Marriage is a solemn commitment of a man and a woman to be faithful unto death. In the Catholic Church, marriage is a Sacrament in which this commitment to each other is blessed by the Lord. Being married in the Church means a life of fidelity to each other as Christ himself is faithful to his Church.
Unfortunately in our society today, there is a wide-spread phenomenon of marital breakdown. This is a sad and troubling situation that we must all face. Members of the Catholic Church are no less affected by this than the rest of our society. The Church believes in and is committed to the permanence of the marriage bond. The Church will do all in its power to defend that, and in concrete circumstances, to encourage and promote stable and faithful marriages. However, the reality is that some marriages in our society will not succeed.
For this reason, the Church in her wisdom and through her judicial system has instituted a process that begins with the premise that the marriage is valid and sacramental. Through a formal investigation, the Church seeks to determine if, at the time of the marriage, there was some essential ingredient missing which would render it virtually impossible for the couple to achieve that to which they were committed, namely a permanent, faithful and loving union. Only when it has been established that an essential ingredient for valid marriage was missing from the beginning of the marriage, does the Church find herself in a position to act in considering the granting of an annulment. Having followed the canonical process instituted by the Church Universal, the Diocesan Tribunal may make a declaration of nullity of this marriage.
The purpose of the Diocesan Tribunal is to assist couples who find themselves in such a situation. Our Tribunal is staffed by trained and competent priests, religious, and laity. The judge’s task is to evaluate a marriage which has already been civilly dissolved through divorce. After having conducted an investigation, a judge is competent to make a judgment on whether or not there is an essential ingredient missing. Therefore, based on the norms of Canon Law and the facts of a particular case, a marriage can be declared null.
If you feel that you qualify for this process, I urge you to contact the Tribunal of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. It is my experience that this process is pastorally sound and sensitive to the needs of every person who is involved in such a situation. It is also my experience that those who go through this process discover that, even while at times it may be painful, it is a healing process that can bring closure to one aspect of life and open up new prospects for the future.
Please be assured of my confidence in our Tribunal and my prayers for every person who has reason to come to this Tribunal seeking its pastoral help and judicial expertise.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Bishop of Rockville Centre
It is the role of the Diocesan Tribunal to hear the cases of those who are divorced and who are petitioning the Church to make a judgment on the possible invalidity of their marriage due to some impediment, inadequate consent or the inability to fulfill the duties of the married state. The Tribunal makes every effort to carry out this process in a pastoral and sensitive manner.
What is an Annulment?
An Annulment is a judgment by the Church that a presumed valid marriage, which ended in divorce, was lacking from the very beginning an essential element or ingredient required for valid marital consent. Consent may be proven defective if either or both spouses did not intend a permanent, faithful union or refused to have children. Consent can also be invalid due to some psychological impairment which prevented one or both spouses from fulfilling the obligations of marriage.
An Annulment does not deny that a marriage existed. It only states that this putative (thought-to-be) marriage, which may have been entered into sincerely and with good will, may not have been valid because of defective consent.
A Church Annulment has no effects in the civil law of our country. Therefore, such matters as the legitimacy of children, property rights, alimony or child support, etc., are in no way affected by a Church declaration of nullity.
Why is an Annulment necessary?
Because the Catholic Church believes that marriage was intended by God to be a sacred and permanent bond, any divorced person seeking to marry again in the Catholic Church must first petition the Church for a declaration of freedom to marry based on an investigation of the previous union. This investigation, in each annulment case, seeks to determine whether or not valid marital consent was exchanged and whether or not both spouses were capable of marriage, i.e. forming the covenant of faithful and permanent love that the Church defines marriage to be. An Annulment may also be sought for personal solace, even if a person has no plans to remarry.
How does a divorced person petition the Church to investigate an Annulment case?
1. A completed Divorce Decree or Civil Annulment Decree must first be obtained. The Catholic Church always maintains hope for reconciliation within the marriage until a divorce decree shows that the marriage is legally dissolved.
2. A phone call to the Diocesan Tribunal is made to initiate the case (516-678-5800 x571). At this time some preliminary information will be taken on the phone and you will be offered an Advocate to assist you in preparing your formal petition and gathering the necessary documents. You must provide the last known address of your former spouse because the Tribunal is required by Church law to inform that person of this proceeding and give him or her the opportunity to present testimony. At no time will you be required to meet with your former spouse. If he or she refuses to participate in this investigation, the case will continue nonetheless.
3. You will be assisted by your Advocate in completing some forms and you will be asked to submit to the Tribunal a report or testimony based on your family background and that of your former spouse, the courtship and engagement period, the wedding ceremony, the history of the marriage itself and what led to the breakdown of the marriage. After the Tribunal has received these completed forms, the Judge assigned to your case may ask that you contact him to discuss the grounds to be considered and/or the gathering of proof.
4. Witness testimony is also required. Witnesses can be family or friends who knew you and your former spouse prior to the wedding. The witnesses will be asked by the Tribunal to submit their own reports based on what they know about the marriage in question and any problems that may have existed in the pre-marital history. Four witnesses are usually required.
5. Once the judge assigned to your case has received all the testimony, you will be asked to make an appointment with the judge for an interview (known as the “Judicial Hearing”) so that the facts of the case can be discussed and clarified. In cases being heard on the
grounds of psychological incapacity for marriage, a court appointed psychological expert is present for the hearing in order to assist the judge in evaluating some of the psychological aspects of the marriage in question. The interview or hearing is always conducted in a professional and pastoral manner. Unlike a federal or civil court, the Church does not hear cases in “Open Court” where anyone can walk in, listen or make notes about what is said.
6. After a decision has been rendered regarding your petition, Church law requires a review of each case by a panel of three judges who will either ratify the decision in the first instance or admit the case for re-trial.
7. It must be noted that NO PLANS FOR A CATHOLIC CHURCH WEDDING OR CONVALIDATION CAN BE MADE UNTIL A CASE HAS BEEN COMPLETED AND ANY PRE-MARITAL OR POST-ANNULMENT REQUIREMENTS, SUCH AS COUNSELING, HAVE BEEN MET.
8. There is a non-refundable fee of $300 to begin the annulment investigation and a balance of $800 to be paid in the installments that are indicated in the “Step by Step” Payment Schedule (please see Schedule of Procedures and Payments form). The Church Tribunal asks that those who avail themselves of the services of this office assist us in meeting part of the expenses that are incurred in each case. A Diocesan subsidy covers a substantial portion of the expenses in staffing and operating the Tribunal.
Diocesan Tribunal Office
Diocese of Rockville Centre
P.O. Box 9023
Rockville Centre, New York 11571-9023
(516) 678-5800 ext.571