What is a tribunal?
A Tribunal is the Church court for a local Roman Catholic diocese. It adjudicates internal Church legal affairs, including petitions for declarations of nullity of marriage. A Tribunal is composed of the Judicial Vicar, other judges, and court officers, such as Promotors of Justice, Defenders of the Bond, Advocates and Auditors. The Philadelphia Tribunal is a Metropolitan Tribunal because it is the court of the Metropolitan Episcopal See of Philadelphia. It is the appeal court for all of the Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.
What is an annulment?
Marriages are to be performed legally and validly. Legally means the marriage is properly performed according to civil and religious regulations. Validly means that when the people marry, their intentions, their understanding of marriage, and their ability to enter marriage are sufficient. In the Catholic Church for one to marry validly one must have the intention to enter a permanent faithful union that is open to the possibility of children. In the Catholic Church marriage is understood to be a community of life for a man and a woman, for their mutual, interpersonal growth and for the procreation and education of children. Finally, one must have the basic physical, emotional, and psychological ability to understand the intentions and meaning of marriage and to intend and fulfill them.
For all marriages, this validity is presumed. The Catholic Church cannot end or break a valid marriage bond between two baptized persons. The Church can examine the presumed valid marriage bond to see if the bond really existed. This procedure is what the annulment process is all about.
When one of the spouses requests it, the Church has the obligation to investigate the validity of a marriage. This investigation does not mean that the case is proved, only that the marriage has to be examined.
What is the court fee?
Effective December 21, 2015, there are no longer Court fees. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, encourages those who are able to make a contribution to do so in order to offset the expenses of the Tribunal. The administrative cost of the Tribunal is $800.00 per case. Any contribution toward this cost is greatly appreciated when your case has been completed.
Who can petition for an annulment?
Anyone who has been previously married and divorced and now wishes to marry in the Catholic Church must petition for a declaration of nullity.
The party who petitions the tribunal for an annulment is called the PETITIONER. The other party who is asked to respond to the petition for a declaration of nullity is called the RESPONDENT.
What tribunal is competent to hear my case?
Matrimonial cases can be initiated at any tribunal where a Petitioner lives or has a residence. These cases can also begin in the tribunal of the diocese in which the marriage occurred or in which the Respondent lives.
How do I begin a case in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia?
To begin a case, please click on the “Application and Forms” tab at the top of this page or call the Tribunal at 215-587-3750.
What happens if I do not know where my former spouse lives?
Once your formal testimony has been taken, your former spouse will be cited by the Tribunal. The former spouse will be notified of the grounds and reasons for the basis of the Petition. If you do not have an address for your former spouse you need to provide the Tribunal with an explanation as to why that is so and what steps you took to locate your former spouse.
Does it make a difference if my former spouse participates in the process?
If your former spouse participates in the case, if they are in favor of a Declaration of Nullity, if they agree with the grounds and the reasons for the Petition and if their testimony is similar to your testimony, then it is possible that the case can be heard in a shorter process called the “Brief Process,” or the “Bishop’s Process” given by Pope Francis. With this process, the testimony in the case, the advice of a Tribunal assessor and the comments of the Defender of the Bond (whose job is to uphold the validity of the marriage) go to the Bishop for a decision. If the Bishop judges the case to be proven, he then issues a brief decision for a Declaration of Nullity. If the Bishop judges the case not to be proven to him, the Bishop does not deny the Petition. Instead, he sends the case back to be judged in the normal process where more testimony is gathered.
In cases where the former spouse is opposed to a Declaration of Nullity, where the former spouse does not respond to the Tribunal, or is unable to be located, these cases continue in in the normal process for a Declaration of Nullity.
What if my annulment is not granted or if I am opposed to a Declaration of Nullity?
Either one of the parties can appeal any decision of the Tribunal to a higher court.
Does an annulment affect children born in the marriage?
An annulment does not affect children born in a marriage. Parents are always responsible for their children. Even if a declaration of nullity is granted it never negates parenthood nor its responsibilities.