1. Filling out the Forms and Answering Questions
All persons who participate in the marriage nullity process are obligated to tell the truth. This means that any and all information submitted to the Tribunal must be true and accurate to the best of the person’s recollection. If false information is deliberately presented, it will adversely affect a person’s interests whether for or against the declaration of the invalidity of the marriage.
All answers submitted on initial questionnaires and subsequent personal interviews should be as thorough and straightforward as possible. The Tribunal is not interested in assigning blame for the breakup of a marriage; nor should the parties seek to do so. So the answers given should present the reality of the situation, the good and the bad, as best as the parties can recall. Most often, this will require recalling and saying unpleasant things about the marriage. This cannot be helped. If a marriage nullity case is to move forward, evidence regarding the marriage and those who were a part of it must be presented to the court. So please be as open and frank as possible in answering questions while always keeping both eyes on the truth. Furthermore, answers should not consist simply of “yes” or “no” responses. Details, examples, and descriptions are extremely helpful to the process.
2. Rights and Obligations of the Parties in the Process
All parties to a marriage nullity trial have certain rights and obligations based on the laws of the Catholic Church. It is important to keep these in mind as the case proceeds.
The most fundamental of rights is the right to a proper defense of your position. This is why you agree to an advocate to assist you: so that you will know what is happening in your trial and be able to respond accordingly. If you feel that you are not receiving proper assistance, please notify the Tribunal immediately.
The right to defense includes several important steps in a marriage nullity trial. The first is the right to know for what reasons the marriage is supposedly invalid. Parties also have the right to submit testimony, present witnesses, and review the evidence collected. Finally, all parties also have a right to review the final decision and to challenge it if they so desire.
There are also obligations that bind the parties. All parties are expected to participate in the process. All the same, if a respondent chooses not to participate, the case will move forward.
3. The Status of Children
This issue is one that most concerns parties to the marriage nullity process. In short, the process in no way changes or even addresses the legitimacy of children. If eventually a marriage is declared to be invalid, the children born of it are still considered to be legitimate. Church law is quite clear on this point. Children born of those marriages are considered legitimate whether or not a declaration of invalidity is ever issued.
4. The Status of Civil Court Decisions
This Tribunal attempts in its marriage nullity trials to settle a question of significant religious import: the validity of a sacred bond. It does so by adhering solely to the laws of the Roman Catholic Church as contained in the Code of Canon Law and other ecclesiastical legislation.
Accordingly, the marriage nullity process does not address, or in any way change the decisions of a civil court with regard to the marriage under consideration. All provisions of civil courts with regard to the civil divorce, property issues, child support, or any other matter decided in that civil forum, remain outside of the jurisdiction of this Tribunal.
In order to assure that no conflict between the civil and ecclesiastical forums arises with regard to a marriage under consideration by both courts, the Tribunal has a standing policy that no petition for invalidity of marriage will proceed until all civil litigation has been completed with regard to that marriage. A copy of the civil-divorce decree must be submitted as part of the requirements.
5. The Use of Civil Lawyers
From time to time, parties will ask whether or not they can use civil attorneys to assist them in the marriage nullity process. The answer is an emphatic no; but a person may employ a Catholic canon lawyer. This process is purely ecclesiastical in nature with no civil implications. Moreover, church law expressly states that all advocates must be approved and trained by the Tribunal on behalf of the bishop before they can assist someone at the Tribunal. Such approval is only given to those who meet canonical requirements for functioning in a Catholic Tribunal.
6. The Time Frame for a Case and Its Outcome
The Tribunal works very diligently to assure a timely resolution of every case. There is simply no way to determine how long a case will take. Too many factors are involved in processing a case to offer a certain date for its completion. Accordingly, neither the Tribunal nor any of its officials will suggest a time frame for the completion of a case.
Moreover, it is important for all involved in a marriage nullity trial to realize that there is no way to determine before a final decision is reached whether an affirmative or negative judgment will be given. Anyone who suggests that a case will turn out in a certain way is speaking from personal opinion and nothing more. The decision as to the outcome of a case belongs solely with the judge or judges who are hearing the matter.
7. The Possibility of a Negative Decision
There is absolutely no guarantee that a marriage will be declared invalid when a case is submitted to this Tribunal. Negative decisions (that uphold the bond of marriage) are not only issued by this Tribunal, but they are a distinct possibility since every marriage is presumed to be valid. No official of this Tribunal will ever suggest how a case will be adjudicated.
8. Setting a Wedding Date before the Completion of the Case
It is the policy of this Tribunal that no wedding date should ever be set before the marriage nullity process has been completed. If such a date is set, the parties who arranged the wedding are solely and alone responsible for any inconvenience or damage that may result from a delay in or cancellation of the wedding. If a marriage nullity case is not completed by the time of the wedding, or if the outcome of the case is in favor of the previous marriage, no wedding can proceed according to the rites of the Catholic Church!
9. Tribunal Fees
The fee for the marriage nullity process does not cover half of the true cost for processing the case. The Diocese of Austin heavily subsidizes the work of the Tribunal. Nevertheless, under no circumstances will a person ever be turned away because of an inability or difficulty with paying the fee. Nor does an inability to pay the fee in any way affect the progress of a case. All cases are treated on an equal basis regardless of who submitted them, who the parties involved are, or how much of the fee has been paid.
10. Questions or Concerns
The normal means of addressing any questions or concerns you might have about a case is to contact your advocate. If your advocate is unable to assist you, he or she will contact the Tribunal. However, if a problem still remains unresolved, please feel free to contact the Tribunal for assistance.
Important Note: This information is meant to provide interested parties with an introduction to the Catholic Church’s marriage nullity process. As such, it simplifies a very complex process. This article should not take the place of a canonical advocate. If you are a party to a marriage nullity case, please consult with your duly appointed advocate concerning all matters regarding your case. You may also call the Tribunal for clarification on these issues.