By the Rev. John D. Byrnes
Many people do not know where to start in order to obtain an annulment or even what is involved. Hopefully the following will act as a guide to help those seeking an annulment.
Consult your local parish priest or any priest in a parish near your home to find out the procedures in your Archdiocese/Diocese. Eventually you will need to provide him with a summary of the principal facts concerning the courtship, marriage and breakup. What happened around the time of the marriage is especially relevant.
You will be asked to fill out an initial short questionnaire, giving salient facts related to a possible annulment.
Church law requires that the other partner must be contacted and informed of the petition. The partner's active cooperation will help the tribunal in its decision. Non-cooperation of a spouse is not always a drawback. The other partner has the right to oppose the granting of an annulment.
It is necessary to complete an extensive questionnaire reviewing the family life of the partners before marriage, the courtship and the marriage itself. Some dioceses also employ psychological testing at times to better understand the personality of one or both partners. After this written testimony has been obtained there is a review by the tribunal staff members to determine whether it has sufficient information to proceed to a formal hearing.
Witnesses are needed who can corroborate or add to the information. Persons who knew the parties before marriage usually are more helpful. The strictest confidentiality is maintained.
The formal hearing, held at the diocesan tribunal office includes tribunal judges who ultimately hand down a decision, an advocate who presents the petitioner's case, possibly an advocate for the other party and a "Defender of the Bond" who monitors the proceeding so that both partner's rights are protected and Church Law is observed. There are court costs involved.
All judgments of nullity are reviewed by another court. In addition, the parties themselves can request their own appeal of a decision if they are unsatisfied with the prior ruling.
It cannot be stressed enough that the strictest confidentiality is maintained. Yes, it may take awhile before your annulment is granted. Yes, your annulment may not be granted. But do not be afraid to take the first step to contact the local priest. He can help keep the procedure moving and ensure that your case will get the proper attention it requires.