Documentary cases – application forms

What is an Annulment?

An annulment (decree of nullity) is a declaration by the Church that a marriage is not considered binding for life. This does not mean that the parties are free of the continuing obligations of the union such as the welfare of children. An annulment does not deny that there was a wedding ceremony or erase the relationship that existed. Nor does it make any comment on any moral fault in the parties. Rather, a decree of nullity is a declaration by the Church that, at the time the couple attempted to exchange wedding vows, an essential element was lacking in the consent of at least one of them and thus the union which followed such a consent is not considered to be an obstacle to either party remarrying in the Catholic Church.

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What about the Children?

The status of children is never in question.

Church law states that the children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate (canon 1137). An annulment affects only the marital status of the parties themselves and then only according to Church law.

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Are there any civil effects?

Civil Divorce and Ecclesiastical Annulment are not the same thing.

In Australia ecclesiastical annulments have no civil effects and a civil divorce decree must be obtained before any formal action to investigate a marriage may be taken at a Catholic Tribunal.

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Who may apply?

How to begin the process.

Any divorced Catholic has the right to ask for an investigation of a previous marriage by the appropriate Tribunal of the Church. Any non Catholic divorced person remarried to a Catholic, intending to become a Catholic or intending marriage to a Catholic has the same right. Only a party to the marriage, however, may apply.

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How do I start the process?

The Process continued:

An application is made by phoning the Tribunal offices (in Adelaide 82108225) for an initial interview. A letter of referral from a priest or pastoral worker can be a helpful introduction, but is not necessary.

Following this interview, a preliminary assessment is made, after which the applicant is advised whether the case is considered worth further investigation. If grounds are identified, the applicant is requested to present a comprehensive written submission, according to the guidelines provided by the Tribunal. If the case is accepted for hearing, there will be a further formal interview with the applicant.

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When will I be interviewed?

After you have presented your your application with the written statement of the courtship and marriage, the tribunal Staff will assess the case, establish the grounds and draw up the Petition.  Once this is complete you will be notified by letter and asked to make contact with the Tribunal for a formal interview.  This will happen within six to eight weeks of you submitting your application to the Tribunal Office.

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Will my former spouse be contacted?

It is a requirement of canon law that the other party be informed of the investigation and given the opportunity to participate in the investigation.

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Are witnesses necessary?

Witnesses are very important. The persons submitted as witnesses are normally nominated by the parties to the marriage. They must be willing to be interviewed confidentially by the Tribunal about what they know of the marriage. They are not simply character referees; they must have some knowledge of the marriage under scrutiny.

It may also be necessary to ask the applicant's written permission to obtain relevant medical reports or to request professional evaluation by a psychologist. Due to the very personal nature of the information gathered in nullity cases, every effort is made to preserve confidentiality in the process.

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Are the tribunal records confidential?

Is testimony kept confidential?

Personnel of the Tribunal, who have access to the testimony as part of their work with the process, are bound to keep all information confidential.

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How is a decision reached?

When it is considered by the Tribunal that there is sufficient evidence for a decision to be reached, the formal (and private) sessions of the Tribunal are held. The parties are not required to attend. The defender of the marriage bond is always present to uphold the ideals of the Church on marriage and its permanence. The decision will be made by judges of the Tribunal, and they will declare either that the marriage is certainly invalid or that the evidence does not prove invalidity with certainty and so the presumption that the marriage is valid remains.

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What happens after the Regional Tribunal decision?

The case must be forwarded to the Catholic Appeal Tribunal. This Tribunal has the task of reviewing every decision. If it ratifies the judgement, a decree of nullity is issued. In more complex cases this review may take quite some time and there is no guarantee of an affirmative decision.

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How long does all this take?

Each application is dealt with individually. Every case is different and you should not compare your case with that of someone else because circumstances are different and the witnesses are not always as responsive to the request for an interview.  Therefore time frames can differ significantly from one case to another.Where a person has been married more than once each union needs to be considered separately. Where both parties to a proposed marriage have been previously married each union would need investigation. Due to the number of applications and the varying factors involved in different cases, no time can be specified. Often an applicant is informed of a decision within a year of presenting the written submission to the Tribunal office, but the average time for an outcome is between twelve and eighteen months.

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Can I set a date for the Church?

A booking for a Church wedding should not be made until a personal notification that a person is free to marry has been sent to the celebrant. 

An affirmative decision is never guaranteed until final ratification. Setting a tentative date before a final decision has been given often leads to disappointment since the investigation is a trial of the marriage and, like all trials, the outcome is subject to unforeseen difficulties. Setting a date for a wedding before the final decision is known places the applicant and their proposed partner, not to mention the Tribunal staff, under unreasonable and unnecessary pressure.

Therefore no Priest or Deacon can agree to accept a booking for the wedding.  Parishes are not able to accept a booking for the Church until the annulment process is completed.  The Petitioner is asked to sign a "Disclaimer" which explains that no Catholic Ceremony can take place; no blessing can be given to the couple, until the final ratification is given

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What are the Annulment fees?

The Tribunal requests an initial assessment fee of two hundred dollars ($200) on presentation of the written submission. Prior to the judgement of a case a further five hundred and fifty dollars ($550) is requested. There is an installment plan to assist in the payment of fees and you can discuss this with the Tribunal Staff at the time of your formal interview.

This is a subsidised fee and does not represent the full cost of processing a case.

In difficult financial circumstances, allowances are made for an adjustment of the account or for payment in instalments.

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Is it all worthwhile?

Is every application successful?

Not every application is successful. The decision rests entirely with the Tribunal after reviewing all the evidence. The fact that evidence is taken should not be interpreted as an indication of a favourable decision.

Even where an affirmative decision has been given, before being permitted to marry in the Church, it is quite possible that the applicant will be required to attend counselling together with the future spouse. Such counselling is a prudent requirement to safeguard the hope that the subsequent union will be successful. In cases where an incapacity for marriage has been proven, there may be a requirement that some form of counselling therapy be proven to have been beneficial before remarriage in the Church is possible.

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Where do I obtain the documents?