What is a marriage?
Marriage is a social institution whereby a man and woman pledge to live their lives as husband and wife for the duration of their lifetimes, and for the protection and education of children. As Catholics, there is another dimension to our understanding of marriage. God instituted the sacrament of marriage. Hence, marriage is not simply a social institution or a contract, but a covenant made between the bride and the groom, between the bride and groom and society, and between the bride and groom and God.
What is declaration of nullity (annulment)?
It is a declaration by a competent Tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church that despite the couple’s good intentions, a marriage never legally existed as a sacramental union. It does not deny that a civil marital relationship existed or that it produced children. It simply means that after a thorough examination, the Tribunal is convinced that there was some defect or deficiency in one or both of the parties’ consent.
Is annulment equivalent to divorce in the Catholic Church?
No. In a civil divorce, the civil court dissolves an existing marriage, whereas in a declaration of nullity (annulment) in the Catholic Church, the Tribunal declares that despite appearances and the parties’ good intentions, the marriage was never a true marriage in the eyes of the Church due to some deficiency.
Why is there a Tribunal in the Catholic Church?
Every diocese in the world is required to have a Tribunal. It is through the Tribunal that a diocesan Bishop exercises his judicial power in the diocese. The diocesan Bishop exercises this power either directly or indirectly. As a matter of practice, the diocesan Bishop exercises judicial power indirectly through the Officialis. The Presiding Judge is the Officialis and acts in the name of the diocesan Bishop in his exercise of judicial power.
A Tribunal exists for the protection and the vindication of the rights of Christ’s faithful. While it is true that a majority of Tribunal work consists of the examination of failed marriages, there are other situations where the Tribunal is involved in the day-to-day life of the Church.
Why does the Catholic Church have to investigate my marriage when I am already divorced?
The Catholic Church considers divorce as separation and the marriage bond still exists. In short, the sacramental bond of marriage persists and is not dissolved or cut off by civil action to invalidate the marriage. What the Catholic Church does is to determine whether or not there is a ground that nullified the marriage from its inception despite the couple’s good intentions and that this ground has been proved with moral certainty.
Will a declaration of nullity make the children from that marriage illegitimate?
No. It is a misconception that children become illegitimate when an annulment has been granted. A declaration of nullity will not affect the legitimacy of the children who may have been born of the union. Such issues or questions of legitimacy of the child, child support, and property settlement are all questions of civil law, not ecclesiastical law (but these issues could show the readiness or lack thereof of either party). Canon law prescribes that children of a putative marriage are always legitimate. By putative marriage, we mean that at least one of the contracting parties, if not both, entered the marriage in good faith believing it is a real marriage.
Where do I file my petition should I decide to have my marriage declared invalid?
The competent Tribunal would be the diocese where the marriage took place or the diocese where either of the parties is domiciled.
For more information, please contact the tribunal office Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Call (219) 769-9292 and ask for Teri Kopil at extension 217.