not until the ratification that the parties are considered free to marry. 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?
No. A declaration of nullity is exclusively religious in scope. It is concerned only with the status of persons in the Catholic 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 MARRIAGE?
No. Any marriage entered into in good faith by at least one party, if it is at some point declared null, is recognized in Catholic Church law as a "putative" marriage, which has a special status. Children of putative marriages are understood to be legitimate.
IS THERE A FEE?
As in any court of law, there are court costs. Petitioners are asked to pay a fee in order to meet these costs. The fee is as high as $450 (defective consent) and $440 (Petrine dissolution) and then is much less for the other kinds of cases. The fee can be paid at once or in installments. It must be stressed that the tribunal administers justice regardless of the payment or nonpayment of fees. No one should delay petitioning for a dissolution or declaration of nullity because of money concerns.
For more information...
You may contact judges Father Kevin Laughery or Father Dean Probst, parish leadership, or an advocate; or you may communicate directly with Tribunal Services.
Catholic Pastoral Center
1615 West Washington Street
Post Office Box 3187
Springfield, IL 62708-3187