What is Marriage?
The Catholic Church understands marriage to be a permanent and exclusive partnership between a man and a woman for the giving and receiving of love and the procreation and education of children.
Those who have been baptized also receive the Sacrament of matrimony, when they marry validly.
The Church believes that every valid, sacramental marriage that has been consummated is indissoluble. This is the law of God according to evidence found in the Old Testament, the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the writings of St. Paul, and centuries of Christian Tradition.
Although not every marriage is a Sacrament, each and every marriage (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, non-believer, etc.) is presumed to be a valid marriage. The good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society, the Church, etc.) demands this presumption.
How Then, Is An Annulment Possible?
In every presumption the opposite can be true. If sufficient evidence can be shown that a particular marriage is invalid, the original presumption no longer holds true. Therefore, 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 declare it to be invalid.
What Is the Purpose of the Tribunal?
Church law calls for the existence of a tribunal in every diocese of the world. The Tribunal of the Catholic Church of this Diocese is under the direction of the Bishop of Jefferson City and is supervised by his delegate, the Judicial Vicar. He, together with the staff of specially trained and experienced priests and lay persons, offer assistance to persons who request that the Church study a marriage in order to determine whether or not there is possibility of an annulment.
What Is the Study of a Marriage?
It is to determine whether or not there is a ground acceptable in church law that would show a marriage to be invalid. And then to determine whether or not this particular ground is proven, with moral certitude, to have actually existed at the time of the exchange of vows.
How Does The Tribunal Determine If A Marriage is Invalid?
The guidelines used by the Tribunal are the gospel teachings 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 Marriage.
How Does One Begin a Study?
Contact a priest or trained advocate or pastoral administrator and he/she will make an appointment to meet with you to begin the process.
You will be asked to write out a personality profile of yourself and a history of your courtship and marriage according to a set of guidelines that will be provided.
Are Witnesses Necessary?
Marriage is never a totally private relationship. It creates profound effects on the family, society and the Church. Witnesses, then, are required by church law to assist the tribunal in a deeper understanding of you, your spouse, and your marriage. Your witnesses will be asked to write statements and will be provided with a set of guidelines at the proper time. Therefore, please provide witnesses who knew you during the courtship and when you exchanged vows.
What About Special Witnesses?
Sometimes doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, priests, ministers, rabbis, etc. have been consulted before or during a marriage in order to assist a person or a couple. If this is true, please provide the complete name(s) and address(es) of the professional(s), and after you have signed a release form provided by the Tribunal, the professional(s) may provide us with information that may be of great value in the study of a marriage.
Honesty is absolutely essential.
Catholic Church law ensures that both parties get a fair say throughout this procedure. Because of this, total and indisputable honesty on your part is absolutely essential. Please take this into account when filing out questionnaires and/or submitting your personal testimony.
What About the Former Spouse?
After the Tribunal has received the history of your marriage, your former spouse will be notified by the Tribunal. 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 universal law of the Catholic Church requires this.
It is important, therefore, for the Tribunal to have an accurate, current address of the former spouse. Please note that the Tribunal will contact the former spouse. We encourage you to inform your former spouse ahead of time but it is not required.
What Is the Next Step?
IF the case is accepted, your Advocate will argue your case for you. Another member of the Tribunal staff will be named Defender of the Bond, who argues in favor of the validity of the marriage, and who guarantees your rights, the rights of your former spouse, and those of the Church. One judge, or three, will be assigned to evaluate all the information that has been gathered.
When all the information that is available has been gathered, and all who are willing to cooperate have been contacted and have responded, an evaluation is made by the Tribunal staff.
If it is not possible to accept a case for a formal hearing (e.g. because there are no apparent grounds acceptable in church law or no strong evidence to prove the alleged grounds), an explanation will be given to the person who made the request for the study.
When Is a Decision Made?
After an evaluation of all information, the judge(s) will render a decision in favor of, or against, a declaration of nullity. If either party is not in agreement with the judge(s), church law provides an opportunity to exercise an appeal. Such an appeal would be entered before Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which is the designated Appellate Tribunal for the Diocese of Jefferson City.
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; one case may be accepted, while another rejected. One case may be completed in several months, while another may take 12 months or more. With the complete cooperation of everyone needed in a case, the average length of time to complete it in Jefferson City is 12 months. This is not a guarantee; nor is it to be presumed that an affirmative decision will be rendered. A decree of Nullity is issued only after an affirmative decision has been made, 20 days have passed, and no appeal has been lodged.
It is important to note that priests are absolutely restricted from setting a date for marriage in the Catholic Church until the annulment process has been completed and a decree of nullity has been issued.
Please note that permission to marry in the Catholic Church can in no way be guaranteed before the completion of the entire process of study and formal hearing(s). No plans for marriage in the Catholic Church should be made before that time. The Tribunal cannot be responsible for arbitrary promises or guarantees made by any priest, deacon, or pastoral minister.
After an Annulment is Granted, Is A Marriage in the Catholic Church Allowed?
If an annulment is granted, and there are no restrictions attached to it, the usual procedure of preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church may be started with the local priest or pastoral minister.
Are There Any Civil Effects to a Church Annulment?
There are absolutely no civil effects from a church annulment in the United States. It does not affect in any manner the names of people, legitimacy of children, property rights, inheritance rights, separation agreements, etc. A church annulment is a declaration from the Catholic Church that a particular union, presumably begun in good faith by both parties 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 or hearing to impute guilt or to punish persons. On the contrary, the purpose of the annulment is to serve one’s conscience and spirit, and to reconcile persons to full sacramental participation in the community of the Church.
Is There a Fee for Tribunal Services?
In the diocese of Jefferson City the Bishop has mandated that the ministry to those seeking a decision regarding their marriage is to be a shared responsibility of all Catholics in the Diocese of Jefferson City. Therefore, no fee is accepted for a petition of nullity.
In order to make a responsible and just decision, the Tribunal needs adequate information. Because of the sensitive nature of the information gathered and because the Tribunal wishes to promote a spirit of charity, all information gathered is considered confidential. This information is never made available in civil proceedings. However, Church law allows all officers of the Tribunal to have access to this information. The Petitioner and Respondent have a right to pertinent information as determined by the Judge. Contact information is always kept private from the Petitioner and Respondent. Witnesses do not have access to any information in the petition.
Before the Petitioner and Respondent are allowed to read testimony, a Permission for Review statement is signed, promising to keep all information read confidential. No materials may leave the Tribunal either in original or copy or digital form.