Understanding Marriage and the Annulment Process

Our own experience teaches us that not every human endeavour will be successful. Certainly, when success is hard won it means all the more to us. While we would not wish anyone to fail, it is a fact of life that sometimes our best efforts come up short of the success we had envisaged. Such failure is often the result of unforeseen difficulties, inadequate planning or preparation, the combined pressure of circumstances or just plain bad luck. Very rarely is it the result of a lack of good intention.

When two people decide to marry, it is never done lightly. Most often it is accompanied by the best of intentions and good will. However a divorce rate in Australia that sees some four out of ten marriages fail reminds us that such love and good will may not be enough to guarantee success.

The Church teaches that all weddings correctly performed and consummated create marriages that are presumed to be binding for life. This presumption of validity is the basis from which Church matrimonial courts proceed, just as "presumed innocence" is the basis of our criminal court system. However, not every wedding becomes a true marriage. Like every legal presumption, the presumption that a marriage is binding for life falls away when proof to the contrary is presented to the Church Tribunal.

The Tribunal itself does not annul marriages, any more than a cricket umpire bowls batsmen out. The umpire has no role in the dismissal. He simply adjudges whether the fielding team has dismissed the batsman. When the fielding team appeals the umpire has only two findings open to him, "out" or "not out". So too when the Tribunal receives a request from one of the parties to the marriage to declare it not to have been binding for life, it then thoroughly investigates the circumstances within which it was contracted. The Tribunal then has only two findings open to it; "proven not binding for life" or "not proven" in which case the marriage continues as presumed to be binding for life.

Roman Catholic Theology teaches that at the wedding the couple marry each other. The officiating clergy is simply the Church’s witness, just as the best man and bridesmaid are the community’s witnesses to the public reality of the ceremony. So too, only the husband or wife can challenge the validity of their marriage and ask the Tribunal for a ruling on its status.