Marriage Annulment (also called “declaration of nullity”) is when a Church Tribunal (a Catholic Church court) declares that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law is not valid. The marriage must fall short of at least one essential element required for a binding union in the Catholic Church.
A valid Catholic marriage results from five elements:
- the spouses are free to marry
- they freely exchange their consent
- they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children
- they intend to the good of each other
- their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
Failure of a marriage in one of these elements could provide the basis for an annulment.
The Church believes that marriages are valid and lifelong. Therefore, unless the ex-spouse has died, the Church requires divorced Catholics to obtain a “declaration of nullity” before re-marrying. The Church Tribunal process seeks to determine if something essential was missing from the couple’s relationship from the moment of consent, that is, the time of the wedding. If so, then the Church can declare that a valid marriage was never sanctioned.
The Church Tribunal requires several steps. The person who is asking for the “declaration of nullity” – the petitioner – submits written testimony about the marriage and a list of persons who are familiar with the marriage. These people must be willing to answer questions about the spouses and the marriage. The Church Tribunal will contact the ex-spouse – the respondent – who has a right to be involved. The respondent’s cooperation is welcome but not essential. In some cases the respondent does not wish to become involved; the case can still move forward.
Both the petitioner and the respondent can read the testimony information submitted to the Church Tribunal. They may also appoint a Church advocate who can represent their situation before the Tribunal. A representative for the Church, called the defender of the bond, argues for the validity of the marriage. After the Tribunal has reached a decision, a second Tribunal reviews it. Both parties can participate in this second review as well.
Those seeking a marriage annulment can contact the Parish Office to schedule an appointment with a priest.
Click on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) for more information.