Office of the Tribunal

Office of the Tribunal

 

What is a Marriage Tribunal?

The Tribunal is a Church Court in the Catholic Church tasked with making a decision as to whether a particular marriage is valid and therefore binding upon the parties involved, or invalid and therefore able to receive a declaration of nullity (annulment).

A church annulment is a declaration from the Catholic Church that a particular marriage, presumably begun in good faith and thought by all to be a valid and binding marriage, was in fact, proven to be invalid according to the Church's definition of marriage. The purposes of the annulment process are to bring peace of conscience to the spouses by determining the truth of the matter concerning the validity of their marital union, to determine the parties' freedom to marry in the Church, and to assist the parties in their desire for reconciliation with the Church as well as full sacramental participation.

A declaration of marriage nullity (annulment) is not a form of “Catholic divorce.”  The Catholic Church firmly holds that any marriage which has been contracted between one baptized man and one baptized woman and has been consummated can be dissolved by no human authority whatsoever, not even by the husband and wife themselves.  Further, the Catholic Church presumes that every marriage between one man and one woman is valid and binding upon the spouses until legitimately proven otherwise.  A declaration of marriage nullity does not investigate whether the marriage bond in question can be dissolved, since this is impossible, but whether or not there was ever a valid and binding marriage bond at all. 

     How does the Tribunal determine a marriage is invalid?

In essence, the Tribunal seeks a response to this question: Was this marriage a true marital union as envisioned and given definition by God, the Creator of marriage, and taught through the teachings and laws of the Church?

Briefly, the Tribunal seeks to discover:

  • Whether or not the marriage was freely contracted.
  • Whether or not both parties were emotionally and/or psychologically mature enough to establish such a lifelong partnership.
  • Whether or not both parties intended to enter into a marital relationship which was indissoluble, faithful, and open to the possibility of procreation.

     Who can ask the Tribunal to investigate their marriage for a possible 
     Declaration of Marriage Nullity?

In short, any married person can petition the Tribunal to take up their case and investigate the possibility of a declaration of marriage nullity for their marriage.  However, the Tribunal must be very certain that the marriage relationship in question has in fact broken down and that no reconciliation between the husband and wife is possible.  To this end, a declaration of civil divorce, while not dissolving the bond of marriage between the parties in the eyes of the Catholic Church, is nevertheless required before petitioning for an annulment, in order to demonstrate the unfortunate breakdown and irreconcilability of a given marriage.  Please note that since all marriages between one man and one woman are presumed to be valid and binding until proven otherwise, no investigation into the possible invalidity of a marriage that has not suffered irreconcilable breakdown may ever be undertaken. 

 

The Annulment Process

     How do I begin the process for a declaration of marriage nullity?

Contact a priest or deacon (preferably one assigned to your Catholic parish) and he will make an appointment to meet with you to complete an introductory form called "Application for Annulment."  You will be asked to provide pertinent documents and to write a history of your courtship and marriage according to a set of questions.

The priest will forward this application, documents and history to the Tribunal. You will be notified by the Tribunal of the receipt of these documents and will be asked to have a personal interview with a member of the Tribunal staff. The purpose of this interview is to provide you with an opportunity to speak directly with Tribunal staff, and to allow the Tribunal to ask you follow-up questions about your marital relationship, something which is not possible through the written questionnaire alone.

If the Tribunal decides not to accept a particular case for a formal hearing, (e.g. because there are no apparent grounds acceptable in church law or no proofs to document the grounds) a detailed explanation will be given to the person who made the request for an investigation for possible declaration of marriage nullity, together with appropriate references for proper pastoral guidance and direction.

     Are witnesses required?

Marriage is never a totally private relationship. It creates profound effects on the family, society and the Church. Witnesses, are required by church law to assist the Tribunal in coming to a deeper understanding of you, your spouse, your marriage and its unfortunate breakdown. This testimony will be used as proof to document the grounds (reasons why this marriage may have been invalid from the beginning).

     What about special witnesses?

Sometimes doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, priests, ministers, etc. have been consulted before or during a marriage in order to assist a person or couple. If this is true, you may be asked to provide their complete names(s), and, after you have signed a release, the professional(s) may provide us confidentially with information that may be of great value in the investigation of a marriage.

There are also certain grounds that if considered, require by canon law to have an Expert Witness review the case. An Expert Witness is a psychiatrist, psychologist or professional counselor who, if required, would look at the case with specific questions to answer, that have been asked by the judge in the case.

     What About my Former Spouse (the “Respondent”)?

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 law of the Catholic Church requires this in order that both sides of the story regarding the marriage may be heard.  It is important, therefore, for the Tribunal to have an accurate, current address of the former spouse. If this is not available, then the Tribunal must have his/her last known address together with the address of a family member through whom he/she may be contacted.  Again, please note that the Tribunal will contact the former spouse.  It is suggested that you also inform your former spouse of your desire to petition for an annulment.

     Who Reviews the Information collected in the course of the Tribunal’s
     Investigation?

When all the information that is available has been gathered and all who are willing to cooperate have been heard, the parties are notified of their right to review the case at the Office of the Tribunal and to offer further proofs, if needed.  Under church law, both the petitioner and the respondent may review each other's testimony in the course of this investigation.  However, such review may only take place at the Tribunal office in Duluth or at the nearest Tribunal office if either party lives in another diocese, and no party is permitted to make copies of any of the information found in the case, to remove or add information during the review of the case or even to make physical notes transcribing the information or take pictures of the information.  Besides the petitioner and the respondent, no one else has any access to this material except the immediate members of the Tribunal staff assigned to the investigation of a marriage, and they are bound to secrecy by an oath.

     Who else is involved in a process for declaration of marriage nullity?

A trained member of the Tribunal staff serves as Defender of the Bond in order to argue the validity of the marriage and to guarantee your rights, the rights of your former spouse and rights of the Church.  The Chief Judge, who is a deacon or priest that has been formerly trained in the marriage law of the Church, will formally hear your case and, after receiving all the material, will render a decision.  If either party or the Defender of the Bond is not in agreement with the decision, the law of the Church provides for the possibility of an appeal of the decision.  The appellate court for Duluth is the Metropolitan Court of Appeal headquartered in St. Paul.

     How Long Does the Entire Process Take?

Since each case is different, we cannot predict how long it will take to complete the study of each marriage. It depends, in part, upon the extent to which your former spouse cooperates, along with his or her witnesses and yours, in allowing access to information or offering insights into the history of this relationship. Here, you can be of help. Without going into the details of your petition, you can point out to at least your relatives and friends, whose names you are giving to the Tribunal as witnesses, that their prompt response to letters and contacts from the Tribunal is important – for it makes the work on your case easier. 

     Is Remarriage 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 parish priest or deacon.  Please note that permission to remarry in the Catholic Church can in no way be granted before the process for marriage nullity for the previous marriage has been duly completed and an “Affirmative” decision has been rendered (i.e.- the marriage in question is judged to have been invalid). No date for a future marriage should be made before that time.  Clergy of the Diocese of Duluth have been instructed that they are not to schedule dates for a possible new marriage until a declaration of nullity has been granted.  The Tribunal is not responsible for arbitrary promises or guarantees made by any priest, religious or layperson.

     Is there a Fee for Tribunal Services?

There is absolutely no required fee to participate in the declaration of marriage nullity process and to receive a decision from the Tribunal concerning the validity of a marriage. However, as must be expected, the Diocese incurs added expenses in operating the Tribunal. There are salaries to be paid and costs associated with any office.  Consequently, at the end of the marriage nullity process, each Petitioner will be asked to consider giving a non tax-deductible donation to the Tribunal to assist in the costs of processing one’s marriage nullity case.

     Where can I receive more information about annulments and how to begin
     the process?

 As an office of pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church, the Marriage Tribunal is happy to help answer your questions and hear your concerns, as well as offer advice and information for making decisions regarding the annulment process.  Please call Shawna Hansen, Coordinator for Tribunal, at (218) 724-9111, or email shansen@dioceseduluth.org for more information.  God bless you!

 

Tribunal Forms

Pre-Nuptial Interview here

Lack of Canonical Form here

Application for Annulment here

Prior Bond Form here

Grounds for Marriage Nullity here

Freedom to Marry Affidavit here

Formal Delegation for Marriage here

For Pauline Privilege or Privilege of the Faith forms please contact Shawna.

 

Contact:
Shawna Hansen
shansen@dioceseduluth.org
(218) 724-9111
Fax: (218) 724-2221

 

 

Diocese of Duluth
Office of the Tribunal
2830 E. 4th Street
Duluth, MN 55812

Judicial Vicar
Rev. Steven Laflamme, J.C.L.

Defender of the Bond
Rev. Dale Nau, J.C.L

Auditor
Rev. Richard Kunst

Coordinator of the Tribunal
Shawna Hansen