Seeking an Annulment

The Catholic Church understands marriage as a union of life and love between a man and a woman. That union is intimate, permanent, faithful and open to new life. When two people who have been baptised come together freely to be married, the Church maintains that this marriage is valid and binding, and no human power can dissolve their union. For this reason, even if a couple has a civil divorce, this alone isn’t enough to free either person to enter a different marriage according to the rites of the Catholic Church. To be free to marry in the Catholic Church, the Tribunal of the Catholic Church needs to confirm that the first union was not a “valid” marriage and grant an annulment of the previous union.

Catholic doctrine that underpins the Sacrament of Marriage

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between the baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601)

The Church holds the exchange of consent between spouses to be the indispensable element that makes the marriage. If consent is lacking, there is no marriage
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1626)

While we uphold the permanence of Christian marriage, we understand that there are some cases where living together has become too difficult, practically impossible or, in cases where abuse is concerned, potentially harmful. Separation and divorce are often challenging and traumatic experiences for all concerned, and we are here to support anyone who is required to go through this process.

What is the basis for an annulment?

Catholic Church law presumes that on their wedding day, a couple had the capacity to marry. An annulment is based on the finding by the Tribunal of the Catholic Church that one or both parties lacked this capacity to make a genuine marriage bond, as understood by the Catholic Church.

The Tribunal would then consider matters to see if there was an incapacity of the couple to marry, including the intentions of the parties, their maturity, their freedom to act responsibly, their freedom from undue influence and pressures and their capacity to undertake the essential obligations of marriage. There are other grounds for nullity of marriage apart from incapacity.

How is an annulment different from a divorce?

A divorce dissolves the bond recognised in civil law. An annulment declares that even though the correct wedding formalities, as understood by the Catholic Church, were observed, the bond of marriage did not come into being.

An annulment declares that the parties are free to marry according to the rites of the Catholic Church once all other requirements of law have been fulfilled.

In Australia, an annulment has no effect or impact to civil law.

Who can approach the Tribunal of the Catholic Church for an annulment?

Anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, who wishes to clarify their marital status according to the law of the Catholic Church is free to approach the Tribunal of the Catholic Church.

Those not baptised or persons who married contrary to the laws of the Catholic Church are handled differently to those who are baptised. The staff of the Tribunal can advise you as to which process of investigation will be necessary for your case.

What happens during the annulment process?

The Tribunal begins by establishing the facts of the matter of the marriage through documents presented by both aprties and by gathering evidence. The Tribunal learns from the party seeking the annulment (the Petitioner) and where feasible, the other party (the Respondent), about the background and upbringing of each of the parties, their courtship, the story of their marriage and the story since the marriage. 

The Petitioner gives evidence in private and under oath and is required to nominate witnesses who are willing to speak to the facts of the case. Justice demands that the Respondent know of the proceedings, with every effort made to contact them so they can be offered the same opportunity to give evidence in private and nominate their own witnesses.

The Tribunal is only concerned with establishing whether or not there is a basis in fact for nullity, not assigning praise or blame.

When there is enough evidence for the Tribunal Court Judges to make a decision, they issue a formal (and private) judgement. The Petitioner and the Respondent don’t need to attend the judgement.

The judges announce what is called the ‘First Instance Judgement.’ This will either confirm that the marriage is null (a positive decision) or state that the evidence isn’t sufficient for such a decision (a negative decision).

Since December 2015, Pope Francis has determined that a positive decision from the First Instance Court means the marriage is null, and a decree of nullity is given to the parties.

However, sometimes, the case is sent to the Appeal Tribunal for Australia and New Zealand. If the Appeal Tribunal authorises a positive decision, a decree of nullity is issued. If they make a negative decision, it means the marriage remains valid.

It’s important to remember that not all annulment requests are approved. The judges make the final decision after reviewing all the evidence presented to them.

After the annulment, are children of the marriage declared null or considered “illegitimate”?

No. Children are never given any sort “status” in the eyes of the Catholic Church. A declaration of nullity is simply a determination that one of the essential elements for a valid marriage was lacking.

How long does the annulment process take?

The annulment process involves gathering evidence and presenting it to the Tribunal of the Catholic church, which often takes several months, and sometimes up to and more than one year. On rare occasions, the annulment process can take up to two years.  

It is important to remember that no marriage arrangements in the Catholic Church should be made until the final decision has been given.

Are there costs to this process?

The costs for an annulment are currently under review by the New South Wales Bishops – for information, please contact the Tribunal of the Catholic Church.

If you are experiencing financial difficulties, this should not hinder the processing of a case. Please let the Tribunal know if your current situation when you approach them.

Is the annulment process worthwhile?

Seeking an annulment may involve challenging and emotional moments. However, many people find that the process, guided by the compassionate Tribunal staff, leads to healing and a sense of completeness.

A decree of nullity paves the way for a new marriage within the Catholic Church, provided the intended spouse is also free to marry according to Church law. If you’ve previously entered another union, a decree of nullity offers the opportunity for the Catholic Church to recognise that union, provided the other party is also free to marry under Church law.

Prior to getting married or having a union recognised by the Catholic Church, counselling is often a prerequisite. This step ensures that couples are well-prepared for their journey together.

For more information, contact the Tribunal of the Catholic Church

If you have any questions regarding the work of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church in Parramatta, or would like to find out how the Tribunal can help you, please contact us using the form below, or at any of the following:
Address: Suite 5, Level 1, 10 Victoria Road, Parramatta NSW 2150.
Office hours: Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm for in-person interviews.
Zoom and telephone appointments are available in certain circumstances.
Post: PO Box 3006 North Parramatta NSW 1750
Phone: (02) 8838 3480

Please provide the Tribunal team an indication of what you would like information about, and a suitable time to contact you.

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