|For further information contact:|
|Contact Person:||Dr Prudence Francis|
Marriage Tribunal Office
GPO Box 62, Hobart. Tas 7001
35 Tower Road
New Town Tasmania
|Telephone:||(03) 6208 6250|
|Mobile:||0407 964 196|
|Fax:||(03) 6208 6297|
Is it all worthwhile?
For many people, obtaining an annulment can be a painful experience. However it is a pastoral and therapeutic process as well as a legal procedure.
Many petitioners find that the process itself and the sensitive approach of the Tribunal staff can be a healing experience. It can be an opportunity to face up to, come to grips with and disarm, fearsome and debilitating memories of the past. It can bring a painful experience to closure.
Marriage Tribunal and the Annulment Process
For Catholics, the means of having a second marriage after a divorce accepted by the Church is through a process called ‘annulment’. An annulment is not simply a ‘Catholic divorce’. Nor is it the same process as obtaining a civil divorce.
An annulment is a formal declaration by the Catholic Church that some essential ingredient of marriage was missing at the time the wedding was celebrated. It says there wasn’t a marriage that matched the Church’s minimal expectations of what constitutes a valid marriage.
Hence, in all justice, the couple is not bound to contract what was never freely or advisedly entered into in the first place.
Liz is one person who has been prepared to share her experience of petitioning for, and receiving, an annulment of her first marriage. She is not a Catholic, but her first husband was. In her mid-30’s, after a divorce, she met and fell in love with another Catholic. For a long time she had put off the decision to seek an annulment. “I had built up a picture that the whole thing would be traumatic and horrible. What I found was … that my situation was handled with great sensitivity.” Above all else, Liz valued the opportunity the annulment procedure gave her to review her first relationship. “The civil divorce was just a whirlwind,” she says. “I found it helpful to gradually unravel some of the issues in that earlier relationship. …”
Liz’s story is not unique. There are hundreds of annulments declared in Australia each year. The process does take time, however, and people who participate in the process can begin only when the civil divorce, the property settlement and arrangements for the custody of children have been completed.
An annulment does not deny that a relationship of profound and lasting significance did once exist between an estranged couple. Neither does it deny the legitimacy of children of the first union. Essentially, the annulment process tries to examine whether or not all the elements that comprise a marriage were there at the outset. For Catholics, marriage is the only sacrament both given and received by the parties themselves. If a person has undertaken to give something he or she is incapable of giving, then they cannot be held to the validity of that gift. It is better, if possible, that they be freed to get on with the rest of their lives.
The declaration of nullity of a marriage is made by a diocesan church body called the Marriage Tribunal. All Tasmanian cases are prepared for presentation to the Tribunal from the Marriage Tribunal Office in Hobart, but they are judged by the Tribunal in Melbourne. Every decision made by this Tribunal has to be ratified at the National Tribunal currently located in Perth, Western Australia.
Steps in the annulment process:
- You contact the Tribunal Office in Hobart and arrange for a preliminary interview with an advocate. At this interview you would be advised as to whether there appears to be grounds on which to petition for a decree of nullity.
- If there appear to be grounds for a petition to be prepared, the advocate will assist you to write a statement, to collect necessary documents and/or certificates and to nominate witnesses who will assist in gathering evidence to support your petition.
- A formal petition is signed, after your written statement is received at the Tribunal.
- The advocate presents your petition and other preliminary material to the Tribunal in Melbourne.
- A Tribunal is constituted. That is, judges, a defender of the bond and a notary are appointed to hear your case.
- Your former husband or wife is contacted by the Tribunal. He/she is given the opportunity to contribute to the process. He/she is asked whether he/she agrees with or opposes a decree of nullity on the grounds alleged in your formal request.
- The evidence of all witnesses nominated by either party is taken. This is done under oath.
- The evidence of the two parties to the marriage is taken separately, under oath.
- The evidence that has been gathered is made available to the advocates and the defender of the marriage bond. Each of these persons prepares written submissions arguing their respective sides of the case.
- The evidence is presented to the judges of the case and a decision is made.
- The judges' decision is reviewed by the National Tribunal of Appeal. Before a decree of nullity can be given, an affirmative decision at the first Tribunal has to be ratified by the National Tribunal.
To start the process, the person wishing to petition for an annulment applies directly to the Marriage Tribunal Office by writing or telephoning. A letter of referral from a priest or pastoral worker is not needed, but can be a helpful introduction.
At the preliminary interview you will be asked to present a written submission, according to the guidelines you will be provided with by the Tribunal. After this, an assessment is made. You will later be invited to make an appointment for a formal interview. Following your formal interview the case is prepared to be sent to the Tribunal Office in Melbourne for First Instance Judgment.
Are Witnesses Necessary?
Yes. They are nominated by you but only after very careful consideration. They must be willing to be interviewed confidentially by the Tribunal about what they know about your marriage. They are not required simply as character witnesses. They must have some knowledge of the marriage under scrutiny.
Church Law states that the children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate. (Canon 1137) An annulment affects only the marital status of the parents themselves, and then only according to Catholic Church Law.
In Australia, annulments have no civil effects. A civil divorce must be obtained before any formal action can be taken in an investigation.
When the Tribunal considers that there is sufficient evidence for a decision to be reached, the documentation is forwarded to Melbourne, where the formal and private sessions of the Church Court are held.
You, or your former spouse, are not required to attend.
The Judges of the Tribunal will declare either that the marriage is invalid or that the evidence does not allow such a decision to be made.
All this takes time as each case is dealt with individually. Due to the number of applications and the varying factors involved in difficult cases, no time can be specified. Very often, a petitioner is informed of a decision within a year of his/her formal interview at the Tribunal Office.
Booking the Church
A booking for a Catholic Church wedding SHOULD NOT BE MADE until a personal notification that the person is free to marry has been sent to the priest.
There is no guarantee that the Appeal Tribunal will ratify the annulment.
A standard fee of $450 helps with the running costs of the Tribunal Offices in Hobart, Melbourne and Perth. This can be paid in installments during the case. In difficult circumstances, allowances are made for an adjustment of the account. This fee does not cover the full cost of the process and is heavily subsidized by the Archdiocese.