A declaration of nullity, or commonly known as an annulment, is a statement made after study by the tribunal that one of the essential elements of marriage was not present in the parties’ exchange of marital consent. This declaration recognizes that a legal bond existed, but implies no moral judgment or blame regarding either of the parties. The person seeking the declaration is called the petitioner, while the other spouse is referred to as the respondent.
A person seeks a declaration of nullity in order to obtain a definitive judgment on the sacramental nature of his/her prior bond(s). This judgment determines if a person is free to marry in the Catholic Church and may provide the person with peace of mind or closure. Any divorced person who seeks possible remarriage in the Catholic Church must have each prior marriage examined by the tribunal for a determination of its validity, unless the prior marriage(s) ended in death.
If the study of a marriage determines that the marriage was not a sacramental bond, then a declaration of nullity is granted. The usual procedures of preparing for marriage can then be started at the parish. In all cases, before a Catholic marriage, a person will be required to address the sacramental nature of Christian marriage through pastoral counseling.
If the study reveals more serious issues that need to be addressed before a person is ready for a future marriage, then a professional counseling requirement will be imposed which must be fulfilled before permission for a future marriage will be granted. These issues of concern will be provided to a counselor approved by the Tribunal.
How long the process takes depends on several variables, such as the possibility of a counseling requirement, or the possibility of receiving a negative decision. Cases will not be moved ahead to meet wedding dates! No future marriage may be scheduled in any Catholic parish until the process is completed and a formal declaration of nullity is issued.
For more information on declarations of nullity, please feel free to contact the Metropolitan Tribunal.