Answers to some frequently asked questions
Every person, whether a Catholic or not, has the right to ask the Catholic Church to investigate the status of his or her marriage. Should the Church decide that such a marriage were null, this would be quite distinct from a civil divorce; it would be a declaration by the Catholic Church that a particular union was not a valid marriage.
While all who are able to do so are asked to contribute towards the cost of this nullity process, those who are unable to afford it do not have to pay anything at all.
There are many marital situations in which the tribunal can offer help. It may be that a couple entered a marriage with an impediment, such as a previous bond of marriage; or that their consent was invalid, because they lacked the necessary capacity, knowledge or will to consent to marriage; or that there was something wrong with the form of marriage used.
It may be that a Catholic person is divorced or that a Catholic wishes to marry someone who is divorced. The tribunal is always available to investigate a claim of nullity in an instance such as this. In doing so, the judges of the tribunal do not apportion blame to one party or the other; they are only concerned with making a just judgement about whether or not the marriage was null, this does not have any effect on the legitimacy of any children born of the union.
Once the tribunal has reached a decision of nullity, and if this is agreed by our appeal tribunal, the marriage is declared null and both parties to it are then free to marry. This is not Catholic divorce; it is marriage annulment, and it is one of the Catholic Church's pastoral responses to those who find themselves in difficult marital situations.
Catholics are bound to marry according to the Catholic form of marriage, unless they are dispensed. So if a Catholic has married in a non-Catholic Church, or in a register office, without this dispensation being given, the marriage is invalid. Both parties to such a union can be declared free to marry, enabling each of them to enter a new marriage.
First of all, speak to one of the priests or deacons in your parish, or perhaps to another priest or deacon known to you. He should be able to give you a preliminary enquiry form, in which you are asked to set out the principal facts concerning your marriage. It is the usual practice of the tribunal to require a couple to have obtained a divorce absolute decree before the annulment process begins.
This form, together with copies of your baptism and divorce certificates, is then sent to your local tribunal office.
If you live in Greater London South contact:
The Judicial Vicar
If you live in Kent contact:
Please do not hesitate to telephone, in complete confidence, if you would like to find out more about the annulment process.
The Catholic Truth Society has published a pocket guide to the grounds and procedures for annulment, titled 'Marriage Annulment in the Catholic Church' by Stephen Gasche. (C.T.S. Ex01) price £1.95.