Metropolitan Tribunal > Frequently Asked Questions

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?
The administrative cost of the Tribunal is $800.00 per case.  However, for those initiating a case who live in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia there are no longer court fees as of 2016.  In these cases Pope Francis encourages those who are able to make a contribution to do so in order to offset the expenses of the Tribunal.  Any contribution toward this cost is greatly appreciated after your case has been completed.

Who can petition for a Declaration of Nullity, or 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 a Declaration of Nullity 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.

What is the length of the process?
Each case is unique.  The time required for a given case is governed by the cooperation of the parties, the witnesses, and the number of cases ahead of yours.  Unopposed cases are usually completed in four to six months.

Does it make a difference if my former spouse participates in the process?
Canon Law, or Catholic Church Law, protects the right of both parties, the Petitioner and the Respondent, to provide testimony.  If the Respondent chooses not to respond to the citations of the Tribunal then the case proceeds without their testimony.  

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.

What does a Declaration of Nullity say about the legitimacy of my children?
A Declaration of Nullity says nothing about the legitimacy of children born in a marriage.  The determination of a child as legitimate or illegitimate has its roots in societies where inheritance and other legal matters were born of a marriage from which he or she could be considered an heir.  The Catholic Church presumes that the parties entered a marriage in good faith, according to the law of the Church.  Church law states that children conceived or born of such a marriage are legitimate.  Although the current Code of Canon Law does speak of legitimacy and illegitimacy in regards to children, this is only for the benefit of those parts of the world, which are fewer and fewer, where Church law has civil consequences.

Parents are always responsible for their children. Even if a declaration of nullity is granted it never negates parenthood nor its natural or civil responsibilities.