Catholic Church Annulments
Marriage is a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership for their whole life, and which of its very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children. It is a lifelong and faithful union. Between baptised persons, marriage is a Sacrament. When a couple observes the correct formalities in getting married, they and everybody else have a right to presume that they are in fact married. Another way of stating this principle is that marriage enjoys the favour of the law. In other words, everyone has a right to assume that the couple are married unless it has been proven otherwise.
When a couple’s marriage is in difficulty, the preferred outcome is that the couple would be able to resolve their differences. However, if the marriage breaks down and one of the parties believes that the marriage may be invalid, they may refer the matter to one of the Regional Marriage Tribunals established by the Catholic Church. Each Marriage Tribunal is comprised of people who are expert in the laws of the Church that deal with marriage. The Tribunals also have the assistance of professionals in the humanities and medical fields. Usually, a tribunal has both ordained and lay people working for it. In Ireland, there are five such tribunals—four regional tribunals and one appeals tribunal based in Dublin. The Cork Regional Marriage Tribunal serves the people of the dioceses of Cork and Ross, Cloyne, Waterford, Cashel and Emly, Limerick and Kerry.
When one applies to a church tribunal for a decree of nullity of marriage one is alleging that, at the time of marriage, the consent of one or both of the parties was seriously flawed and thereby a marriage did not come into being. The work of the tribunal is concerned with answering the core question about the validity of the marriage. A tribunal does not engage in counselling, blaming, arbitration or civil law matters. The Plaintiff (person who asks for the decree of nullity) is purporting to overturn the presumption that a valid marriage exists with proof to the contrary. Proof consists of the sworn statements of the Plaintiff, Respondent (the other party to the marriage, who may or may not agree with the Plaintiff) and witnesses together with whatever expert evidence may be available (doctors, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.) All of the steps taken will be fully explained to the parties before the Tribunal sets about its work. Towards the end of the process, both parties have a right to see the evidence that has been gathered. (There are some exceptions to this rule). It is important when nominating witnesses that the parties should inform them of this fact.
It is difficult to estimate how long it will take to conclude any one case. However, most cases take approximately one year. This is because many cases are in process at any one time and, given the seriousness of the matter, it is incumbent upon the tribunal to conduct a careful and adequate investigation.
Making An Application
If you wish to apply for a decree of nullity, and you currently live in one of the dioceses served by the Cork Regional Marriage Tribunal, write the following to the tribunal:
I wish to apply for a Decree of Nullity of my marriage to ___________________
Telephone Number _____________________
Signed ___________________ Date __________________
Post the above to:
Fr. Richard Keane,
Cork Regional Marriage Tribunal
St. Finbarr’s West
Tel: 021 496 3653
The Tribunal will then respond with more information for you and will also ask you to provide the information which is necessary to begin the process.