Annulments are official Church declarations by the Tribunal that the agreement made by a couple on the wedding day was not the binding agreement it was thought to be.
An annulment or decree of nullity frees the parties to enter a marriage according to the rites of the Catholic Church once all other requirements of law have been fulfilled.
A decree of nullity does not mean that there was never any love between the parties, that they were lacking sincerity, effort or commitment. Nor does it mean that there was no marriage as generally understood by the community at large.
In Australia, a decree of nullity has no effect in civil law.
- The Tribunal
The Tribunal is a Catholic Church court where ecclesiastical judges make decisions for the five dioceses of Queensland – Brisbane, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns. There are Tribunal offices in each city. The Regional Tribunal makes decisions mainly about marriage nullity cases or annulments.
The Tribunal staff are priests, religious men and women and lay men and women. All are trained in Canon law especially, the laws of the Church about marriage.
Who can approach the Tribunal?
Anyone who wants to clarify their marital status in terms of the law of the Catholic Church is welcome.
- How is a decision reached?
How is a decision reached?
The Tribunal gathers the facts of the matter from the documents presented and oral evidence. The Tribunal needs to know about the background and upbringing of each of the parties, their courtship, the story of their marriage and the story since the marriage.
The party seeking the decree of nullity gives evidence in a private interview with a member of the Tribunal staff. The other party to the marriage is invited to take part in an interview that is conducted in the same manner.
Every encouragement is given to both parties to participate as fully as possible.
Both parties to the marriage are invited to nominate witnesses who are willing and able to speak to the facts of the case. The witnesses are interviewed in the same manner as the parties to the marriage.
When there is sufficient evidence gathered, the Tribunal Judges make a formal decision. The parties to the marriage do not attend the judgment session. Advocates may represent them if desired.
The Defender of the Bond, a Tribunal official, always submits observations which uphold the teachings of the Church on marriage.
The decison of the Judges at the local level (First Instance) declares either that the marriage agreement is invalid (an affirmative decision) or that the evidence does not allow such a decision to be made (a negative decision).
- Costs and timeframes
Costs and timeframes
The Bishops of Queensland have dispensed with charges for the work done by the Tribunal in a full nullity case. However we gratefully accept any donation you would like to make to support our work.
How long does the process take?
Sometimes it takes less than a year to complete, but at other times it may take considerably longer.
People should not make arrangements for the celebration of a marriage in the Catholic Church until the final decision has been given.
- Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
What can rob marriage agreements of their binding force?
There is more to making a binding marriage agreement than participating in a wedding ceremony. A couple cease being single when each of them speak the words of the marriage promises to the other in the type of ceremony they are bound to observe.
The promises can lack the required binding force for a number of reasons. The most obvious is when the bride or groom or both does not mean what they say. The ceremony is a pretence. This happens in what are called “marriages of convenience” such as when a marriage will fulfill requirements for citizenship in a country. Church law calls this total simulation. Simulation can also be partial such as when the bride or groom does not intend to be faithful, refuses from the start to have children or does not accept marriage as a life-long, unbreakable union.
Some people are incapable of making proper marriage agreements. Among these we can list those who lack the use of reason, those who lack seriously the ability to judge what being married asks of them, and those who are unable, for psychological reasons, to undertake the essential obligations of marriage. Other agreements fail because either the bride or groom participates in the ceremony only out of fear. The Tribunal staff members are there to help inquirers find answers to their questions.
How does a decree of nullity differ from a divorce decree?
A divorce decree dissolves the bond recognised in civil law without questioning the validity of the binding force of the agreement. A decree of nullity declares that the bond of marriage, as understood by the Catholic Church, did not come into being because the agreement was invalid.
Must the other party be informed of the proceedings?
Yes. Justice demands that the other party knows of the proceedings and is invited to give evidence.
Is it now easier to get a decree of nullity (annulment)?
The factors that make a marriage agreement invalid have not changed. However, the insights of the human sciences over the past fifty years have broadened the basis on which Tribunal judges can declare that a marriage agreement is invalid.
What happens after the First Instance decision?
After an affirmative decision, the case is sent to the Appeal Tribunal for Australia and New Zealand.
If an affirmative decision is ratified, the marriage agreement is declared invalid and a decree of nullity issued. Otherwise, the presumption remains that the marriage agreement is valid and binding.
A negative decision can be appealed to the Second Instance at the request of either party to the marriage.
Is everyone who seeks an annulment successful?
No. Not everyone is successful. The Judges decide each petition on the evidence presented to them. Fulfilling the requirements of the process does not guarantee an affirmative decision.
Does a decree of nullity mean children of a marriage are illegitimate?
No. Church law affirms that children of a marriage are always regarded as legitimate.
What if a person has been married more than once?
Each of the unions is considered separately.
Is it all worthwhile?
For most people it is. However, people are understandably disappointed when petitions are not successful. Although disappointed, many value the opportunity to tell their story to people who have received them in a professional, sensitive and pastoral manner.
The granting of a decree of nullity clears the way for the parties to enter a marriage within the Catholic Church. For those who have already entered another union, a decree of nullity allows that union to be recognised by the Catholic Church provided the other party is likewise free to marry.
Before a couple marry or have their union recognised by the Catholic Church, careful preparation is strongly recommended.
The Regional Tribunal can be contacted with the following details:
Regional Tribunal of Queensland
GPO Box 1726
Brisbane, Queensland 4001
Level 1, Mercy House, 172 Charlotte Street, Brisbane 4000
Ph: 07 3324 3033
Fax: 07 3324 3089