Formal Case Frequently Asked Questions

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Who can ask for an annulment?


Either party in a marriage that has ended in divorce has the right to ask the Church to review a former marriage.  Although one party (the petitioner) makes the request, the other party (the respondent) has the right to participate in the process.  In fact, the participation of the other spouse is very valuable for the Tribunal to arrive at an accurate conclusion.  The rights of both parties must be respected and protected by the Tribunal.  The former spouse will be contacted and informed of his/her rights in the process.  Failure to contact the respondent or respect his/her rights would invalidate the entire process.

Do I have the right to an annulment?

While the parties to a marriage have the right to petition a qualified Tribunal to consider a request for an annulment, no one has a right to an annulment.  A Tribunal cannot make a marriage valid or invalid.  Rather, it judges whether the marriage has been proven to be invalid from the beginning.  This decision is based upon the evidence that is submitted by one or both parties in relation to the canonical grounds of nullity, that is, the reasons recognized by the Church that may lead to the invalidity of a marriage. 

The final decision of the Tribunal is based on three criteria: (1)  the ground(s) of nullity, agreed upon during the process; (2)  the jurisprudence of the Church on this/these ground(s); and (3)  the proofs in the form of statements, declarations, depositions, documents and reports submitted by the parties or professional counselors. 

In January of 1996, Pope John Paul II spoke about claims of a right to an annulment.  He explained: 

"It must be remembered that the spouses, who in any case have the right to allege the nullity of their marriage, do not however have either the right to its nullity or the right to its validity.  In fact, it is not a question of conducting a process to be definitively resolved in a constitutive sentence, but rather of the juridical ability to submit the question of the nullity of one's marriage to the competent Church authority and to request a decision in the matter.  This does not prevent the spouses themselves - since it is a question regarding the determination of their personal status - from having their essential procedural rights recognized and granted: to be heard in court, to submit proofs in the form of documentation, expert opinion and witnesses, to know all the instructional acts and to present their respective defenses." (Address to the Roman Rota, January 22, 1996, section 3) 

What is the divorced person's status with the Church while seeking an annulment?


A Catholic who is divorced but has not entered into another marriage outside the Church or living with someone as a couple, is free to receive the sacraments.  In fact, such Catholics are encouraged to do so.  Being divorced alone does not alter one's status in the Church.  Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the Church (or otherwise living like a married couple) are not thereby excommunicated.  However, they are not free to receive the sacraments.  Nevertheless, they should attend Masses, pray, and fulfill their duties in the Church.  They are encouraged to be involved in Church life in other ways as they await a finding regarding their freedom to remarry in the Church.

Do previous marriages of non-Catholics need to be declared invalid before these persons can be married in the Catholic Church? 

The Church recognizes all marriages, Catholic or otherwise, as sacred bonds.  The essential aspects and requirements of a marriage apply to all marriages; and the essential aspects of Christian marriage apply to all marriages of the baptized, whether those being married are Catholic or Protestant.  There are some requirements for  validity that apply only to Catholics, such as the requirement for marriages to be in the Church or with a dispensation.  Thus, whenever a person wishes to marry in the Catholic Church and there has been a previous marriage, that bond of marriage must be examined in order to clarify his or her status and freedom to marry.  

If a marriage is declared invalid, what is the status of the children? 

There is no effect on the status of the children.  An annulment simply grants those who entered into a prior bond the ability to marry in the Church; it has no civil effects in the United States.  Under both Church and civil law, children born in a marital union later declared invalid are still considered legitimate.

What is the Diocesan Tribunal, and what is its role in the annulment process?


The Diocesan Tribunal is an office of the diocesan church that considers matters that pertain to Church legislation or Canon Law.  Among its other roles, the Tribunal determines the status of persons who were married. 

For a marriage to be declared invalid, it must be proven that the consent was invalid due to the absence of an essential quality or element necessary for a valid marriage.  The Tribunal is the diocesan office that receives petitions for a declaration of nullity, helps gather the evidence, and evaluates it to ensure a timely, just and accurate resolution of the case.

Can I go to any Tribunal?


In the Latin Church, ecclesial law outlines some criteria for a Tribunal to be able to accept a petition.  The Tribunals able to accept a petition are: the diocese where the wedding took place; the diocese where either party lives; and the diocese in which the majority of proofs (evidence) are located.  For instance, the Tribunal of the Arlington Diocese could accept a case if the wedding took place here, if either party lives here, or if the majority of the proofs are in this diocese.  

Is there a cost associated with this process?

As of July 1, 2017, there is no longer a fee associated with the Formal Case process.

How long does the annulment process take?


On average, the annulment process takes approximately sixteen to twenty months from the date of your initial formal interview in the Tribunal office. This can be somewhat mitigated by making sure that witness testimonies are sent in on time.


If I seek an annulment, does my previous spouse have to be contacted?

Church law requires that the former spouse be contacted, provided with the petition, informed of the grounds, offered a Procurator/Advocate, and given the opportunity to offer testimony, witnesses, and other evidence.  While the former spouse does not always exercise this right, the law requires that this person be informed and given the full ability to participate in the process.  As a result, the application should provide the former spouse's address and telephone number if it is available.  If the address of the spouse is unknown and cannot be discovered, the application should include an explanation of this fact.  

How is the annulment process begun?


People asking to have a marriage declared invalid must first consult a priest or deacon, most commonly at their home parish.  They should not contact the Tribunal directly.  The initial application for such a declaration includes filling out a basic fact sheet, answering a questionnaire, and drafting a petition and a narrative essay, as well as providing some supporting documents.  The cleric who assists the party in arranging and submitting this application becomes the party's Procurator/Advocate. He will be able to review all the evidence, keep the party updated regarding developments, and offer his views on the case.

The Tribunal carefully studies all the materials, notifies the former spouse of the petition, sets the grounds, and appoints a panel of three judges to consider the case, with one of them taking the lead role.  Assuming that the Tribunal finds possible grounds for a decree of nullity, it will arrange a formal interview with the person seeking the annulment. 

In addition, an interview with one of the Tribunal's professional counselors (peritus) may be required later in the process. This interview with the Tribunal itself generally takes place at the Tribunal office.  Any interview with a professional counselor will be arranged by the Tribunal.  

What preliminary application and documents do I need?

A parish priest or deacon will assist a Petitioner in the completion of the preliminary questionnaire, the formulation of a petition (a short history of the courtship, marriage, and separation) and the narrative essay (a separate two or three page essay which provides a rationale for the annulment based on the family life of the parties, the courtship/engagement, and the factors which led to the decision to marry). The above items and all pertinent documents (baptismal certificates for Catholic parties, marriage certificate, and the final divorce decree) are sent to the Tribunal.

The petition essay ought to follow the format provided in the application, and list the names and addresses of three witnesses. The witnesses are three people, who knew the parties during the courtship, engagement and early marriage. They are knowledgeable and cooperative family, friends, or co-workers, who are able to provide their independent view of the couple and the decision to marry. After the completed application with the documents and two essays are sent to the Tribunal for review, the Petitioner will be contacted to set a date for the initial interview in the Tribunal.

At the time of the interview, the Petitioner will be asked to sign and date all forms acknowledging the grounds of the investigation and appointing a priest or deacon as an Advocate. The Advocate will be able to assist the Petitioner throughout the process and he will be able to review all the evidence. The former spouse will be apprised of his or her right to give testimony, name witnesses, and also have an Advocate. The same rights that are afforded to the Petitioner are afforded to the Respondent.

Where do I find additional information and applications?

You can access any forms or additional information you need by visiting the Forms and Documents page.

After I submit a case to the Tribunal, can I set a date for a future wedding?

A future date for a Catholic wedding cannot be set, or the validation by the Church of a current union cannot be done, until there is a final and definitive resolution. Despite the fact that a petition has been submitted to the Tribunal, there is no certainty that the marriage will be found invalid. The Tribunal is bound to make a decision in conformity with evidence that has been submitted by the parties and with the jurisprudence of the Holy See. There are instances when one or both parties believe the marriage to be invalid, but there is inadequate evidence to support the conviction.

What is the purpose of the formal interview?

A formal interview usually is scheduled approximately four to six weeks after the preliminary application has been received. The purpose of the interview is to help the Tribunal gain a better understanding of the family backgrounds, courtship and martial difficulties, separation, and divorce.

At the end of the interview, an overview of the process will be provided and the role of the witnesses will be discussed. The witness testimony forms a major role in the acquisition of evidence in support of the request for nullity. Within a few days of the interview, the priest assigned to your case as judge will send you a detailed letter outlining the process and the role of the three witnesses.

After the interview, if the person seeking an annulment and/or the former spouse saw a therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist and would like a report to be included in the evidence, they must release this person from confidentiality and ask that a report on the counseling session be sent to the Tribunal. If additional information is needed, the Tribunal will send a specific form to the counselor.

Who will be a good witness in the nullity process?

An effective witness is someone who knew the couple (Petitioner and Respondent) during their courtship and early years of the marriage. Ideally, this person also knows something of the background of the couple – their families of origin, what is was like growing up in their home, if there were traumatic events that made their childhood difficult, etc. It can be difficult to find someone who knew the Petitioner and/or Respondent growing up and into their adult life, so sometimes a witness can only speak about that person’s childhood or what the dating relationship was like with their former spouse. That’s fine. To get a clear picture of the relationship, the Tribunal needs witnesses who can speak about each of those areas – childhood and the marriage – so sometimes there are family members who can talk about the childhood and friends who are able to give information about the marriage.

It is not very helpful for a witness to be someone who met the couple after they were married, since the witness wouldn’t have known them at the time of consent.

Do the parties have the right to inspect the evidence which has been submitted to the Tribunal for a decision?

The Code of Canon Law gives each party of the former union the right to review the case file in the Tribunal office during regular business hours. After all of the evidence has been gathered, the judge assigned to the case will notify parties of their right to review the case file. Each party has the right to review the evidence gathered to date and respond to it. The Church recognizes that parties cannot defend themselves if there is no opportunity to review the material gathered in support of the ground of nullity.

How does the Tribunal reach a decision to grant a decree of nullity or support the presumption of validity?

Following the initial interview and after contacting the former spouse, the judge waits for the witnesses' forms to be returned. After all the evidence is submitted, the Tribunal determines if a further personal interview at the Tribunal with one of the Tribunal's professional consultants is required.

Next, the parties and the advocates are given the opportunity to review the evidence. The case is then submitted to the Defender of the Bond. The Defender's role is to present to the Tribunal all the evidence that supports the validity of the sacred bond of marriage. After his observations are submitted, the judge studies the case and renders a decision based on the facts of the case and the law.

Once a decree of nullity is granted, am I free to marry?


An annulment does not always free persons who were formerly married to enter into other marriages. In some cases, the Church might caution against or even prohibit an individual from a remarriage if there is a serious reason to believe a future marriage will not be a happy and lasting one. To foster a future happy and successful marriage, the Tribunal may require some marriage counseling and preparation before a second marriage can take place.


No date can be set for a future wedding until there is a definitive affirmative decision to grant an annulment.


Why does the annulment process take so long?

The Church has a duty to protect, defend, and teach the sacred dignity of marriage. When the bond of marriage is challenged through a petition for an annulment, the Church must examine the challenge cautiously to make sure the decision is a just one based on the law and the facts. The annulment process is designed to get to the truth of the matter as quickly and justly as possible while protecting the rights of the parties involved.