Annulment For Marriage

The Tribunal Process
Q. Why is a Church tribunal decision necessary?
A. In simplest terms, if a Catholic wishes to marry in the Church when there has been a previous marriage, then one of the partners in the earlier union must have died or the Church must have issued a declaration of nullity (frequently called an annulment) of the previous marriage.
The Catholic Church views all marriages with respect. It presumes that they are true and valid. Thus, it considers the marriage, for example, of two Protestant, Jewish or even nonbelieving persons to be binding in the eyes of God. These unions are covered by the words of Christ about divorce.
Consequently, a tribunal process is required to establish that an essential ingredient in the relationship was missing from the start of the previous marriage.
Q. What is the procedure if the previous marriage for a Catholic person was outside the Church?
A. The Church requires that a baptized Roman Catholic marry before one of its representatives, usually a priest or deacon, unless special permission was granted otherwise. When a Catholic does not observe this requirement and marries out of the Church (for example, before a justice of the peace) and eventually divorces, the tribunal process involves two steps.
The first step requires securing the Catholic’s baptismal record, a copy of an official document indicating the location of the marriage and the name of the person who performed the ceremony, as well as the divorce decree.
The second step involves completing a relatively brief form that seeks the above information and asks a few additional questions about circumstances concerning the celebration of the marriage.
This form and the supporting documents showing who witnessed the wedding are sent to the diocesan tribunal, which ordinarily processes that application in a few days and returns to the petitioner a declaration of nullity based on what is called a “lack of canonical form.”
The individual is now free to pursue a subsequent marriage within the Church or to have the Church convalidate a civil marriage which has already taken place.
Q. What is the procedure if the previous marriage was a Catholic wedding or a non-Catholic wedding with special permission to be married before someone other than an ordained Catholic clergyman?
A. The tribunal process in these circumstances is termed a “formal case.” It is more complex than the “lack of form” case mentioned above because it examines what happened in the marriage. The procedure takes longer (six months to a year or more, depending on the diocese).
In this type of case, the Church researches not merely the location of a wedding, but also the relationship between spouses before and during the marriage. In the United States, a person may start this process only after obtaining a divorce under civil law. The petitioning individual then works through an extensive, printed inquiry that explores the childhood of both persons, their courtship, the early years of the marriage and what the petitioner considers the major cause of the marital breakup.
The petitioner will need to secure official documents: proof of Baptism, if pertinent; a marriage record and the divorce decree. In addition, names and addresses must be provided of the former spouse or spouses as well as several witnesses who can share their observations and experiences of the courtship and marriage.
The petitioner’s ex-spouse is known as “the respondent” and has the right to give testimony (see "What About the Rights of the Respondent"for more information about a respondent’s rights).
Once all the materials have been assembled, the diocesan tribunal examines the case. Usually, the petitioner is interviewed, and the counsel of a psychologist or therapist can be requested. The initial judgment is then sent to a different tribunal for confirmation.
If both tribunals agree that there are sufficient grounds for nullity, the diocesan tribunal communicates a declaration of nullity to the petitioner. Respondents who are interested and who have cooperated in the process are also notified about the declaration of nullity.
Sometimes cases receive a negative response and petitions are rejected. But a majority of formal cases in the United States receive positive judgments and declarations of nullity are granted.
Q. Does a declaration of nullity make the children illegitimate?
A. No. The parents, now divorced, presumably once obtained a civil license and entered upon a legal marriage. Children from that union are, therefore, their legitimate offspring.
Legitimate, in this sense, means “legal.” The civil divorce and the Church process do not alter this situation; they do not change the parents’ responsibility toward the children. In fact, during tribunal procedures the Church reminds petitioners of their moral obligation to provide for the proper upbringing of their children.
Q. Are there particular grounds for nullity in failed marriages?
A. In technical language, the most common reasons are “severe insufficiency” or “inadequacy of judgment” (also known as a grave lack of due discretion, because of some factor such as young age or pressure to marry in haste). Other reasons include psychological incapacity and the absence of a proper intention to have children, be faithful or remain together until death.

How to Convalidate a Marriage
To obtain the Church’s blessing of a marriage that was not Catholic can be relatively easy. Here are the basic steps required for a couple to validate their marriage: 

1) Contact the local parish for an appointment with the pastor or his delegate to discuss the situation and determine what must be done.
2) Obtain a new copy of the baptismal record for the Catholic party (or for each person, if both are Roman Catholic). Make that request to the parish where the person was baptized, indicating the name of the individual (as well as the names of the parents), date of birth and approximate date of the Baptism. Since this is a standard procedure for Catholic parishes, the copy should be forthcoming almost immediately.
3) If necessary, seek a Church declaration of nullity. (See The Tribunal Process.) A favorable decision is needed before a convalidation can be scheduled.
4) Complete the necessary paperwork (marriage investigation, inquiry form or premarital document) with the pastor or his delegate.
5) Determine the date, time and most suitable type of service.
6) Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before the convalidation ceremony. Quite often, people who were not married in the Church have not been to Confession for a long time. They may not remember how to confess or may be uneasy because of their long absence from this sacrament.

To reduce any uneasiness about going to Confession, I recommend the following: After entering the confessional and hearing the priest say a short prayer, say, “Father, I haven’t been to Confession in a long time. I was not married in the Church, but we will be having our marriage blessed in the next few days. I am not exactly sure when I confessed the last time and don’t remember very well how to do this. But I am sorry. I want to make a new start. Would you help me?”
No doubt the priest will be delighted to assist and send the forgiven person away with a heart as light as a feather.
7) Plan a joyful get-together that will follow the liturgical blessing to celebrate the Church’s recognition of the marriage.