Frequently Asked Questions
How do I submit a petition for a declaration of invalidity?
It is recommended that you first contact a priest, deacon, or lay ecclesial minister of your local parish. Due to the amount of preparation involved in filing the petition, this person can assist you in preparing the proper paperwork and submitting correct and complete documents.
Where can I find the proper forms to submit?
Forms are available from your local parish. There are various types of forms used to submit for the declaration of invalidity. In order to determine the correct form to be used, please consult with a priest, deacon or pastoral minister at your local parish.
What documents do I need in addition to the petition?
Before submitting the petition to the Tribunal, you should obtain the following documents:
- A copy of your baptismal record (if Catholic) which is available from your parish of baptism. This must have been issued within the last six months – not the original certificate issued at the time of baptism. When calling to request this, please ask that notations of sacraments be included.
- An original or court-notarized copy of your final divorce decree.
The Church marriage certificate; if the marriage did not take place before a Catholic priest, please submit a certified copy of the civil marriage license.
Must the Tribunal contact my former spouse?
Yes. The respondent has rights which are protected in Canon Law. Furthermore, his or her testimony is often very useful to the case. Therefore it is expected the petitioner will provide current, verified contact information for the respondent.
Who is permitted to read the testimony provided?
Once the Tribunal has finished gathering testimony, the testimony will be made available at the Tribunal under controlled conditions to the petitioner, respondent and their advocates.
Does a declaration of invalidity affect the legitimacy of children?
In the United States, an ecclesiastical declaration of invalidity is always strictly a religious matter and does not affect the civil status of the marriage nor the civil legitimacy of children.
In the Church, the canonical and moral legitimacy of children born of a marriage which is subsequently declared invalid is clear: they are legitimate.
Is a divorced Catholic permitted to receive the sacraments?
Although divorce may end a marriage civilly, the Church, faithful to the teachings of her founder Jesus Christ, knows that a marriage bond established by God cannot be broken by any civil government or human power.
If otherwise properly disposed (including, for example, celebrating the sacrament of penance to address the events of the divorce), being divorced does not, in and of itself, prevent a person from receiving Eucharist and the other sacraments. A divorced person remains fully and completely a member of the Church.
Is a divorced and remarried Catholic excommunicated from the Church?
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 stems from 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.
What is the Marriage Invalidity Process and Why Does It Exist?
Jesus taught that marriage is indissoluble. Once people get married, they are married until one of them dies, even if they someday separate, justifiably or otherwise. A married person’s vocation is to lifelong fidelity to the marital covenant, even when (in cases of abandonment or necessary separation) that means living as though celibate. Christ knew our human nature and he knew that this was a hard teaching. He was already challenged and ridiculed for it in his own time, but he did not back down from it one bit.
With that being said, there are certain marriages that are invalid from the start. They have the outward appearance of a marriage and are usually entered into in good faith, but because of some impediment, some defect of consent, or some problem in the form of the marriage celebration, they are never truly valid marriages. If the marriage was truly invalid, and if that fact is proven in an Ecclesiastical Court, then one or both of the parties may be free to marry another.
Neither spouse can simply decide privately that the marriage is invalid and that they are free to move on. The marriage invalidity process is a judicial process developed over the centuries to allow people who believe that their marriage was invalid from the beginning to attempt to prove that fact, all the while safeguarding the rights of both parties and upholding the dignity and indissolubility of marriage. A declaration of invalidity does not and cannot dissolve an existing marriage; rather it is an official declaration by the Church that it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a given marriage was invalid from the start. When a marriage is actually invalid, declaring that fact is a good and just thing.
Why do many Tribunals currently charge for a declaration of nullity?
There is no charge for a declaration of invalidity of marriage. Justice can’t be bought or sold. What many Tribunals do as a matter of fairness, fully in keeping with canon law, is pass on some portion of their expenses (salaries, supplies, office space) to the parties who request their services. If it isn’t borne by the parties, it must be borne by the people and parishes of the Diocese of Manchester.
What did Pope Francis change with regard to Tribunal fees and why?
Pope Francis did not eliminate all Tribunal fees, but he said that the process should be gratuitous whenever that can be done without harming the right of Tribunal workers to a just wage. He is asking bishops’ conferences and local bishops to do their best to make them gratuitous to the parties. He has two reasons for this. First, he wants to make sure that nobody is ever discouraged from exercising their rights due to cost. Even though partial or total reductions have always been granted liberally to anyone who needs them, Pope Francis doesn’t even want the misconception about expense to be an obstacle. Second, he wants to be sure that Tribunals are immune from even the slightest suspicion of financial corruption. It always has been the policy of the Diocese of Manchester and the practice of the Manchester Tribunal to adjust, reduce, or even waive completely the administrative cost of the Marriage Invalidity process when a person’s financial circumstances require it.