What is a marriage?
The Catholic Church understands marriage to be an enduring and exclusive partnership for the mutual exchange of love and for the procreation and education of children.
Between those who have been baptized, a valid marriage is a sacrament. The Church believes that every valid, sacramental marriage that has been consummated is indissoluble. This is the law of God according to the evidence found in the Old Testament, the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the writings of St. Paul, and almost two thousand years of Christian tradition.
Although not every marriage is a sacrament, each and every marriage (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, etc.) is presumed to be a valid marriage binding unto death. The good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society, the Church, etc.) demands this presumption.
What about marriages that break up?
After a couple has been married, the husband and wife go through a period of adjustment. During this time many problems may arise. Sometimes the problems remain below the surface and do not come to the fore until later in the marriage. Whenever these problems do arise, if they become severe, the parties often seek relief from this unhappy relationship by obtaining a civil divorce. For Catholics a civil divorce means that there are no longer any civil effects enduring from their marriage, although the Church maintains that they are still married in the sight of God.
Inasmuch as the Church recognizes as valid those marriages between non-Catholics that take place before a non-Catholic minister or a civil official, the Church believes that civil divorces or civil annulments among non-Catholics as well as Catholics have no spiritual effects.
Whenever a marriage breaks up, the natural reaction is to ask why these two people, who at one time in their lives seemed so willing to make a permanent commitment now want to resume separate lives. The causes of marriage failure are varied.
Because marriage is a sacred contract or covenant, there must be a free exchange of consent if it is to be valid. Each party must be able to fulfill the conditions for marriage. Sometimes it is found that marriages have failed because one of these is lacking. If one of the necessary qualities was, indeed, lacking when the exchange of consent took place, the marriage could be declared null; then the parties could be free to contract a valid marriage.
What is a declaration of nullity?
It is important to understand the meaning of a declaration of nullity. A declaration on nullity does not deny that a real relationship did exist nor does it imply that the relationship was entered into with ill will or moral fault. A declaration of nullity is a statement by the Church that the relationship fell short of one or more of these elements essential for the relationship to be a marriage, a binding union. Therefore, the union in question would not be regarded by the Church as a source of continuing marital rights and obligations.
A declaration of nullity differs from a divorce in that a divorce breaks the civil effects of a marriage bond, whereas a declaration of nullity declares there never was a true bond. An ecclesiastical declaration of nullity in no way affects the laws and statutes of civil law. The provisions established by the courts in the issuance of a divorce certificate stand as decreed. There are absolutely no civil effects of a Church declaration of nullity in the United States. It does not affect in any manner the legitimacy of children, property rights, inheritance rights, or names. A Church declaration of nullity is a declaration by the Catholic Church that a particular union, presumably begun in good faith and regarded by all as a marriage, was, in fact, not a marriage according to the Church's definition of a valid marriage.
Who may apply for a declaration of nullity?
Any Catholic or non-Catholic within the territory of the Archdiocese of Miami may approach the Metropolitan Tribunal for the clarification of his/her status in the Church. The application for declaration of nullity must be made to a Tribunal that has proper jurisdiction. If the Miami Tribunal is unable to undertake this study, we will gladly assist persons in determining which Tribunal enjoys competence.
How does one begin this process?
If you live within the territory of the Archdiocese of Miami, for beginning the process, these are the essential steps:
- Contact your parish priest, who either personally or through a person trained by the Tribunal, will assist you in this process.
- With either your parish priest or FIELD ADVOCATE (person trained by the Tribunal) complete the Preliminary Fact Sheet.
- Obtain the following necessary documents: Recent copy of baptismal certificate of Petitioner (if Catholic); Recent copy of baptismal certificate of Respondent (if Catholic) (This may be obtained from Church of marriage); Copy of church marriage certificate (if married in the Catholic Church); Copy of civil marriage certificate (if not performed in Catholic church); Copy of final divorce decree (property settlements alone not acceptable).
- Contact the necessary witnesses and confirm their willingness to cooperate.
- Once the Preliminary Fact Sheet has been completed and the necessary documents obtained, the parish priest or the FIELD ADVOCATE will forward the material to the Tribunal.
- When the Tribunal receives the Preliminary Fact Sheet and the necessary documents, a packet of questionnaires will be returned to your Advocate. You will receive a copy of the letter to the Advocate informing him or her that the process has begun. Once you receive this copy, arrange a meeting with your Advocate.
What is the role of the advocate?
The Advocate is the person (either your parish priest or a person trained by the Tribunal) who acts as a liaison between the Tribunal and the persons involved in the case. The Advocate's role is to assist the party in gathering the necessary information. He or she is the one who will also answer any particular questions regarding the procedure. All questions should be directed toward this person and NOT the Tribunal. If there is a difficulty between you and your FIELD ADVOCATE then notify the Tribunal in writing. Be sure to indicate your protocol number.
Are witnesses required?
Marriage is never a totally private relationship. It creates profound effects on the family, society, and the Church. Witnesses, therefore, are required by Church law to assist the Tribunal in reaching a deeper understanding of you, your spouse, your marriage and its failure. The witnesses' questionnaires will be included in the packet sent to the FIELD ADVOCATE. The FIELD ADVOCATE will be responsible for the completion of the questionnaires either personally or through the mail.
Are any special witnesses needed?
Sometimes doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, priests, ministers, rabbis, etc., have been consulted before or during a marriage to assist a person or a couple. If this is the case, please provide the complete name and address of the professional.
After you have signed a release provided by the Tribunal, the professional may give information that may prove to be of great value in the study of the marriage. The Tribunal will arrange to obtain this person's testimony.
Who may review this information?
Your own statements, the statements of your witnesses, and the expert statements of professionals are treated with the strictest confidentiality. No one has access to this except the parties to the case and individual members of the Tribunal staff specially assigned to the study of the marriage. They are all bound to secrecy by an oath. If there are any doubts or questions in this matter, or if there is a need for particular testimony to be withheld from the other party, please contact your Advocate at once, but the final decision for withholding testimony is left to the judge in the case.
What about the former spouse?
After the Tribunal has received your petition, we will notify your former spouse in writing. He/she will be offered the opportunity to present a complete account of the marriage as well as to introduce any desired witnesses. The universal law of the Catholic Church requires this procedure. In some cases no decision can be given without the testimony of the former spouse.
It is important, therefore, for the Tribunal to have an accurate address of the former spouse. If the current address is not available, then the Tribunal must have his/her last known address together with the address of a family member through whom the former spouse may be contacted.
Please note that the Tribunal contacts the former spouse. You may, if you wish, do likewise, and often it is helpful if you do, but it is not required. It has been the experience of the Tribunal that in the majority of the cases the former spouse is cooperative.
Usually a period of 15 days is allowed for the former spouse to reply, after receiving the notification from the Tribunal, but in certain cases more time may be given.
What happens if the former spouse gives a testimony opposite to mine?
In a declaration of nullity the Judge must have, according to Church law, moral certitude about the nullity of the marriage. If this is lacking after all the evidence has been presented, he has no other recourse but to decree that the invalidity of the marriage has not been proved, even though it may, in truth, be invalid. Therefore, it is important to include the testimony of the other party as well as other statements that will enable the Judge to attain moral certitude. The Judge will weigh carefully all evidence in relation to the party presenting it.
What staff members will be involved in my case?
- The ADVOCATE is your contact person with the Tribunal whose duties have been described above. After he/she collects all the evidence, he/she writes a brief, arguing why the marriage should be declared null.
- The JUDICIAL VICAR/ADJUTANT JUDICIAL VICAR has the duty of examining your petition and all supporting documents; he must determine if the presented material is adequate for the starting of a study.
- The CASE DIRECTOR/ASSESSOR/ a member of the Tribunal Staff is assigned to coordinate your case from its beginning to its conclusion.
- The NOTARY has the responsibility of assuring the authenticity of the acts of the case.
- The DEFENDER OF THE BOND is charged by the Church Law to examine the testimony that has been given and to make those arguments that support the validity of the marriage.
- The JUDGE takes care that the correct rules of procedure are followed in the hearing of the case. He orders the processing of the case, step by step. In some instances the Judge will want to personally interview either you or your former spouse or both. Finally, he will write the sentence.
When is a decision made?
When the formal hearing has been concluded, the Defender of the Bond and the Advocate offer views on the case. After reviewing all the data, the Judge will then render a decision.
If either party or the Defender of the Bond is not in agreement with the decision, the law provides for an appeal. The appellate court for Miami is the diocese of Pittsburgh, PA. An appeal may also be made to the Sacred Roman Rota, in Rome. Appeals are directed to their proper appellate court through the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Miami.
What effect does a declaration of nullity have under civil law?
In the United States there is a separation of Church and State. While the Government grants authority to ministers of religious bodies to officiate at marriages in the name of the respective civil entity, neither an individual State nor the Federal Government recognizes the right of Church bodies to terminate or annul marriages insofar as the legal effects are concerned. Therefore, it is necessary to have obtained a civil divorce before one seeks a Church declaration of nullity. A Church declaration of nullity has no civil effects.
Is remarriage in the church allowed?
If a declaration of nullity is decreed and there are no restrictions attached to it the usual procedure of preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church may be started with the local parish priest. In addition to the documents usually required for all weddings, it is necessary to provide the parish priest with the Declaration of Nullity.
If a marriage is declared invalid due to a specific cause, a second marriage obviously cannot be permitted until it has been demonstrated that the cause that invalidated the first marriage has been removed. Please note that permission to remarry in the Catholic Church can in no way be guaranteed before the completion of the entire process of study and formal hearing (s). No plans for future marriages should be made before that time. The tribunal cannot be responsible for arbitrary promises or guarantees made by any priest, religious, or lay person.
How long does the entire process take?
It is impossible to predict the exact length of time because of a number of variable factors. No two cases are the same. Usually from our experience it takes AT LEAST A YEAR to complete a case. However, this is not a guarantee. By Church Law PRIESTS ARE NOT PERMITTED TO SET DATES FOR REMARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH UNTIL A DECLARATION OF NULLITY HAS ACTUALLY BEEN ISSUED. The Tribunal processes each case as efficiently as possible.
How soon after a favorable decision has been rendered may i remarry?
When an affirmative decision has been rendered, a letter to this effect will be sent to you, the Defender of the Bond and your former spouse, if he or she has cooperated in the process. The Defender of the Bond or your former spouse has the right to appeal this decision. Even if there is no appeal the law of the Church requires that we forward the case to our appellate court, the Diocese of Pittsburgh for review. You are not free to remarry within the Church until you have received a final notification from us indicating that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has upheld our decision and there are no restrictions placed upon you.
How much is the fee?
It costs the Archdiocese over $500,000.00 a year to maintain the Tribunal. This works out to $2,500.00 for a case. Since the contributions of the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Miami help the Archbishop to fund the operations of the Tribunal, we only ask for a subsidized fee of $650.00 if you are a faithful of the Archdiocese of Miami.
If a catholic of the archdiocese of miami requires a reduction, the tribunal will readily arrange to honor such a request if recommended by his/her pastor and will ensure that your case will be processed. At no time should financial consideration discourage or prevent any faithful of the archdiocese of miami from exercising the right to receive a just hearing from the church. His or herability or inability to pay a fee in no way affects the progress or outcome of a request.