Reverend Monsignor James S. Kee, J.V., S.T.L., J.C.L. – Judicial Vicar
14 South Franklin Street
Mobile, AL 36602
Reverend Monsignor James S. Kee, J.V., S.T.L., J.C.L. Judicial Vicar
Reverend Daniel F. Good, J.C.L. Associate Judge
Deacon J. Douglas Sinchak, M.S., J.C.L. Associate Judge
Rev. Monsignor Leonardo Gaudalquiver, J.C.L. Associate Judge
Mrs. Kathy Weber, J.C.L. Associate Judge
Mrs. Michele McAloon, J.C.L. Defender of the Bond
Reverend Johnny S. Savoie Advocate
Ms. Sharon B. Cusimano Court Clerk/Notary
Mrs. Sarah Arendall Notaries/Transcriptionist
Mrs. Michele Nimtz Transcriptionist
Mr.Robert Brooks, Esq., Auditor
Tribunal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The following proposed questions are “commonly” heard by persons working in the Tribunal Offices, and hence are presented with some brief answers in the hope that the responses will provide helpful information. The responses are by no means exhaustive or authoritative, merely intended as helpful “general” information to bring greater clarity to the subject. For further information, please consult your pastor, associate pastor, or deacon at the parish level. He has been instructed in preparation of cases to introduce to the Tribunal. As well, you may wish to seek published, written works which address this subject matter in more detail. Several such texts are available in the marketplace, and have been found to be very helpful for individuals seeking detailed information.
An annulment, more appropriately termed a “declaration of nullity,” is issued officially by an ecclesiastical tribunal which thereby states that a marriage was not valid. Such a declaration does not propose that the spouses were never in love or that either person was at fault for the union’s dissolution. Such a declaration is a legal statement that at the time of the wedding, when the parties exchanged consent with one another, either one or both of the individuals (i.e., “contractants”) lacked sufficient capacity for marriage or either one or both of the individuals failed in giving sufficient consent to marriage in all of its essential elements and properties. In addition, if the union involved at least one party who is a baptized Roman Catholic, and the Church’s requirements for the canonical form of marriage were not observed, such ceremony could be subject to a declaration of invalidity. If a declaration of nullity is given, then the parties to the union, which is now declared null, are generally free thereafter to contract marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. A divorce is a legal declaration stating that a civilly valid marriage has officially ended; an ecclesiastical annulment, by contrast, states that a valid marriage did not exist from its beginning. Such a declaration does not deny that a relationship existed, and does not imply that the children of such a union are illegitimate. In only offers that, in terms of canon law, that a valid marriage did not occur. Such a declaration has no civil effects.
First speak with the pastor (or associate pastor or deacon) at your local Catholic parish. These individuals are very willing to assist you in completing the necessary forms and collecting the associated documentation to initiate a petition to the tribunal. Collating the paperwork make take time, and your pastor (or other mentioned assistant), designated by the tribunal as your procurator once the case is submitted, will be an invaluable aide for you, the petitioner, in this task. Furthermore, your procurator is available to you so as to provide spiritual support and guidance as you move through the steps of the annulment process.
A petition for an annulment of marriage is typically handled by a tribunal in some diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. You would initiate your cause with a cleric representing your local Catholic parish. The matter would then be presented to the tribunal which cannot accept and process a case until it has determined its “competency”, this dictated by canonical rules. These rules of competency are, generally speaking, based upon territory as stated in canon 1673 (e.g., the tribunal of the place in which the wedding occurred; the tribunal of the place of the petitioner; the tribunal of the place of the respondent; or the tribunal of the place of proofs). There is no requirement upon the petitioner to file a case in one forum versus another. The staff of the tribunal will assist in determining the competency for your case and will consult with you if any difficulties emerge or if another venue must be sought to introduce your cause.
The Roman Catholic Church presumes the validity of non-Catholic marriages, generally accepting that the first ceremony you entered into is valid provided that the minimal requirements for a valid marriage were met in keeping with the Church’s understanding of marriage (such as marriage implies permanence, lasting until death, and implies exclusivity, having only one spouse). Thus, whatever kind of first marriage ceremony you experienced, the Church would initially presume it as valid and thus consider each of you, for as long as you and your former spouse are alive, to continue as spiritually bound by that union unless and until a declaration of nullity were given by a tribunal. If your former spouse had been a baptized Catholic at the time of your wedding ceremony, he or she would have been bound to observe the laws of the Church determining marriage preparation and the ceremony itself, this requirement referred to as canonical “form.” Thus, the question would emerge if one party were a Catholic, whether or not the ceremony took place “outside” the Catholic Church and therefore the prescribe “form” were not observed. In such a case, a qualified investigation would be in order. Only a tribunal, not the parties or their pastors or their spiritual directors, can make such a precise determination. If you are presently participating in a parish-sponsored R.C.I.A. program, and have a prior union, please speak with one of the staff as soon as possible to address the particulars of your own situation. Usually R.C.I.A. programs do address the circumstances of prior marriages as part of the entire program of instruction in the Catholic faith, yet the earlier a case can be introduced to the tribunal the greater the likelihood that an outcome can be achieved before Easter.
The “grounds”, or proposed reasons as to why a union might be declared null, are selected based upon the particular circumstances of each case. These grounds will be formulated by tribunal officials in a “joinder-of-issue”statement which serves to guide in the collection and study of evidence leading to the final judgment. The fact that grounds have been proposed will not automatically result in an affirmative declaration of nullity. The grounds utilized have to be from among those recognized in canon law. And, an affirmative outcome requires that the facts of the particular case be judged in concert with the canonical understanding of the grounds utilized. A brief description of the canonical grounds which might be utilized follows:
- Insufficient use of reason: At least one contractant’s inability to know what was happening during the wedding ceremony because of insanity or diminished consciousness due to alcohol, drugs, etc.
- Grave lack of discretion of judgment: One or both parties’ inability to know, evaluate, or freely choose the essential rights and duties of marriage, which include permanence, fidelity, the procreation and education of children, and the good of the spouses.
- Incapacity to assume essential marital obligations for psychic causes: A serious psychological condition, operative at the time of the wedding, which kept one or both parties from fulfilling marital obligations.
- Ignorance: At least one contractant’s lack of knowledge that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered toward the procreation of children through some sexual cooperation.
- Error of person: The specific individual one intended to marry was not the one with whom consent was exchanged.
- Error of quality: One contractant’s possession or non-possession of an important quality (e.g., regarding social marital status, education, religious convictions, health, criminal record, etc.) which the other party directly and principally intended him or her either to have or to lack at the time of the wedding.
- Fraud: Intentional deception about the presence or absence of a specific, important quality for the purpose of obtaining marital consent.
- Error determining the will: One or both contractants entered marriage with the firm belief or conviction that fidelity is not an essential element of marriage, that the civil power or even the parties themselves can dissolve a marriage to the extent that remarriage is acceptable, or that marriage between baptized persons is not a sacrament but only a civil arrangement.
- Total simulation: The willful exclusion by one or both parties of marriage itself as understood by the Church to include fidelity, permanence, and an openness to children.
- Partial simulation: The willful exclusion of some essential element of marriage as understood by the Church (e.g., fidelity and permanence) or some essential property (e.g., openness to children, the good of the spouses, etc.).
- Conditional consent: Attachment of a condition about the future to marital consent or non-existence of a condition about the past or present which one party attached to marital consent.
- Force of fear: Entry into marriage by a party compelled by grave and extrinsic pressure which he or she could not escape (This ground is called “reverential fear” when the agent of pressure is a parental figure.).
- Lack of canonical form: Failure of a Catholic to marry without dispensation before authorized clergy and two witnesses. This ground is called “defect of canonical form” when an element (e.g., authorization for clergy, witnesses, etc.) is missing.
- Defective con-validation: Failure of one or both parties to recognize or admit that a previous exchange of consent outside canonical form is invalid in the eyes of the Church or to make a new act of the will when renewing consent.
The investigation of a marriage by the tribunal is concerned with attitude, motives, behavior and conditions present at the time of the courtship and wedding. It is these factors which constitute the systematic consideration of the validity, or otherwise, of the marriage. While infidelity is sinful and a serious violation of the exclusive unity between husband and wife, unless it were a factor during the courtship and the first days of the marriage, it does not, ipso facto, make a marriage invalid. That is, standing alone, infidelity does not prove a lack in the capacity for or failure of marital consent at the time of the wedding, these being necessary criteria for an affirmative decision.
Church law demands that the rights of both parties in an annulment case be observed. You, introducing the petitioner, will thereafter be referred to as the petitioner or plaintiff. The other spouse (i.e., the respondent) would be cited by the tribunal and given the opportunity to participate in the action. If the spouse does take part, he or she might be able to aid the investigation and provide information which may otherwise be unavailable. Your former spouse may be in favor of the annulment action, against such (even vehemently), or indifferent. But, notwithstanding his or her position, the tribunal will fully process the case. Participation or not, if a decree of invalidity is granted, the respondent likewise receives the benefits of the final decision.
The tribunal is committed to examining the marriage and, while the respondent is cited, he or she is not entitled to any information which does not pertain to the execution of the cause. Hence, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. are not deemed “essentially” pertinent information and therefore would not be made available to an unreasonable, unwarranted request. A tribunal judge, assigned to preside over each case, would determine whatever means might be necessary for the protection of an individual introducing a cause to the court.
The tribunal generally will cite any witness which you name. The best witnesses are individuals who were present to you during the courtship and the early days of the marriage. Family members generally are good witnesses. In addition, you may name a professional counselor or therapist but would be required, in that circumstance, to sign a “release form” so that confidential information may be made available to the tribunal. This requirement also protects the professional named. A petitioner is encouraged to offer the names and addresses of several witnesses, with hopes that family members would be considered from “both sides” of the union (i.e., in-laws as well as one’s own immediate family).
All children are born in the image and likeness of God and thus, regardless of whether or not the parents were married at the time of conception or birth, the infant is not deemed “illegitimate.” The granting of an annulment petition does nothing to affect the legitimacy of children. Again, when a declaration of nullity is made in reply to a petition for annulment, the outcome has no civil effects.
If you are prohibited from receiving the Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church, it is not because the annulment petition was not granted. Rather, it is because your present marital status is “irregular.” This does not mean that you are excommunicated as is often time erroneously assumed. You should approach your pastor or spiritual director and follow his directions as to the manner in which you can participate in the practice and worship of your Catholic faith without the reception of the Holy Eucharist. And, if possible, you should attempt to regularize your present circumstances.
Please contact your local Catholic parish and seek the guidance of the pastor, associate pastor, or deacon. These individuals have been guided in the preparation of cases for presentation to the tribunal. They have much experience in this area, and are more than willing to give you further information as well as provide you with spiritual assistance in the undertaking. Also, further information is available at the parish level in the form of published materials which have been made available from the tribunal offices.
When you approach your local Catholic parish, the priest or deacon who assists you in preparation of your case will have several printed resources to guide you in collating your facts. He, known as your procurator, will guide you in the collection of the necessary documents and in the completion of the libellus, or petition form, which he will then, on your behalf, submit to the offices of the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Mobile. From among the printed resources at his disposal, he will provide you with the blank petition form, a copy of which you can survey by means of the link below. Along with this petition form, you are asked to give some written testimony as a means of assisting in the initial assessment of your cause. To help you in formulating this information, your procurator will give you a printed guideline or “format” for the written testimony. This “format” can likewise be viewed by way of the link below (given in both English and Spanish). Your procurator also has two printed booklets to share with you, these readings valuable to your further understanding of the procedures followed once a case is submitted and the selection of grounds for evaluating each cause. The links provided below will connect you with copies of these two documents, for you survey. Please note that all the “forms” provided herein are specific to the handling of cases by The Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Mobile, and are copyrighted by those offices. You are encouraged to review and study them, though asked to do so in conjunction with the assistance of your local parish clergy who will not only guide you in presenting a case to the Tribunal, but will also provide spiritual, pastoral counsel throughout the entire process.