The annulment process begins when a party petitions the Tribunal for a declaration of nullity by challenging the validity of his/her marriage. The party who initiates the process is referred to as the Petitioner; the other party is referred to as the Respondent. The Tribunal then conducts an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the marriage, most especially when the couple exchanged their vows.
The investigation seeks to establish whether there was ever a marital bond as understood by the Catholic Church. If not, the marriage is considered invalid. A declaration of nullity does not dissolve a bond which already exists. For this reason, an annulment cannot be considered a Catholic divorce.
You and your pastor (or deacon) will set up a time to meet and go over the procedures to submit your case. These are some of the items you will need:
You will also be asked to complete a Petitioner questionnaire. This is an investigation, so be as detailed as possible, avoiding yes or no answers. The more detailed your testimony is, the stronger your case will be. This testimony will also determine on what grounds the case will be submitted. Grounds for annulment are the reason(s) why the party believes the marriage is invalid. The nullity minister will assist you in suggesting the grounds.
Another very important aspect in submitting your case to the Tribunal is your witnesses. We require that you submit at least 2 witnesses; we prefer 3 or more. The more witnesses you have, the easier it is for the court to come to a decision in your case. Furthermore, these witnesses should be people who know you well and can give testimony regarding your courtship, the time of the wedding, and the life of the marriage. Please tell your witnesses that you have submitted their names to the Tribunal.
Once all the paperwork is complete, the nullity minister will submit the case to the Tribunal. The Tribunal will then decide if it has competency to hear the case. In Canon Law, competency refers to jurisdiction, and the consequent ability to hear a case. A Tribunal may have competency in four ways:
Once the Tribunal determines competency, the case is accepted. A judge and case coordinator are then assigned to the case.
At this stage of the annulment process, the Respondent must be cited. As a party to the marriage, he/she must be contacted about the investigation of the marriage. He/she has a right to:
However, you do not have to have any contact with the Respondent. The Tribunal communicates with him/her. We only ask that you provide us with any contact information you might have for him/her.
If the judge(s) renders an "Affirmative" decision, the parties agree with the outcome of the decision after 15 working days the decision will become definitive. Both parties are now free to marry.
If the first instance judge(s) renders a "Negative" decision, the Church still considers these parties to be married and they are not free to marry another party. The Petitioner or the Respondent may appeal this decision to a higher court.