Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Catholic Church’s definition of marriage?
In short, a marriage is a partnership of their whole life between one man and one woman. In this partnership they willingly give of themselves to each other. Marriage is a permanent union, it is a faithful union and a union in which the spouses give each other the right to have children. The formal definition is found in Canon Law:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized. For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.
The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament.
The consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons qualified by law, makes marriage; no human power is able to supply this consent. Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage. All persons not prohibited by law can contract marriage. Marriage possesses the favor of the law; therefore, in case of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven.
What is an annulment?
An Annulment, or a Declaration of Invalidity, is a statement made by the Church Tribunal stating there is evidence that for some reason the marriage investigated may not have been a valid and sacramental marriage. If one has been married and divorced, they must submit a case and obtain this Declaration of Invalidity before they may be allowed to enter into a new marriage in the Catholic Church. The annulment has no civil significance and it does not affect the status of children. It is for the Church to determine if a person is free to marry in the Catholic Church.
Isn’t an annulment, just a “Catholic” divorce?
No. There is a significant difference between a divorce and a Declaration of Invalidity. A divorce is a civil document that terminates all civil bonds of a marriage. The Catholic Church does not recognize a civil divorce as an end to a marriage. The Catholic Church holds that all marriages are valid bonds in the eyes of God and the Church, unless it is proven otherwise. A divorce concerns itself with the end of a civil union between a man and a woman. It settles questions in terms of financial standings and child custody issues from a legal perspective.
Who can apply for a Declaration of Invalidity?
Any person can apply for a Declaration of Invalidity from the Tribunal. You do not have to be of the Catholic faith to file for a Declaration of Invalidity. All people have a right to ask the Church to hear their case. When seeking a Declaration of Invalidity, it is Church policy that one must wait for a period of at least one year after a civil divorce has been granted in hopes reconciliation would have every chance to take place.
How long does it take to get a Declaration of Invalidity?
The Catholic Church has specific rules for the process of filing for a Declaration of Invalidity. One such rule indicates every effort must be made to hear both sides in each case. The petitioner (the person requesting the annulment) has the right to file their case and the respondent (the ex-spouse of the petitioner) also has the right to have their side heard. The procedural rules require the Tribunal allow a certain amount of time for the parties and their witnesses to respond. If a case is given an affirmative decision, a second tribunal must ratify that decision. It does take time. The process usually takes from 9 to 18 months. However, we cannot guarantee that a case will be finished by any particular date.
Will my former spouse be contacted?
Yes. It is mandatory that the former spouse be aware of the process and given the opportunity to respond. A mailing address for the former spouse must be provided. If the location of the former spouse is truly not known, provisions can be made for the case to proceed. This can only be done after a diligent search has been made as to the whereabouts of the former spouse.
How do I go about filing for an annulment?
The annulment process begins with a meeting with the parish priest. He will begin preparing the forms necessary to file for a Declaration of Invalidity. It is important to provide as much detail as possible in these forms. The more information provided, the better chance a just decision will be reached.
What documents do I need to file for a Declaration of Invalidity?
The Tribunal must have several documents to determine a case. We must have a copy of the marriage license, a copy of the divorce decree and if you are a Catholic we must have a copy of your baptismal certificate. If you do not have a copy of your marriage license or divorce decree, it can be obtained by contacting either the county or the state in which the marriage took place. Usually county courthouses are very helpful in providing this information. If you were married in a Catholic Church, you may obtain a marriage certificate from the Catholic Church in which the marriage took place. A copy of the baptismal certificate may be obtained by calling the Church where you were baptized. If you do not know the address, speak to your parish priest when you ask him for help in filing for the Declaration of Invalidity.
Is there a fee for this process?
The fee for this process is currently $ 350.00, which will include a $ 50.00 filing fee required at the time the Declaration of Invalidity is filed. There are expenses for tribunal employees, postage, phone and other office related expenses. Costs not covered by the fee are paid for by parishes practicing United Catholic Stewardship. If this fee is a hardship provisions can be made through the priest you are working with to offset the expenses.
If I file for a Declaration of Invalidity will others get to see my testimony?
Only the petitioner and the respondent have the right to review testimony. If the petitioner or the respondent wish to view the testimony, they must do so in the Tribunal Office. The Tribunal does not reveal the names of any witnesses or their testimony. Each testimonial is typed and the tribunal personnel are sworn to secrecy and cannot reveal the content of cases.
What type of questions will I be asked?
You will be asked to provide detailed information regarding your childhood and questions regarding your state of mind at the time of marriage. You will also be asked questions regarding the early part of your married life which will provide insight into circumstances at the time of the union. For example, you will be asked if there was a problem with alcohol or drugs during the courtship or marriage. The witnesses will be asked similar questions but generally their questions will not be as specific, realizing often only the petitioner and respondent know all the facts of the case.
Who can be a witness?
We ask witnesses be people that would have been familiar with you or your ex-spouse at the time of the marriage. We ask for the names of parents as witnesses and then whomever else you would like to list. Witnesses should be siblings, relatives, friends, clergy or anyone who would be able to testify on your behalf. In all cases children are discouraged as being used as witnesses.