Tribunal of the Diocese of Buffalo
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GUIDELINES FOR STARTING A MARRIAGE NULLITY CASE (ANNULMENT PROCESS)
WHERE TO BEGIN
We commend you and offer you our encouragement as you begin this process.
Contact your local Catholic parish or the Catholic parish you regularly attend. A parish priest or deacon will provide assistance to you during the initial phase of the examination of the marriage in question. Should you be eligible to choose the Processus Brevior (the Abbreviated Process-see below), and if you meet all of its requirements, your local clergy or an Advocate will assist you in gathering evidence which will need to be submitted with your application. Complete this form in its entirety, trying to provide an accurate picture of what occurred prior to and during the marriage. Once you have answered all of the questions to the best of your ability, it is advisable to set them aside for a few days, so that if further additions come to mind, these may be added. The party presenting the application is called the petitioner. The other party is called the respondent.
Now, you may also submit your application and other materials independently, without the assistance of parish personnel, except when the "Abbreviated Process" is to be used (which always requires an Advocate).
The clergy or the Advocate may advise you in the choice of which process is appropriate in your case. The "abbreviated process" requires the documented consent of the Respondent. However, please keep in mind that regardless of whether the Ordinary Process or the "Abbreviated Process," is used, no guarantees can be given about the time it will take to complete the case, or of its ultimate outcome.
Church law and justice requires that the Respondent be contacted and given an opportunity to participate in either process. The parties are never asked to appear in the Tribunal together, unless the "Abbreviated Process" is employed and the parties choose to appear together before the Tribunal and the bishop.
THE PRELIMINARY FORMS
The Formal Petition ("Libellus"): Through the Formal Petition, also known as a "Libellus," you formally request the Tribunal of the Diocese of Buffalo to examine the status of your marriage in light of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Application for a Declaration of Nullity: This application is fundamentally an interview on paper. Your statement should present a comprehensive account of your background, your courtship, the marriage and separation. It is the Petitioner's responsibility to make every reasonable attempt to locate the present name and address of the Respondent and to submit both to the Tribunal.
Internet searches are helpful and background checks are available on-line for a fee (at your expense). If this information cannot be provided, a summary of efforts that were made to locate the Respondent must be included on a separate sheet. The Tribunal will then determine if the case can proceed without the Respondent's current contact information. As a pastoral practice in the United States, the Tribunal will not accept a petition for nullity before a civil divorce decree has been issued, since it is regarded as proof that there is no hope of reconciliation between the parties.
The following documents must accompany your petition application. The unexplained absence of these documents will prevent and significantly delay the opening of your case.
- A recent copy (issued within the last 6 months) of your baptismal certificate (if baptized);
- Marriage certificate (Church and /or civil license);
- Final civil decree of divorce;
- Other pertinent documents or reports that may serve as evidence (e.g. medical or police reports, etc);
- Completed Nullity Application Form (This form);
- Marriage Narrative (typed, 2-3 pages)
Be certain you (and your parish clergy or Advocate) have reviewed your application for content, and have signed in all of the applicable places. The application and supporting documents should then be mailed to the Tribunal. Keep a photocopy of the application and all documents you submit for your records.
Witness Sheet: Marriage takes place in the context of a community, and so other persons will be asked to provide the Tribunal with information from their vantage point (witness testimony). Witnesses will be contacted by us first in writing and asked to complete a short questionnaire, and if necessary, by phone interview. In order to have a clearer picture of both parties and of the marriage, if possible, please list persons who knew you and/or the Respondent before the marriage or early in the marriage and who may have knowledge of family backgrounds, childhood or marital situations. Please make an effort to include at least 2 to 4 witnesses from your side and from the Respondent's side. Names of witnesses (but not other personal information) may be given to the Respondent. We ask that you contact all persons prior to listing them as witnesses to insure that they are willing to cooperate. One of the biggest delays in nullity cases is caused by the failure of witnesses to respond. Ordinarily parents and siblings are good witnesses, but not all witnesses should be your family members. In general, children of the union are not used as witnesses. The priest or deacon who officiated at your wedding or conducted your marital preparation would also be a good witness.
Counseling Reports/Experts: When either you or the Respondent have seen a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist, prior to or during the marriage, the Tribunal may ask you to obtain a confidential summary from these individuals or institutions. You will be advised if this step is necessary. In addition, some expert opinions might be required by the Tribunal (e.g. from a psychologist, or a medical doctor, etc.). Fees associated with these experts' opinions are the direct responsibility of the parties.
Tribunal Fees: There is no cost to the parties. Formerly, petitioners who could afford it were asked to cover at least a portion of the costs as a matter of justice, but Pope Francis has asked for all judicial processes to be made free to the parties so that costs—and any misconceptions about costs—do not prevent any of the faithful from exercising their rights. Of course, there are significant costs associated with a labor-intensive legal process like the marriage nullity process; Petitioners are therefore asked to remember that fact, to make responsible use of the Tribunals resources, and to remain vigilant and diligent in their support of the Church.
Review by the Judicial Vicar or Judge: Once your application is received and accepted by the Tribunal, the Presiding Judge assigned to your case reviews the materials you have submitted, determines the possible rounds to be investigated, and what other information may be required.
The Citation: The Petitioner and the Respondent will be cited by letter of the personnel (Presiding Judge, Associate Judges, if any, Defender of the Bond, and Advocate(s) assigned to process the case and the tentative grounds under which the case is to be considered. The Respondent is invited to participate in this process to the extent he/she wishes. The citation letters indicate your Case Name and Case Number. Please have this information available whenever you contact the Tribunal so that our staff can quickly locate your file and refer you to the proper case coordinator at the Tribunal.
The Grounds: The proposed canonical grounds are determined by the Tribunal using Catholic Church Law (Canon Law). They do not pertain to civil (secular) law. The grounds must be some defect or incapacity regarding the matrimonial consent of one or both of the parties, or some canonical requirement or impediment, which had not been properly dispensed for a Catholic spouse. Please note that the recent changes promulgated by Pope Francis do not introduce any new grounds for nullity cases. Canons 1095 and ff. of the Code of Canon Law describe the available grounds.
The Decision Process: After the testimony and other information is gathered, the case is reviewed by the Judge to determine if there is sufficient information to move the case forward. The parties will be notified by letter when the case is nearing conclusion and they will have a final opportunity to submit any additional information and to read the Acts of the Case (that is , all testimony pertinent to the grounds being considered). This must be done within fifteen (15) business days of the day the letter is received. The case is then reviewed by the Defender of the Bond, who may give written comments in support of the matrimonial bond. Once these comments are received, the entire case is reviewed by the Judge, and a decision is rendered. Both parties are then notified of the decision.
Appeals: The Petitioner, Respondent, and Defender of the Bond each have the right, within 15 business (useful) days, to appeal the decision of the Court of First Instance to the Appeals Court, which is the Archdiocese of New York. The parties may also appeal directly to the Roman Rota.
Restrictions/Vetitum/Monitum: If the Tribunal is concerned that the difficulties which contributed to the breakdown of a couple's interpersonal relationship remain unresolved, the Judge(s) may require specific action before another marriage in the Church can take place. If the Tribunal considers that these difficulties could impact a future relationship, a restrictive (vetitum) or a warning (monitum) will be added to the declaration of nullity. This may apply to the Petitioner, the Respondent, or both parties. This is not intended as a punishment, but rather a help to the party so that he/she does not end up in a similar situation in a new marriage. Those with a restriction may be required to undertake further counseling. A restriction must be lifted by the Judicial Vicar before a priest/deacon can proceed with wedding plans.
Time Frame: Each nullity case has its own unique circumstances, and therefore a definite time frame cannot be guaranteed. The time involved is governed by requirements of canon law and by the cooperation of the parties and their witnesses. The Tribunal strives to complete each case in a timely manner and in accordance with canon law. It is extremely important that you notify the Tribunal of any changes of address for yourself and/or the Respondent, and also changes of addresses for the witnesses.
Status Inquiries: Because the time frame of the process cannot be guaranteed, status updates generally are not given. The Tribunal staff is available to answer your questions regarding your case or the process in general. For reasons of confidentiality, the specifics of your case can be discussed only with you or the Respondent and your Advocates. You can contact the Tribunal by mail or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) at any time, or by telephone (716-847-8769) Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30pm (Summer hours [July 1-August 31 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.])
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