The Annulment Process
Who may apply?
Any divorced Catholic has the right to ask for an investigation of a previous marriage by the appropriate tribunal of the Catholic Church. Any non-Catholic divorced person remarried to a Catholic, intending to become a Catholic or intending marriage to a Catholic has the same right. Only a party to the marriage, however, may apply.
How is the process started?
An application can be initiated by contacting the local Catholic parish for materials and for referral to a parish based Advocate. There are six different types of marriage cases, each requiring a different procedure. The Advocate will help identify what process needs to be followed as determined by the circumstances of your prior marriage; or you may call the Tribunal office (297-7729) for referral to a parish based Advocate.
After preliminary investigation and assessment has been made, the applicant
will be advised whether the case is worth further investigation. If possible
grounds for invalidity can be identified, the applicant is requested
to present a comprehensive written marital history, according to the
guidelines provided by the Tribunal. If the case is accepted for investigation,
there will usually be a personal, taped interview with the applicant
at the Tribunal offices?usually several months after the petition was
Is the former spouse contacted?
It is a requirement of canon law that your former spouse be informed of the investigation and given an opportunity to participate in the investigation. You will not be required to have any direct contact with your former spouse during this process. However, the Tribunal is required to have direct contact with your former spouse.
Are witnesses necessary?
In a formal case process witnesses are necessary. They are not simply character references. Persons proposed as witnesses can be nominated by either of the spouses of the marriage. These people must be willing to be interviewed confidentially by the Tribunal about what they know about the marriage or respond in writing if at a distance. They must have some knowledge of the marriage under question. Often parents, older siblings, relatives, or close high school/college friends would have some knowledge of the nature of relational problems leading to the failure of the relationship.
In the case of obtaining relevant counseling or medical reports, it would be necessary to obtain the written permission of one, or both parties for joint counseling. Due to the nature of the information gathered in an annulment investigation, every effort is made to preserve confidentiality.
How is a decision reached?
When Tribunal staff have determined that there is sufficient evidence for a decision to be reached, the formal (and private) sessions of the Tribunal are held. The parties are not required to attend. However, the defender of the marriage bond is always present to uphold the ideals of the Church on marriage and permanence. When a final decision is reached by the judge(s) of the Tribunal, he/they will declare either that the marriage was certainly invalid or that the evidence does not prove invalidity with certainty so the presumption of a valid marriage remains.
What happens after this decision?
Once a decision has been reached here in Anchorage, that decision must be reviewed by our appeal court, the Metropolitan Tribunal of Seattle. This Tribunal has been assigned the task of reviewing each of our formal case decisions. If the Seattle Appeal Tribunal confirms our decision, a decree of invalidity is then issued. In more complex cases a lengthier appeal process may be required and may take some time, plus there is no automatic guarantee of an affirmative decision.
Is every application successful?
Affirmative decisions cannot be guaranteed. Each decision rests entirely on the cumulative quality and nature of the testimony presented to the Tribunal for its evaluation. The fact that evidence/testimony is collected by the Tribunal cannot (by itself) be interpreted as a guarantee of a favorable decision.
Even where an affirmative decision has been given, before being permitted to marry in the Church, Archdiocesan policy requires that a process of pre-marital evaluation and preparation be conducted for all marriages. Given the nature of problems in the previous marriage, part of this evaluation may involve a professional counselor. Such counseling is a prudent requirement to safeguard the hope that a subsequent marriage will not suffer the problems of the past. In cases where an incapacity for marriage has been proven, there may be a requirement that some form of counseling resolve those concerns before remarriage in the Church is possible.
How long does this process take?
Each application must be evaluated individually. When a person has been married more than once, each union must be evaluated separately. When both parties to a proposed marriage have been previously married, each union would require investigation. Due to the number of applications and the varying factors involved in different cases, no time frame would be predictable. Often we are able to inform an applicant of a decision within a year of accepting their petition and written submission to the Tribunal office, but the average timeframe for completing an investigation and decision is between twelve and eighteen months.
When can I set a wedding date?
Booking a wedding date with a Church or other facility should not be made until notification of your freedom to marry has been sent to the clergyman or parish minister who will be assisting in your marital preparation. An affirmative decision (freedom to marry) is never guaranteed until it has been confirmed by our Appeal Court in Seattle. Setting even a tentative date or making reservations before a final decision has been given will most certainly lead to serious disappointment. This investigation is analogous to the trial of a marriage and, like all trials, the process and outcome is subject to unforeseen difficulties. Setting a wedding date or making other reservations before a final decision has been determined will place the applicant and their proposed partner, not to mention the Tribunal staff, under unreasonable and unnecessary pressure. Furthermore, according to Church law, this could amount to coercion of the Tribunal staff and be cause for dismissal of the case in an unresolved state.
What are the fees for an annulment?
The Tribunal requests an initial filing fee of twenty-five dollars ($25) upon acceptance of a petition and marital history. Prior to forwarding a decision to our Appeal Court, an appeal fee of either $25 for a summary review process or $125 for a complete review process will be requested. These fees do not represent true case costs, which are commonly $500 or more. True case expenses are subsidized by the people of the Archdiocese through their annual Archdiocesan fund drive contributions.
Is this all worthwhile?
For many, going through an annulment process may involve some painful or anxious moments, as this process often involves aspects of unresolved grief. However, it can be a pastoral and therapeutic process while still being a canonical procedure. Many applicants find that the process itself, and the sensitive approach of tribunal staff, can be an experience of healing and an opportunity to find freedom from the debilitating memories of the past.
Moreover, whether a decree of nullity is issued or not, the decision may bring peace of mind to the parties who have been wondering or questioning whether the Church would regard the marriage in question as valid or invalid. Naturally, a decree of nullity brings many persons the satisfaction of being able to celebrate a planned marriage in the Catholic Church, or to have another marriage (already entered) validated by the Church. But even those applicants who petition unsuccessfully for a decree of nullity can at least make their future plans with a clear understanding of their marital status as best the Church can judge.