Who may apply?
Any divorced Catholic has the right to ask for an investigation of a previous marriage by the appropriate Tribunal of the Church. Any non-Catholic divorced person remarried to a Catholic, intending to become a Catholic, or intending marriage to a Catholic, has the same right. Only a party to the marriage, however, may apply.
How is the Process Started?
An application is made by phoning the Tribunal offices (in Melbourne 9287 5542) for an initial interview. A letter of referral from a priest or pastoral worker can be a helpful introduction, but is not necessary.
Following this interview, a preliminary assessment is made, after which the applicant is advised whether the case is considered worth further investigation. If grounds are identified, the applicant is requested to present a comprehensive written submission, according to the guidelines provided by the Tribunal. If the case is accepted for hearing, there will be a further formal interview with the applicant.
Is the former spouse contacted?
It is a requirement of canon law that the other party be informed of the investigation and given the opportunity to participate in the investigation in the same manner as the applicant.
Are witnesses necessary?
They are. The persons submitted as witnesses are normally nominated by the parties to the marriage. They must be willing to be interviewed confidentially by the Tribunal about what they know of the marriage. They are not simply character referees; they must have some knowledge of the marriage under scrutiny.
It may also be necessary to ask the applicant's written permission to obtain relevant medical reports or to request professional evaluation by a psychologist.
Who has access to the information gathered?
The Tribunal must observe relevant reporting and privacy laws of the state and Commonwealth. The parties to the marriage have the opportunity to know the decision and the basis on which it was made.
How is a decision reached?
When it is considered by the Tribunal that there is sufficient evidence for a decision to be reached, the formal sessions of the Tribunal are held. The parties are not required to attend. The Defender of the Marriage Bond is always involved to uphold the ideals of the Church on marriage and its permanence. The decision will be made by judges of the Tribunal, and they will declare either that the marriage is certainly invalid or that the evidence does not prove invalidity and so the presumption remains that the marriage is valid.
What happens after the decision?
The case must be forwarded to a second tribunal for review, which either ratifies the first decision or requests further investigation before a final decision is given.
Is every application successful?
No. The decision rests entirely with the Tribunal after reviewing all the evidence. The fact that evidence is taken should not be interpreted as an indication of a favourable decision.
Even where an affirmative decision has been given, before being permitted to marry in the Church, it is quite possible that the applicant will be required to attend counselling together with the future spouse. Such counselling is a prudent requirement to safeguard the hope that the subsequent union will be successful. In cases where an incapacity for marriage has been proven, there may be a requirement that some form of counselling therapy be proven to have been beneficial before remarriage in the Church is possible.
How long does all this take?
Each application is dealt with individually. Where a person has been married more than once each union needs to be considered separately. Where both parties to a proposed marriage have been previously married each union would need investigation. Due to the number of applications and the varying factors involved in different cases, no time can be specified. Often an applicant is informed of a decision within twelve months of presenting the written submission to the Tribunal office, but the average time for an outcome is between twelve and eighteen months..
Should a date be set for a wedding?
A booking for a Church wedding should not be made until a personal notification that a person is free to marry has been sent to the celebrant. An affirmative decision is never guaranteed until final ratification. Setting a tentative date before a final decision has been given often leads to disappointment since the investigation is a trial of the marriage and, like all trials, the outcome is subject to unforeseen difficulties. Setting a date for a wedding before the final decision is known places the applicant and their proposed partner, not to mention the Tribunal staff, under unreasonable and unnecessary pressure.
What are the fees for annulment?
The Tribunal costs are heavily subsidised by the Archdiocese of Melbourne. However, each applicant is asked to contribute to the cost of investigating their case through a standard fee of $750, paid in instalments through the time of the case. In difficult financial circumstances, allowances are made for an adjustment of the account.