Frequently Asked Questions about the Tribunal
What does the Catholic Church believe about marriage?
The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not purely a human institution (CCC, no.1603).
God created man and woman out of love and commanded them to imitate his love in their relations with each other. Man and woman were created for each other. “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him… the two of them become one body.” (Gn 2:18; 24)
Jesus brought to full awareness the divine plan for marriage. In John’s gospel, Christ’s first miracle occurs at the wedding at Cana. Marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.
The matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. This covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CIC, c. 1055 and CCEO, c. 776).
The marriage covenant refers to the relationship between husband and wife, a permanent union of persons, capable of knowing and loving each other and God.
The Church presents a picture of family life that begins with the total gift of love between the spouses as evidenced in their resolve to remain exclusively faithful until death.
The Catholic Church, in its canon law and theology, describes marriage as a lifetime exclusive partnership between one man and one woman who give and receive mutual help and love and from their union bring forth and rear children. Marriages always are presumed valid until proven otherwise. If a marriage involves two baptized Christians it is presumed not only valid but also sacramental. If one or both parties is unbaptized the marriage still is presumed to be valid and a good and natural bond.
God’s plan for marriage involves a permanent covenant embraced by the couple. ”What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mk 10:9)
For specific information concerning marriage in the Diocese of Dallas:
- Getting married in the Catholic Church - English
- El Matrimonio en la Iglesia Catolica - Spanish
- KẾt Hôn Trong Giáo HỘi Công Giáo - Vietnamese
For more detailed information concerning marriage preparation in the Diocese of Dallas, contact .
What does the Catholic Church believe about Divorce?
God’s plan for marriage involves a permanent covenant embraced by the couple.
Jesus taught the indissolubility of marriage: “What God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mk 10:9).
The Church’s fidelity to Christ’s teaching on marriage and against divorce does not imply insensitivity to the pain of the person facing these difficult situations.
Marriages are presumed valid until proven otherwise. Even when a civil divorce has been obtained, the presumption of validity remains in effect until the contrary is proven.
In the case of a failed marriage a person can ask the Catholic Church to review the marriage and clarify the marital status of the person. This review or examination of the marriage to determine whether it might be declared invalid from its very beginning is conducted by a Church Tribunal, or Church Court. The Tribunal never takes sides but always remains neutral, always seeking the truth in charity and justice to both parties while protecting the bond of marriage itself. For a complete history of the Tribunal process click on “History of the Tribunal Process”.
If/when a church court (Tribunal) issues a Declaration of Invalidity (often called an Annulment), it means that after a careful review the Church finds that something was so seriously wrong at the time consent was exchanged that this marriage never bound either party, even from its inception. Therefore, so far as this particular marriage is concerned, each party is free to marry another person in the Catholic Church, if that is desired. The Declaration of Invalidity (Annulment) does not mean that there was no marital relationship. The Catholic Church realizes that a relationship existed and is not saying that one did not exist. The Declaration of Invalidity does not mean that the children of the union are illegitimate. It does not have any civil effect on anyone in the USA. Rather a declaration of invalidity means for some reason at the time of the wedding the standards for a valid marriage were not met. Something may have been wrong with, or lacking in, the required form of marriage, one or the other may have been impeded by natural or divine or Church law, or consent itself may have been defective. For further information on defective consent (that is the grounds used in Formal Cases) click on “Grounds in Formal Cases”.
Once a declaration of invalidity has been issued, if there are no other restrictions, so far as that particular marriage is concerned, both parties are free to enter marriage in the Catholic Church.
What is a Tribunal?
A Tribunal is the Church Court. It is the judicial office of the Bishop, who is the Chief Judge. In most dioceses its major work involves the review of failed marriages. For a complete history of Tribunals, click on “History of the Tribunal Process”.
What does the Dallas Tribunal Do?
The Dallas Tribunal does the following:
- Reviews, processes, and adjudicates petitions for invalidity of marriage (annulments).
- Supervises dispensations and permissions for the celebration of marriage in the Catholic Church.
- Performs canonical research for clergy and laity upon request.
- Processes clergy petitions for return to the lay state.
- Presents information sessions to inform the public of the work of the Tribunal.
- Offers workshops for clergy and lay ministers concerning the adjudication of matrimonial cases, marriage preparation, prenuptial paperwork processing, and sacramental record keeping.
The major portion of the Dallas Tribunal’s work revolves around the “annulment process” as a response to requests by those who have divorced to investigate whether their former marriages fulfilled the Church’s theological and canonical understanding of marriage.
What is an annulment (a Declaration of Invalidity)?
The Dallas Tribunal prefers to refer to an annulment as a Declaration of Invalidity, that is, after a thorough review of the marriage the church court (Tribunal) finds that on the wedding day a particular marriage lacked an element so essential to marriage that the marriage never bound either party from the beginning. Therefore, so far as this particular marriage is concerned, each party is free to marry another person in the Catholic Church, if that is desired. The Declaration of Invalidity, annulment, does not mean there was no marital relationship. The Catholic Church realizes a relationship existed and is not saying that one did not exist but rather the required form was either absent or defective, an impediment of either divine, natural or ecclesiastical law remained undispensed, or consent itself was defective so that the elements necessary for a valid union were not in place. For further information on defect of consent, that is the grounds used in formal cases, click on “Grounds in Formal Cases”.
Does the Declaration of Invalidity have any civil effect?
The Declaration of Invalidity does not have any civil effect in the United States on anyone, the parties or their offspring. It does not in any way affect the legitimacy of children. Rather it frees both parties to marry other people, so far as that particular marriage is concerned, in the Catholic Church. In the eyes of the Catholic Church the union has been found to be canonically invalid from its beginning.
What makes a marriage invalid?
Marriages may be recognized as invalid from the beginning of the union because of an impediment (either divine, natural, or Church law) to marriage, perhaps a prior bond on the part of one or both, or because of a defect in the consent of one or both parties or a defect in the form of marriage. For specific consent grounds click on “Grounds in Formal Cases”. In addition freedom to marry might be established because a Catholic did not marry according to the Catholic form of marriage.
What is the cost for a “nullity” case?
The Dallas Tribunal is funded through parish assessments. Nothing is paid directly to the Dallas Tribunal. If a search service is used to locate someone or if a case requires an evaluation by a court appointed expert the Petitioner pays for the service directly to the provider. When a formal case is sent to the Appellate Court, the Petitioner pays the Appellate Court fee ($100). When a person who has received a Declaration of Invalidity prepares for marriage in the Church, he/she pays the fee of the marriage readiness assessor.
All these fees are paid directly to the provider of services, not to the Dallas Tribunal.
Who can serve as witnesses in a matrimonial case?
Parents and stepparents of both parties always are contacted as witnesses. In addition, the Tribunal asks that four more witnesses be proposed, that is, people who have known at least one of the parties prior to the wedding. In addition, even though an “Expert” did not know either party prior to the wedding, if one or both has consulted with a licensed professional counselor, a social worker, a psychologist, a health care provider, an attorney, a clergy, with an appropriate release, that person also can be used as a witness. (Parents and stepparents should be notified they will be contacted by the Tribunal. Experts and other witnesses should be contacted, before the Petitioner proposes their names, for their permission to be proposed as witnesses.)
Which Tribunal can handle a case?
To process a matrimonial case, a Tribunal must be competent. That is, a marriage must have occurred in that diocese, the Respondent must live in that diocese, the Petitioner must live in that diocese with the Respondent living in the same Episcopal Conference (country), or most of the witnesses must live within that diocese.
Who can help introduce a case?
Any priest, deacon or Procurator-Advocate in the Diocese of Dallas can introduce a case on behalf of a divorced person (called the Petitioner). If you are a Petitioner and need someone to assist you, please telephone (214) 379-2840.
Which documents are needed to submit a matrimonial case?
To view a list of items needed in English, click on “Items Required for Introduction of Cases”. To view items needed in español click on, “Documentos Necesarios para la Introducción de Casos”. To view items needed in Vietnamese click on, “Những Giấy Tò Cần Đế Lập Hồ Sơ”. No case can be considered, even on the parish level, without a complete, final, signed civil divorce decree.
If documents need to be located, click on “Document Searches”.
How long does a matrimonial case take?
The time frame is variable, running anywhere from one to two months for administrative cases, two to three months for most documentary cases, and six to eighteen months for most formal cases (defect of consent).
The Tribunal cannot guarantee a specific time frame or even an affirmative outcome. All marriages are presumed valid until proven otherwise. No wedding date is to be set until an affirmative decision has been rendered and, if necessary, confirmed by the appellate court and until all stipulations placed by either court have been fulfilled.
Must the other party (called the Respondent) to the marriage be contacted?
Yes, the Tribunal will contact the Respondent. And the Petitioner should contact the former spouse prior to introducing the case so he/she can be apprised of the situation. Both parties have the following rights:
1. To provide testimony
2. To know the proposed grounds
3. To know the grounds on which the case will be pursued
4. To be informed of any change in grounds
5. To appoint a Procurator-Advocate
6. To know the names of the witnesses proposed by each spouse
7. To propose witnesses
8. To review a copy of the Acta in the local Tribunal office
9. To review a copy of the First Instance Decision in the local Tribunal Office
10. To appeal the First Instance decision to the Appellate Court or to the Roman Rota
11. To review a copy of the Second Instance decision in the local Tribunal office
12. To be kept fully informed throughout the processing of the case
How can a former spouse or witness be found?
To obtain help with locating a former spouse or witness, click on “People Searches”.
How does the process work?
The Tribunal process is non-adversarial. The Tribunal remains neutral at all times. People are not cross-examined as in a civil court. No attempt is made to establish guilt or innocence. The process involves the study of documents from the Petitioner, Respondent, witnesses and others. All documents are handled with professional discretion by Tribunal officials.
To begin the process, the Petitioner (the person wanting the Declaration of Invalidity) works directly with a priest or deacon or with a Procurator-Advocate approved by the Diocese of Dallas. The priest, deacon or Procurator-Advocate will introduce the case, which will include:
- The completed Petition for Investigation of a Marriage Bond
- The appropriate Petitioner’s Questionnaire(s)
- A copy of the complete, final, signed civil divorce document
- A copy of the civil marriage certificate (and preferably also copies of the application and license)
- The original (not a photocopy) of a current baptismal certificate with sacramental notations for a Catholic Petitioner
- The original (not a photocopy) of a current baptismal certificate with sacramental notations for the former spouse (Respondent), if she/he is a Catholic
- The original (not a photocopy) of a current Church marriage certificate, if the marriage was celebrated in the Catholic Church
- A copy of the prenuptial papers from the Catholic church of marriage.
When the case arrives in the Tribunal, it is assessed and a number assigned.
A Procurator-Advocate is appointed to represent the party seeking the Declaration of Invalidity (the Petitioner). If you are the Petitioner, your Procurator-Advocate is your liaison with the Tribunal and the person you are to contact if you have questions.
Canonical Grounds are proposed. For a fuller explanation of possible grounds, click on “Ground in Formal Cases”.
The Tribunal sends a letter to the Petitioner providing her/him with the name of the Petitioner’s Procurator-Advocate, the proposed grounds, a list of the officials in the Tribunal, an enumeration of the rights of each party, and an outline of the process.
The other party to the marriage (the Respondent) also will be contacted, receiving a similar letter as well as questionnaires to complete. After the Tribunal has heard from the former spouse, and, if necessary, received consent to assume competence from his/her Judicial Vicar, the grounds as proposed will be confirmed by decree.
Witnesses then will be contacted. After the testimonies have been received from the witnesses, the case will be evaluated to determine whether all likely information has been gathered. If not, the Procurator-Advocate will be notified to pursue the missing information. If it is believed all likely testimony has been received, both parties will be notified and given the opportunity to come in to review the case file, to provide additional information, to propose more witnesses, etc. Both parties with their Procurator-Advocates may come in to review the case file.
The case will be concluded and given to the Defender of the Bond, whose role is to argue everything in favor of the Bond of Marriage. After he/she has finished the review and brief, the case will be presented to the Judge(s) for a decision. Once the decision is rendered, the sentence approved and signed by the Judge(s), the Petitioner and the former spouse (Respondent) will be notified and given two weeks to review the sentence and/or to appeal. After that period, if no appeal is initiated, the case will be sent to the Appellate Court for the mandatory review/confirmation.
Once the Tribunal is notified the Appellate Court has confirmed the decision, if it is affirmative, both parties will be free, so far as this marriage is concerned, once all stipulations have been fulfilled, to enter marriage in the Catholic Church. A marriage readiness assessment likely will be required before any new marriage in the Catholic Church.
Who represents parties (both the Petitioner and Respondent) before the Tribunal?
The Advocates and/or Procurator representing each one (Petitioner or Respondent) will be the liaison to the Tribunal. All questions by either the Petitioner or the Respondent should be directed to the respective Advocate and/or Procurator rather than to the Tribunal.
For further questions, telephone the Tribunal at (214) 379-2840.