Information about the Process of Declaration of Nullity of Marriage
WHAT IS MARRIAGE?
The Catholic Church
believes that marriage is an exclusive and permanent partnership between a man
and a woman whose goal is for the good of the spouses and the procreation and
education of children.
For a man and a
woman, both of whom have been baptized, a valid marriage is also a Sacrament.
The Church believes
that every valid sacramental marriage that has been consummated is
indissoluble. This is the God’s law according to the evidence found in the
Scriptures and the Law of the Church.
Although not every
marriage is a Sacrament, all marriages - or at least every marriage celebrated
for the first time between the parties - are presumed valid. The good of all
concerned (spouses, children, family, society, Church, etc.), demand that
Every marriage is
presumed to be valid, whether it is contracted between Catholics or
non-Catholics. But this assumption may be incorrect and marriage itself, if it
contains a defect since its inception, may eventually be declared invalid. This
declaration of invalidity made by the Church is what is commonly called marriage
Nullity or an Annulment.
WHAT IS A CHURCH TRIBUNAL?
Church law provides
for the existence of a Tribunal in every diocese in the world. The Office of the
Tribunal is the judicial branch of the Archdiocese and is responsible for the
administration of justice. One of the primary functions of the Tribunal is
examining a request for an ecclesiastical declaration of nullity of marriage.
This involves research and interpretation of facts that may lead to a possible
declaration of nullity of a marriage in particular. The Tribunal of the
Archdiocese of Boston, under the leadership of Archbishop, is supervised by his
delegate, the Judicial Vicar. This, together with an experienced and specially
trained team formed by priests, religious and laity, offers assistance to those
who want the Church to examine their case in order to determine whether there
is the possibility of declaring the nullity of their marriage.
WHAT DOES THE STUDY
The study consists
of an investigation to determine whether or not a reason (cause/ground)
acceptable by the law of the Church might have prevented the marriage
celebrated to be valid. Specialists in Canon Law lead a process, which includes
interviews, witnesses and, sometimes, the intervention of a Court Expert, to evaluate
whether that particular reason (cause/ground) of invalidity was present at the
time of marriage and vitiated the consent of the spouses. The Judges’ assessment
is based on moral certainty.
directives used by the Tribunal are found in the teachings of the Gospel of
Jesus Christ and the law of the Catholic Church. The Tribunal's work tends
toward that end by the diligent protection of the rights of a man and a woman
in a particular marriage, as well as the rights of the Church that Jesus Christ
has entrusted for the protection and care of the Sacrament of Matrimony. That
is why the Tribunal holds the presumption
of validity of marriage until otherwise (invalidity) is proven after evaluating the marital
history, observing the existence of a cause, and assessing the evidence
HOW DO YOU BEGIN A
Either spouse can begin
a study of their case, making first contact with a priest, deacon or pastoral
associate (preferably in the home parish), who, as sponsor, will help the person
called “the Petitioner” to complete a form entitled Request for Tribunal Study.
After completing this form, it must be
signed by the Petitioner and the Sponsor (the person of the parish who helped
the Petitioner) who will submit that request to the Tribunal for a preliminary
The Boston Tribunal
can consider the case if the marriage was celebrated in the Archdiocese of
Boston or at least one of the parties lives within the territory of the
Archdiocese of Boston.
DOES THE EX -
SPOUSE HAVE TO BE CONTACTED?
Yes. Since in the
law it is mandatory, please take into account that the Tribunal will formally
contact your ex-spouse.
Once the Tribunal
accepts the request to assess the case, the other spouse, called “the
Respondent”, must be formally notified about the existence of the request. Our
office sends the notification. She/he will be offered the opportunity to
present their own history of marriage, and also present witnesses if he/she
chooses. The law of the Church requires that the rights of both spouses will be
It is often
beneficial if the petitioning party informs the other party (called the
Respondent) about the intention to submit the request. Informing the other
party, even before filing the case, can help him/her understand in advance the reason
for the process and not misinterpret the scope of this presentation.
The Petitioner must provide the current and
complete address of the other party. If it is not possible to know the current address of the former spouse,
notify your Sponsor. You or your Sponsor can start an Internet search. Should
it be unsuccessful, you must provide the address of a relative or acquaintance
through which this person may be contacted.
WITNESSES ARE NECESSARY
Your statement must
be corroborated by witnesses. Witnesses are required by the Church’s law to
assist the Tribunal to have a thorough understanding of each spouse, the marriage
and the reasons for its failure. Before presenting the process, witnesses
should be asked if they are willing to cooperate with the process by offering
information in writing according to the guidelines that the same Tribunal will
mail to them. Witnesses should be warned that the Tribunal will contact and ask
them to participate.
CAN YOU PRESENT
professionals - doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, priests,
ministers, rabbis, etc. - who were consulted or helped either spouse, or both,
before or during marriage, are qualifiedwitnesses. If the party authorizes
the lifting of professional confidentiality through a special form that will be
provided by the Tribunal, these professionals can be asked to provide a
confidential report, which generally is of great value for the study of the case.
In some cases the
intervention of an expert may be
necessary. An assessment or evaluation by a Court Expert can introduce
additional information or serve as a professional opinion when evaluating the case.
This practice is usually followed for marriages
of long duration or where the evidence of the witnesses is inconclusive.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT
TYPES OF PROCESSES?
There are different
types of processes. Some of them are reserved for the Pope who is the only one
who can dissolve a marriage. Others may be determined by the Bishop or by the Tribunal.
Until recently, the
majority of the processes not reserved for the Pope were handled through ordinary
proceedings by the Tribunal. His Holiness Pope Francis, on December 8, 2015,
promulgated the motu proprio Mitis Iudex
Dominus Iesus, introducing new laws which amended part of the marriage
procedural law. An abbreviated process was
thus created for assessing cases of matrimonial nullity applicable to marriage histories
where, given the obviousness of the facts, the visible existence of a decree of
invalidity, based on the consent of both parties, the ordinary process could be
avoided. This process, however, should not be used simply because the facts may
seem to be easily proven or because people want to plan a wedding.
The new abbreviated
process can only be used if the following conditions exist:
- The reason (cause)
of the nullity of marriage appears to be clear and obvious according to Canon
Law (for example a marriage celebrated to give/obtain immigration status; a
short marriage of a few months in which a party voluntarily excludes an
essential element such as fidelity, etc.)
- The other party
(former spouse) of the marriage (called Respondent) must have access to the
request (Libellus) and understand that through this petition it is requested
that the marriage contracted by both may be declared invalid. He/she must sign
the formal request stating that he/she agrees with the views expressed in it,
or at least is not opposed to the request.
- The facts of the marital
history, that give rise to degrees of invalidity and that can be treated by the
briefer process should be strengthened by adequate testimony and/or authentic
If these three
conditions are not present, the briefer process cannot be applied and the case
should be tried in the ordinary process. That is why, to present the case to be
tried in the briefer process without these three conditions, will result only in
a loss of time since the normal application will be returned to be completed in
the regular process. Therefore, the application form for a briefer process can
be presented only if you and your Sponsor (priest, deacon or pastoral
associate) are confident that the case can qualify for this process because it
has all the conditions listed above. Otherwise, you should ask your Sponsor to
help you complete the form to initiate a regular process.
Note that the Tribunal
reserves the final decision whether your case qualifies or not for the briefer
process. If your case does not qualify for this process, it will be dealt with
in the ordinary process.
HOW IS THE ASSESSMENT
PROCEDURE CARRIED FORWARD?
If the case is
treated in the briefer process, the Bishop, who is sole judge with two
advisers, can rule after all documentation and probative material is evaluated.
If the case is
tried in the ordinary process, the appointing of a tribunal is required. Officers assigned to the case will be
appointed: lawyers for the parties, the Defender of the Bond - who safeguards
the welfare of marriage and guarantees that the rights of both parties are
protected - and the judge or judges who will form the college. There will be an
instruction during which the other party shall be notified and eventually
receive his/her testimony as well as the witnesses. When all the information
deemed necessary has been gathered, the Judges of the Tribunal will make an
assessment aimed at whether the case is ready to proceed to a hearing and discussion
of the case. A date will then be set for the hearing. The summons to appear
before the Tribunal shall be given not less than two weeks in advance. The
cases will be heard in the order they were received, at the earliest possible
After the hearing,
the Defender of the Bond and lawyers offer their arguments concerning the case.
After reviewing all the material the Judges render a decision.
After the Papal Mitis Iudex provisions, enacted on
December 8, 2016, affirmative decisions given by the Tribunal that were not appealed
The Defender of the
Bond and the parties can appeal. If an appeal is made then the case will pass to
a Second Instance. The appeal is heard
by another Tribunal.
DOES THE ECCLESIASTICAL
DECLARATION OF NULLITY HAVE CIVIL EFFECTS?
The declaration of
invalidity issued by the Church has no civil effects. It does not affect in any
way the legitimacy of children, property rights, inheritance rights, rights to
the name, etc. An Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity is a decision of the
Catholic Church stating that a particular union which supposedly was initiated
in good faith by the parties involved, in fact was an invalid union according
to what the Church defines as marriage. This study does not attempt in any way
impute guilt or punish people.
IS A NEW MARRIAGE
IN THE CHURCH ALLOWED?
If the nullity has
been declared the parties can start the usual preparations for marriage in the
Catholic Church unless a restriction was imposed on either of them.
In some cases, a
marriage can be declared invalid but restrictions may be imposed on one or both
parties to contract a new marriage. This restriction can be caused by behaviors
manifested in the first marriage that are harmful to the parties or which are
incompatible with the institution of marriage. If, according to the opinion of
the Judges, the causes that were present in the marriage declared persist or
there is a risk that the party can be re-exposed to damage, a second marriage
may not be allowed until it is proven that the causes which invalidated the
first marriage have been remedied and / or the risk of harm is gone.
CAN WEDDING PLANS
BE MADE BEFORE OBTAINING AN AFFIRMATIVE BY THE TRIBUNAL?
Please note that
permission to remarry in the Catholic Church cannot be guaranteed before
obtaining a judgment that declares the nullity of the marriage that was
evaluated. Only a final affirmative decision with no restrictions, enables
the possibility of a second marriage.
No priest or
deacon is authorized to provide even a tentative date for the celebration of a
future marriage in the Catholic Church until the process has been fully
completed. The Tribunal is not
liable for promises or arbitrary guarantees made by a priest, deacon, religious
HOW LONG DOES THE
Because of the
various factors involved, it is impossible to predict the exact duration of the
process. Not all people and stories are the same. Personal, geographic, and social
factors can influence the substantiation of the process.
If the case is
tried in the briefer process, the Bishop, who is the judge in the case, may
give judgment as soon as all documents and evidence which must accompany it are
In the ordinary
process, because of its greater complexity, various factors (personal,
cultural, geographical, etc.) can affect the duration thereof. With the full
cooperation of all those who are necessary, a tentative average duration of an
ordinary process should be about 12 months. This time may be extended when one
of the parties or witnesses reside outside the country since in such cases the
help of an international Tribunal will be sought to contact them, or when the gathering
of testimony is delayed by the witness participation or there is difficulty in
obtaining necessary documents. The full cooperation of the Petitioner is always
necessary, especially when a procedure is requested by the Tribunal.
Our Tribunal will
proceed in all cases as quickly, fairly and efficiently as possible.
By law of the
Church, no priest is allowed to set a date for a new marriage until the
invalidity has been declared.
WHAT IS THE COST
FOR THE SERVICES OF THE TRIBUNAL?
By decision of the
Archbishop, the total cost of these processes (typically $1,500) is waived and assumed
by the Archdiocese and resolved through income earned by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Sometimes, however, if the intervention of an external expert becomes necessary
for the evaluation of the case, the Petitioner may incur in some expense (may
need to reimburse the Court Expert fees).
At the end of the
process an envelope will be provided should the Petitioner want to contribute
to the Catholic Appeal, thus helping to keep this service free of charge for
anyone who would like to be benefited with the Tribunal services.
If you have more
questions you can approach a priest, deacon or pastoral associate. You can also
call directly our office at 617-746-5900 for information. It will be our
pleasure to take your call. We speak
You can also consult
our website at: http://www.bostoncatholic.org/Tribunal