Frequently Asked Q&A

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City Tribunal is established by Church law to assist the Archbishop in carrying out his judicial functions. The major focus of the Tribunal is directed toward processing petitions for the annulment of marriages. Other judicial matters are handled at the request of the Archbishop.

This Tribunal serves the people of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, primarily those who wish to have their prior marriage(s) investigated, to determine if the previous union is an impediment to a future sacramental marriage or baptism/confirmation in the Catholic faith.

The mission of this Tribunal is to provide the means by which individuals may vindicate their rights, especially the freedom to receive the Sacraments, marry or receive baptism/confirmation in the Catholic faith, according to the law and jurisprudence of the Church. The Tribunal also strives to ensure that these persons have full exercise of their rights before the law in a well-ordered, understandable and accessible judicial proceeding. The process requires timely handling and pastoral care of all cases presented.

PRACTICAL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

The following questions and answers address the legal procedures of the Church and their application. They allow separated spouses to have their grievances heard and to determine their marital status in good conscience before God and the Church.

What is a declaration of nullity?

The term “annulment” is a commonly used word for what is technically called a declaration of nullity or decree of invalidity. A decree of invalidity is an official declaration by the Tribunal which verifies that what appeared to be a marriage was, in fact, not a valid, binding marriage according to Church doctrine. A decree of invalidity does not deny that a relationship existed, nor does it imply that the couple entered this relationship with ill will or moral fault. Rather, after careful and thorough study of all documentation and testimony presented, the Tribunal issues a decree of invalidity when it is proven that some ingredient necessary for a valid marriage (e.g., proper intention, sufficient psychological maturity, capacity, freedom and knowledge) was lacking when consent was exchanged.

Is there a difference between a civil divorce and an ecclesiastical decree of invalidity?

Yes, a civil divorce is a legal action whereby the division of property and custody of children are settled, a dissolution is granted, and husband and wife are declared free by that same civil authority to enter a new marriage with a different partner. The civil procedure does not question the validity of the initial consent in the marriage. By contrast, in the canonical process, if the gathered factual evidence examined in the light of Canon Law, shows that a particular marriage was not canonically valid; the Church's Tribunal declares it null and void. Therefore, the ecclesiastical Decree of Invalidity (colloquially called an "annulment") is a declaration from a Church Tribunal that the marriage bond did not and could exist - that is, one or both parties may have entered the marriage with good will, but lacked the openness, honesty, emotional stability or capacity to establish a community of life and love with another person. If an annulment is granted, both parties are then free to remarry in the Catholic Church. However, for pastoral reasons, counseling may be required prior to the new marriage.

How does the Catholic Church define marriage?

The Church teaches that marriage, within God’s plan, is an intimate partnership of life and love. The Church expects a man and woman to commit themselves to each other for life. They are to be faithful to each other and open to children. Husbands and wives render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their lives. In short, marriage is a union of two persons, an interpersonal relationship, which includes the sharing of the whole of their lives. This commitment of spouses presumes sufficient maturity, freedom, knowledge and psychological capacity.

What is an invalid marriage?

A marriage is invalid if, contrary to what appears to be a binding marriage, it does not include all elements essential to a marriage recognized by the laws and practice of the Catholic Church.

What is my status in the Church?

Divorce is not a sin. Those who are simply divorced have every right to receive the Sacraments. Remarrying outside the Church prohibits one from receiving the sacraments or being a sponsor for another individual who wishes to receive the Sacraments.

How does canon law view the children born of a marriage which is later declared to be null?

A decree of invalidity does not effect in any manner the legitimacy of children, names, property, maintenance payments, inheritance rights or other matters typically handled by the civil courts. As a matter of fact, the law of the Church expressly states that "children conceived or born of a valid or putative (i.e. at first considered valid and later annulled) marriage are legitimate." (Canon 1137)

Are Catholic marriages the only ones which need to be examined before a new union can take place in the Catholic Church?

An erroneous impression, very common among Catholics, is that the Church recognizes only marriages of Catholics as valid. The reality is that the Catholic Church recognizes marriages celebrated in the Catholic Church between Catholics, but also those of baptized non-Catholics, as well as those of the non-baptized. Valid marriages between baptized people (Catholics or non-Catholics) are Sacraments. Marriages between non-baptized individuals are not Sacraments, but are "natural bonds" because they are contracted according to the natural law, rather than by the sacramental bond that comes through Baptism. Therefore, if a Catholic wishes to marry a divorced, baptized non-Catholic, or a divorced, non-baptized person, a decree of invalidity would have to be issued by a Catholic Tribunal before any new union can take place in the Church.

When a Catholic marries "outside the Church"

Catholics who married "outside" the Church may not need to go through a formal process to establish their freedom to remarry in the Catholic Church. A baptized Catholic, who has not received a dispensation, and hasn’t formally left the Church, is obliged to declare his or her consent before a priest or deacon, and two witnesses. A marriage for a Catholic may be invalid because it lacked proper "form", unless a dispensation form was granted. Examples include marrying:

  • in a civil ceremony
  • before a minister of another denomination, without a dispensation.

In cases such as these, a simple process establishing the facts may be sufficient.

Why declare a broken marriage invalid?

Declaring a marriage invalid establishes the freedom of the parties to marry in the Catholic Church (absent other conditions). The process can be an opportunity for healing and help bring closure to a difficult experience.

Who can petition the Tribunal for an annulment?

If two people have received a decree of divorce, there may be grounds for a declaration of nullity. Anyone - Catholic or not - may ask the Church to examine his/her former bond of marriage so they may, if possible, remarry in the Church. The purpose is not to blame either party, but simply to better understand the circumstances surrounding this marriage. The Church recognizes the first marriage of any two people - Catholic or not - as a binding marriage until proven otherwise. Just as there are different grounds upon which to base a case, there are also different processes depending on the circumstances in question.

Who else is involved in the process?

In order to gain a complete and objective picture of the marriage, witnesses who knew the parties before and during the marriage will be contacted and asked to provide written testimony. (These may be parents, friends or knowledgeable relatives.) Strict confidentiality is always upheld in reviewing all testimony.

What about confidentiality?

Inspection of the Acts is only available by prior appointment at the Tribunal office during times designated in Church law. Parties are notified of their opportunity during the course of the investigation. Documents, copies or notes may not be removed from the Tribunal.

What reasons (grounds) determine invalidity?

The most frequent are:

  • Grave lack of discretionary judgement concerning the essential marriage obligations
  • Inability to carry out the essential obligations of marriage due to psychological causes
  • Intent contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the nature of marriage, children, fidelity, or permanence

The period of time PRIOR TO the marriage (family background, courtship) is especially important because the Tribunal must judge if the union was valid AT THE TIME vows were exchanged.

How long does the process take?

Processing time varies for each case, as each individual situation is very unique. Such factors as the strength of the grounds, the involvement and insight of the petitioner and respondent, the cooperation of witnesses and quality of their testimony, have a significant impact on the length of time needed to process a case. In addition, there is a requirement that each case be submitted to an Appellate Court for review. As a result, it is difficult to give an exact time frame, but generally, once the Tribunal has received case history, it will normally take 9 months - 1 year to complete the process. (NO PLANS FOR A FUTURE MARRIAGE SHOULD BE MADE UNTIL THE ANNULMENT PROCESS HAS BEEN COMPLETED.)

Is one free to remarry in the church after receiving a decree of invalidity?

If a marriage is declared invalid, and the decision is confirmed by the Court of Second Instance, and there are no restrictions concerning remarriage, the usual procedure for marriage in the Catholic Church is started by contacting the local parish. Both parties, Petitioner and Respondent, derive the same benefits from a decree of invalidity and are both free to remarry in the Church once an affirmative decision has been rendered. If a marriage is declared invalid for causes that still exist, a second marriage obviously cannot be permitted until it has been demonstrated that the cause which invalidated the first marriage has been removed. Therefore a professional evaluation and counseling may be required in such situations, along with pastoral counseling. Again, such a restriction can be placed on one or both parties.

If I have wedding plans, can my case be expedited?

Regrettably, no! By canon law, with rare exception, we have to process cases in the order we receive them. Please note there is no guarantee that a marriage will be declared invalid!

How much does an annulment cost?

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City does not charge a fee to process an annulment. Funding for our Tribunal comes from the Archdiocesan Development Fund (ADF).

What if an annulment is not granted?

If an annulment is denied, either party should feel free to talk to any member of the Tribunal staff, or the Family Life Office which operates a ministry for separated and divorced people.

How does the Annulment process begin?

Since each case is different, it is advised that Petitioners consult the local Catholic parish priest to begin the process. The priest or deacon will assist with preliminary paperwork that is required in starting a particular case. A copy of the marriage license/certificate and final divorce decree will be needed. If either party is a baptised Catholic, a current baptismal certificate will also be required. If the parties were originally married in a civil rite with a ceremony was later celebrated in the Catholic Church, a sacramental certificate verifying the date and location of the convalidation will also be necessary.