Office of the Tribunal
At the heart of the Office of Canonical Affairs and the Tribunal is the belief that marriage is a vocation – a covenant between a man and a woman that takes place when two persons exchange consent through wedding vows. The very nature of this covenant demands fidelity between the partners, permanence and an openness to children.
The unfortunate reality is that some marriages end in civil divorce. When this happens, many want to know how to handle the sacramental and religious aspects of their former marriage.
Until proven otherwise, a marriage between a man and a woman, in the presence of witnesses, is deemed a valid union. A diocesan tribunal can investigate a former marriage and determine if it was entered into with the proper knowledge, capacity and will. If it is found that the marriage in question was not a marriage as understood by the Church, that is, one that lacked an essential element of marriage at the time the vows were exchanged, a tribunal will issue a decree of nullity.
How Do I Begin?
The first step in the process is meeting with a local parish priest or deacon. At that meeting, the person inquiring should explain their interest in pursuing a possible declaration of nullity. After hearing an explanation of the circumstances of the marriage in question, the priest or deacon will be able to determine what kind of application will be needed.
There are four types of declarations of nullity: Formal Case, Privilege of the Faith, Absence of Canonical
Form and Ligamen. Each has its own parameters and particular circumstances and the parish priest or deacon will be able to walk through them with the person inquiring.
Once the application is complete and all supporting documentation gathered, the priest or deacon will submit the paperwork to the Tribunal. The Judicial Vicar will receive the paperwork and determine the next steps.
Please know that the Tribunal for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington sees itself as a healing ministry. In the words of Pope Pius XI, a tribunal is “to care for the dignity of marriage; to work for the good of persons.” There is great awareness that going through a civil divorce is a painful process and revisiting those moments again can be difficult. However, the process is often a healing one, with an end goal of returning to the sacraments and a peace in a person’s relationship with Christ.