We know what an annulment is and what it is not, but how does the Tribunal decide whether a marriage is null? Paul Shogren explains in the third instalment of Marriage Matters.
The process to have a marriage declared null, which is a better way of putting it, is quite simple really.
The Tribunal has the task of obtaining as much proof as we can about a person’s claim that his or her marriage is null and then deciding if the claim can stand.
So we do what any inquiry would do – we firstly ask the person making the claim to explain why they think it is so, then naturally we tell the other party what their former spouse is claiming about their marriage and ask for this person’s view of things.
Anybody who has spent time asking a couple about their failed marriage would know that getting agreement on what their life was like is fairly rare, therefore we approach people nominated by both parties to tell us what they know about the couple.
Finally a decision is made by a court, usually comprised of three judges, about whether nullity is proven.
The process may use familiar sounding names but there is no standing up in a court room being cross examined, no judges in wigs and robes looking on. The judges do not generally see the people involved face to face – all they ever see is the evidence given in the form of a record of interview.
Of course a fairly complex set of procedural rules has developed around this process to ensure that the search for truth is given its best chance, that people’s rights are respected and the marriage, which as I said before, enjoys the favour of the law, is given the respect it deserves.
We even have a person called the Defender of the Bond, whose job it is to argue, whenever it can be reasonably done, for the validity of the marriage in question.
If a party doesn’t like the decision they receive from the Tribunal and they have reasonable grounds for this, then they can appeal either to an interstate Tribunal or directly to the Roman Rota, which is something like the Marriage Division of the Supreme Court for the entire Catholic world.
You may recall that I said divorce is about what happens at the end, annulment is about what happened at the beginning.
But of course common sense would tell you that problems at the start aren’t always obvious at that time and it may take a while for those issues to raise their nasty little heads.
So, of course, we need to see what happened in the days, months or years that followed the wedding to see if we can obtain an insight into the couple on the day of their wedding.
So, for the Tribunal those things that occurred prior to marriage hold great interest for us, those things happening afterwards, sad as they may be, only hold interest for us if they can provide an insight into the couple’s respective consents.
The best source of information about marriage nullity and the Tribunal is the Tribunal.
You would never decide whether or not you had an inoperable brain tumour on the basis of what you found on the internet – please don’t decide whether or not your marriage is null based the wise counsel of Dr Google.
Got a question for Paul Shogren? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.