WHAT IS A MARRIAGE?
The Catholic Church understands marriage to be an enduring and exclusive partnership for the giving and receiving of love and the procreation and education of children.
For those who have been baptized, a valid marriage is at the same time the sacrament of Matrimony.
The Church believes that every valid, sacramental marriage that has been consummated is indissoluble. This is the law of God according to the evidence found in the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church.
Although not every marriage is a sacrament, all marriages (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, non-Christian, non-believer) are presumed to be valid. The good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society, the Church, etc.) demands this presumption.
HOW, THEN, IS A DECLARATION OF NULLITY POSSIBLE?
Every marriage is presumed to be valid. In every presumption, the opposite may be true. If sufficient evidence shows that a particular marriage is invalid, the original presumption no longer holds. Of particular importance to our study is the quality of the parties’ consent given at the time of the marriage.
When it can be proved that a specific marriage is not valid or not a sacrament or not consummated, there is a possibility that the Church will dissolve or declare it invalid.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE TRIBUNAL?
Church law calls for the existence of a Tribunal in every diocese of the world. The Office of the Tribunal is the judicial branch of the Archdiocese, responsible for the administration of justice. The primary function of the Tribunal is the review of petitions for ecclesiastical declarations of nullity. This involves an investigation of facts and a possible rendering of a decision concerning the nullity of a particular marriage. The Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Boston, under the direction of the Archbishop, is supervised by his delegate, the Judicial Vicar. He, together with a staff of specially trained and experienced priests, religious and lay persons offer assistance to those who request that the Church study a marriage in order to determine whether or not there is a possibility of a declaration of nullity.
WHAT IS THE STUDY OF A MARRIAGE?
This study is an investigation to determine whether or not there is a ground in church law that would invalidate a marriage and whether or not this particular ground can be proved with moral certitude to have lawfully existed at the time marriage was entered.
HOW DOES THE TRIBUNAL DETERMINE IF A MARRIAGE IS INVALID?
The guidelines used by the Tribunal are the gospel teaching of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the law of the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XI defined the work of the Tribunal in these words: “to care for the dignity of marriage, to work for the good of persons.” The Tribunal works toward this end by diligently protecting the rights of a man and a woman in a specific marriage, as well as the rights of the Church which has been charged by Jesus Christ to be the guardian of the sacrament of Matrimony. Therefore, the Tribunal upholds the presumption of the validity of a marriage until the contrary is proved.
HOW DOES ONE BEGIN A STUDY?
Either spouse may initiate the study by first contacting a priest, deacon or pastoral associate (preferably one in the local parish), who will assist in the completion of a two-part introductory form entitled a “Request for Tribunal Study.” The first part of this form requires basic biographical information, while the second part requires a more extensive personal and marital history narrative. When this entire Request has been completed, it must be signed by the parish person who assisted. That person, who becomes the sponsor of the case, will then forward the Request to the Tribunal for an initial evaluation.
Within 30 days, the Tribunal will notify the sponsor and the applicant as to its acceptance or rejection for an investigation. If the case is accepted, a formal petition will be sent stating the grounds of the investigation. Also, a trained member of the Tribunal staff will be named as Advocate for each spouse to assist in the presentation of the case.
Each case will be assigned a case name and protocol number which are to be used in all subsequent correspondence and phone calls to our office so that the case may be easily identified.
WHAT ABOUT ONE’S FORMER SPOUSE?
Once the Tribunal decides to accept a petition for a declaration of nullity, the other spouse will be notified by the Tribunal in writing. He/she will be offered the opportunity to present his/her history of the marriage, as well as to introduce any witnesses he/she chooses. The law of the Catholic Church requires this so that the rights of the both parties are protected. Each party is to have the opportunity to present his/her testimony concerning the marriage. Moreover, in some cases, no decision can be given without the cooperation of both parties.
It is important for the Tribunal to have an accurate, current address of both parties. If this is not available for a former spouse, the Tribunal must have the last known address, or the address of a family member through whom contact may be made. If no address is made available, a complete explanation for its absence must be given.
Please note that the Tribunal will make the formal contact with the former spouse, who will be allowed 30 days in which to reply.
ARE WITNESSES REQUIRED?
Marriage is never a totally private relationship. It creates profound effects on the family, society and Church. Witnesses then, are required by Church law to assist the Tribunal so as to gain a deeper understanding of each spouse, this particular marriage and its failure. Witnesses will be asked to write statements according to a set of guidelines that will be provided. These statements are to be mailed directly to the Tribunal by the witnesses.
WHAT ABOUT SPECIAL WITNESSES?
Sometimes doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, priests, ministers, rabbis, etc., are consulted before or during a marriage in order to assist a person or a couple. If it is warranted, the Tribunal will provide a release form to be signed so that one or more professionals may provide us with confidential information that may be of great value in the study of the marriage.
WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?
When all the information has been gathered from all who are willing to cooperate, an evaluation will be made by the Tribunal staff as to whether or not the case should proceed to formal hearing.
If the case is to proceed to a formal hearing, those officials assigned to the case will discuss the entire matter. These persons are: the Advocates; the Defender of the Bond of Marriage, who safeguards the bond of marriage and guarantees that the rights of all the parties have been protected; and, the Judge(s), named by the Judicial Vicar, who will hear the case.
WHEN IS THE FORMAL HEARING?
After the members of the court discuss the case, a date will be set as soon as possible for a formal hearing. Two weeks advance notice will be given before someone is asked to be present at the Tribunal. Cases are heard in the order in which they are received on the first possible date.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE HEARING?
Generally, this hearing is private, that is, between the individual and the Judge. However, at times the Advocate or Defender of the Bond may need to be present. Similarly, one may choose to invite one’s parish priest to be present.
Some or all of the witnesses may also be asked to be present. If so, they will be notified directly by the Judge. In these cases, each person is heard privately.
If the other spouse chooses to participate at the formal hearing, he/she will be asked to be present at a different appointment time.
WHEN IS A DECISION MADE?
Following the formal hearing, the Defender of the Bond and the Advocates offer their arguments on them merits of the case. After a review of all the material, the Judge(s) will render a decision.
If either party of the Defender of the Bond is not in agreement with the decision, the law provides for an appeal. All affirmative decisions must be reviewed by the action of the Appellate Court.
ARE THERE ANY CIVIL EFFECTS TO A CHURCH DECLARATION OF NULLITY?
There are absolutely no civil effects to a Church annulment in the United States. It does not affect in any manner the legitimacy of children,
property rights, inheritance rights, names, etc.
An Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity is a statement by the Catholic Church that a particular union, presumably begun in good faith and thought by all to be a marriage, was in fact an invalid union as the Church defines marriage. There is no attempt in
this study to impute guilt or to punish persons.
On the contrary, the purpose of the annulment procedure is to serve one’s conscience and spirit and to reconcile persons to full sacramental participation in the community of the Church.
IS REMARRIAGE IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ALLOWED?
If an annulment is declared and there are no restrictions attached, the usual procedure for preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church
may be started at the local parish level.
In certain cases, a marriage may be declared null, but a restriction may be placed on one or both parties which prohibits immediate remarriage. This restriction may be prompted by behavior patterns in the first marriage that are destructive towards others or completely incompatible with the institution of marriage. Should causes such as these be present in the opinion of the Judge(s), a second marriage obviously cannot be permitted until it has been demonstrated that the causes which invalidated the first marriage have been remedied.
MAY ONE MAKE WEDDING PLANS PRIOR TO A DECISION BY THIS TRIBUNAL?
Please note that permission to remarry in the Catholic Church can in no way be guaranteed before the completion of the entire process of study and the final decision. Only an affirmative decision, with no restriction, ratified by a Court of Appeal enables one to begin marriage preparations. No priest or deacon may provide even a tentative date for a future marriage in the Catholic Church until this process has been completed. The Tribunal will not be responsible for arbitrary promises or guarantees made by any priest, religious or lay person.
HOW LONG A PERIOD OF TIME DOES THE ENTIRE PROCESS TAKE?
It is impossible to predict the length of time because of a number of variable factors. No two cases are the same. With the complete cooperation of everyone needed in a case, the approximate length of time to complete it is twelve to eighteen months. This is not a guarantee. By Church law priests are not allowed to set dates for remarriage in the Church until an annulment has actually been declared. The Tribunal will process all cases as efficiently as possible.
IS THERE A FEE FOR TRIBUNAL SERVICES?
At the beginning of the process, a fee of $700.00 will be asked of the person who introduced the request for a Tribunal study. An affordable monthly payment plan may be established. In deference to the people of the Archdiocese of Boston who subsidize the Tribunal budget through their contributions, we believe it is just that those who avail themselves of the services of this office assist in some of its financial expenses. The fees collected are used to operate the Church court.
There is also a non-refundable filing charge of $50.00, required upon application for a Tribunal study.
In many cases, an evaluation by an independent counselor, a Court Expert, is necessary. This is normally required in cases being determined on certain grounds, in marriages of long duration or in cases where witness testimony is inconclusive. Please note that evaluations by Court Experts are not included in Tribunal fees. A party referred to a Court Expert is solely responsible for these additional charges.
If for any reason one cannot afford to pay all or part of the final fee, an explanation to the Tribunal will ensure that the case will be processed. At no time should financial embarrassment discourage any person from exercising the right to receive a just hearing from the Church. One’s ability or inability to pay a fee in no way affects the progress or outcome of a request.
If you have any further questions you are welcome to contact this office.