HOW LONG DOES THE PROCEDURE TAKE?
The cooperation of the Petitioner, Respondent, and witnesses, and the quality of their testimony as well as the backlog of cases, and the requirement for review of every case by an Appellate Tribunal have a significant effect on the length of time each case takes. No two cases are alike, but the norm is 12 months. The Tribunal is required by law to give a specified amount of time to various steps in the process. Your cooperation and patience is important. There is no way that any member of the Tribunal staff can predict when a given case will be finished. Finally, you should know that diocesan regulations stipulate that no new marriage may be scheduled in any Catholic parish until the annulment process is complete.
WHAT STEPS ARE FOLLOWED BY THE TRIBUNAL:
The work of the Tribunal staff is governed by the laws of the Catholic Church. These laws are intended to protect the rights of all parties involved and to safeguard the integrity of marriage. The major steps of the process include the following:
1. The completed request form must be submitted to the Tribunal by the one who seeks an annulment together with the following documents: Baptismal certificates of both parties and a copy of the civil divorce decree. This request form must include the current address of the other party.
2. After a petition is received, the Tribunal contacts the former spouse (the Respondent) who is invited to participate in the annulment process. The Respondent has the right to be informed and to participate in the annulment process. However, failure to participate does not necessarily impede the progress of the case.
3. Upon request of the Tribunal, the Petitioner provides a list of witnesses who are willing to participate. The Tribunal needs the insights of witnesses who can offer information concerning the relationship in question. The Respondent also has the right to present witnesses.
4. Every case is evaluated by a Defender of the Bond whose responsibility it is to protect the integrity of the Marriage bond by presenting all of the significant reasons that argue in favor of a valid marriage.
5. A single Judge
(or panel of Judges) carefully studies the testimony of both spouses and that of the witnesses. In some cases the Judge consults with a psychological expert. If the Judge reaches moral certitude that invalidity has been proven, then the Judge issues a declaration of nullity. If the Judge cannot reach moral certitude, then the validity of the bond stands.
6. Both parties have the right to inspect the testimony which was submitted in the case before a decision is rendered. This right is safeguarded by certain procedures which are explained during the course of the process.
7. Once all evidence is gathered, the judge will review all the facts, arrive at a decision and publish the sentence. Both parties have the right to review this decision, even if there is no appeal.
8. Finally, both parties have the right to appeal the Judge’s decision. Even if there is no appeal, every case in which a declaration of nullity is granted must be reviewed by a higher Tribunal.