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FAQ About Annulments

How long does the process take?

There are several types of marriage cases that a Tribunal can hear. This page deals with one type of case, the "Formal Case." A Formal Case trial usually takes from twelve to eighteen months, but if the decision is formally appealed it can take longer.

Can I set a tentative wedding date during the wait?

No. The Church presumes your first marriage to be valid and binding for life according to the teaching of Jesus until a Tribunal judges otherwise. Because the Tribunal cannot guarantee either a Declaration of Invalidity or a definite date for judging any case, parties to a case may not set even a tentative date for a new marriage within the Catholic Church until a favorable decision by the Tribunal is reached and ratified, and that decision is communicated in writing.

Is there a fee?

Yes. The Petitioner is asked to pay a fee equal to about one-half of the Tribunal's actual court costs for the trial. The other half is subsidized by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, that is, by the offerings of Catholic people throughout the Diocese of Manchester. We believe it is equitable that those who avail themselves of the services of the Tribunal assist in bearing a portion of the financial burden. As has always been the policy of the Tribunal, if for any reason one is not able to pay all, or part, of the fee, a simple explanation will ensure that special arrangements are made. At no time should financial considerations discourage any person from exercising the right to receive a just hearing from the Church; one's ability or inability to meet the fee in no way affects the process or its outcome.

What about the children?

It is a common myth that an "annulment" of the parents' marriage makes children illegitimate. This is not true. A Declaration of Invalidity deals only with the religious elements of the marriage, and does not affect civil or natural elements such as the legitimacy of children, child support, visitation rights, or alimony. An annulment does not imply any ill-will or moral fault on the part of those involved. The process is about the validity or non-validity of the marriage and not about one spouse or the other, nor is it a question of a person's spiritual relationship with God. In fact, it is because the marriage was entered into in good faith and thought to be a valid marriage that the children of an annulled marriage are considered by the Church to be legitimate.

Is a divorced Catholic excommunicated from the Church?

No. This too is a common myth. Divorce does not change one's status in the Church. However, if someone remarries without first having received a Declaration of Invalidity of the previous marriage, the remarriage prevents a Catholic from receiving the sacraments of the Church. This is because of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel forbidding divorce and remarriage.

Why does a Catholic Tribunal have to examine the previous marriage of someone who was never a Catholic?

The Catholic Church respects the baptism of other Christians, and believes that Jesus' teaching on marriage applies to all Christians, and not just Catholics. We also believe that marriage, by its very nature, is a lifelong commitment, even for persons who were never baptized. Until a Tribunal issues a Declaration of Invalidity for all prior marriages, no person is considered free to enter another marriage within the Catholic Church.

How many cases receive a negative decision?

This question can't be answered simply. Cases are carefully screened at the beginning of the process to see if there are possible grounds and sufficient proof. Some cases are rejected at the beginning because there are no grounds. Other cases are abated by the petitioner or the Tribunal during the process, usually because of the lack of witness testimony. Some (less than 10% of the cases that are decided by the judges) receive an unfavorable or negative decision.

Diocese of Manchester
The Catholic Church in New Hampshire

153 Ash Street, Box 310
Manchester, NH 03105-0310
(603) 669-3100
Fax: (603) 669-0377

© Diocese of Manchester