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Frequently Asked Questions About Annulments (Declarations of Nullity)

Annulments [Accordion]

According to Catholic Church teaching, a true and consummated marriage between two baptized persons is permanently binding and cannot be dissolved. This is the Law of God according to the evidence found in the Old Testament, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Writings of St. Paul and two thousand years of Christian tradition.

The Catholic Church understands marriage to be an enduring and exclusive partnership between a man and a woman for the giving and receiving of love and the procreation and education of children.

For two persons who have been validly baptized in other Christian denominations, other than the Catholic Church, and have contracted marriage, such a marriage is considered to be a sacrament.

A divorced Catholic remains a member of the Catholic Church in good standing.

A divorced person of any Christian denomination, or having no religious affiliation, is free to marry in the Catholic Church only after he or she has received a declaration of nullity of his or her marriage.

When it can be proved that a specific marriage is not a valid and binding marriage, then it is possible for the Tribunal to declare that the Parties are free to marry in the Catholic Church.

Although not every marriage is a sacrament, every marriage (Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Non-Believer, etc.) is presumed to be a valid marriage. The good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society, the Church, etc.) demands this presumption.

In every presumption, the opposite may be true. If sufficient evidence can be shown that a particular marriage is invalid, the original presumption no longer holds.

The law of the Catholic Church, Canon Law, requires the existence of a Tribunal in every Catholic Diocese of the world. The Tribunal of the Diocese of Joliet is under the direction of the Bishop and is supervised by his delegates (i.e. Judicial Vicar). The staff of specially trained and experienced priests, religious, and lay persons offers assistance to persons who request that the Church investigate a marriage, in order to determine whether or not there is any possibility of a declaration of nullity. The Tribunal does not seek to determine the “guilt” of either party during the investigation of the marriage.

The investigation of a marriage determines whether or not there is an acceptable ground(s), according to Canon Law, that would invalidate a marriage and whether or not this particular ground(s) can be proved with moral certainty to have actually existed at the moment of consent.

Everyone has the right to apply for an investigation of his or her marriage. This application must be made to a Tribunal which has proper jurisdiction, i.e. the Tribunal in the Diocese where the marriage in question took place, or in the Tribunal of the Diocese where either of the two Parties currently live.

No, a declaration of nullity does not affect the legitimacy of the children. Church Law specifically states that children born of a marriage that has been declared null are always considered legitimate.

In the United States, a Church annulment has no civil effect. Therefore, a civil divorce must be obtained first before one may petition the Church for a declaration of nullity.

Church Law requires that the Petitioner and the Respondent be given the opportunity to know the statements of each other at the Tribunal. Due to the nature of the information, every effort is made to preserve confidentiality, and it is the policy of the Tribunal to disclose this information only to those persons who are duly authorized by the Code of Canon Law.

A Petitioner for a Church declaration of nullity should contact a priest or deacon, or pastoral minister who will give the Petitioner the proper petition forms. Upon completion of the forms, they are to be sent to the Tribunal.

Church Law requires that the testimony of the Petitioner and the Respondent must be corroborated. The number of witnesses will depend on the nature of the case and the knowledgeability of witnesses. The Tribunal requires a minimum of two witnesses. Anyone, including family, relatives, and friends who knew the Petitioner and/or Respondent during their courtship and/or marital union can act as a witness. Ordinarily, children of the Parties are not to be included as witnesses. The Tribunal will contact the witnesses by mail and send them a questionnaire. The Petitioner and/or Respondent should inform potential witnesses that their names have been submitted and encourage them to offer prompt and complete answers to the questionnaire.

In some cases doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, priests or ministers have been consulted before or during the marriage in order to assist a person or a couple. Should this be the case, the complete name(s) and address(es) of the professional(s) must be provided and a professional release form will be sent to the Party involved for his/her signature.

At times, it is necessary for the Court to utilize the services of an expert who is a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Such experts provide the Tribunal with an evaluation of the Petitioner and/or testimony in the case.

The cost of the expert is, at present, $300.00. It is understood that the fee could be changed in the future.

Please note that no case will be rejected because of the petitioner's inability to pay this fee.

According to Church Law, the Tribunal must inform the former spouse that the investigation has been initiated, to offer him/her a chance to respond to the Petitioner’s allegation of the marriage’s invalidity, to offer him/her the chance to provide testimony and to name his/her own witnesses. The Petitioner must provide an address of the former spouse to the Tribunal.

After the evidence has been gathered from the Petitioner, Respondent and witnesses the Defender of the Marriage Bond offers an opinion on the case. Then, after a review of all the evidence, either a sole Judge or a panel of three Judges, will render a decision. The Parties are free to formally appeal a decision to the Court of Appeals or to the Roman Rota.

The Judge(s) may place a ‘prohibition’ for one or both Parties to enter into a future marriage in the Church. A prohibition is given in cases where there is serious doubt that a person is currently capable of entering into a binding union. This restriction requires consultation with the Tribunal before another marriage can be celebrated in the Church. Such a restriction is lifted when the Party would obtain counseling, i.e. a professional or ecclesiastical declaration that he/she is prepared to contract a canonical marriage, as well as premarital preparation/counseling with any potential spouse.

No parish minister is free to set a date for a wedding in the Church until after the notification of an affirmative decision has been received, and all requirements of the decision have been met.

It is a possibility that an annulment might not be granted if the evidence is insufficient to prove the nullity of the marriage.

Also, if an affirmative decision is appealed, a proposed marriage date will depend on the completion of the appeal process.

Sometimes it is possible to process a case by making use of documentation which pertains to the marriage in question. This is the case when a Catholic contracts a marriage outside of the Catholic Church and failed to obtain permission to do so.

When both Parties in a marriage remain unbaptized during the entire duration of their common married life, it is possible to obtain a Pauline Privilege which permits marriage in the Catholic Church after the reception of baptism. The prior marriage is considered to then be dissolved, rather than declared null.

A Petrine Privilege relates to a marriage in which only one person is baptized and one of the Parties requests the dissolution of the marriage “in favor of the faith”. The request is made to Rome. Such requests are granted for a person who wishes to marry a Catholic, or for a Catholic who had married a non-baptized person. In this instance, the marriage is dissolved and not considered to be null.

A petition for a declaration of nullity will be investigated without any obligatory cost on the part of the Petitioner. However, if the Petitioner is able, we ask him/her to make an offering to help defray the Tribunal expenses. The current average cost for processing a case is $1,500.