The Sacrament of Marriage
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 spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between the baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament
(Catholic Catechism, n. 1601)
The Church holds the exchange of consent between spouses to be the indispensable element that makes the marriage. If consent is lacking, there is no marriage
(Catholic Catechism, n. 1626)
The Church acknowledges the reality of separation and divorce. The end of a marriage under such circumstances can be a traumatic experience for all concerned.
The Catholic Church reaches out in support of those experiencing this ordeal, while upholding the permanence of a true Christian marriage. These two aspects of the Church’s position are evident in the work of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church.
Much of the work of the Tribunal centres on annulment applications and all questions in relation to this matter should be directed to the Tribunal. However, the Tribunal is also involved in a variety of other areas where advice is required on issues relating to Canon Law. The Tribunal does not offer counselling or marriage guidance.
The Tribunal in the Diocese of Bathurst is an office of the Interdiocesan Tribunal of Sydney (NSW and the ACT), responsible for the preparation and assessment of all cases (marriage and otherwise) presented to it by people who reside within the Diocese. It prepares formal nullity cases for the Interdiocesan Office, as well as other types of cases.
If you have any questions regarding the work of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church or would like to find out how the Tribunal can help, please contact us.
The Tribunal of the Catholic Church
PO Box 246 or 118 Keppel St, Bathurst 2795 NSW
Phone: 02 6334 6409
Frequently Asked Questions
Where to begin?
The Bible-based view of the Catholic Church is that marriage is the intimate union of life and love between a man and woman that is permanent, faithful and open to new life. The Catholic Church also maintains that the marriage of two baptised people, free according to law, is presumed to be valid and binding and no human power can dissolve their union. For this reason, the Catholic Church cannot accept that a civil divorce alone frees the parties to enter a marriage according to the rites of the Catholic Church. Such freedom is only established if there is also a Church annulment of the previous union.
Who can approach the Tribunal?
Anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, who wishes to clarify their marital status according to the law of the Catholic Church is free to approach the Tribunal.
How does an annulment differ from a divorce?
A divorce dissolves the bond recognised in civil law. An annulment declares that even though the correct wedding formalities were observed, and even though children may have resulted from the union, the bond of marriage, as understood by the Catholic Church, did not come into being. Thus, the parties are free to marry according to the rites of the Catholic Church, once all other requirements of law have been fulfilled.
An annulment does not claim that there was no love between the parties, or that they were lacking in sincerity, effort or commitment.
In Australia, an annulment has no effect in civil law.
What is the basis for an annulment?
It must be remembered that Catholic Church law presumes that on their wedding day, a couple had the capacity to marry. Therefore, the basis for an annulment is the finding by the Tribunal that one or both parties, in fact, lacked the capacity to make a marriage, as understood by the Catholic Church.
To see whether there was an incapacity, the Tribunal considers many matters. These include the intentions of the parties, their maturity, their freedom to act responsibly, their freedom from undue influence and pressures, and their capacity to undertake the essential obligations of marriage. There are other grounds for nullity of marriage apart from incapacity.
How does the Tribunal establish the facts of the matter?
The facts of the matter are established through the documents presented and the evidence gathered. The Tribunal needs to be informed 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 annulment (the Petitioner) gives evidence in private and under oath. Every effort is made to contact the other party (the Respondent), who will be asked to give evidence in private and under oath. The Petitioner is required to nominate witnesses who are willing and able to speak to the facts of the case. The Respondent is given the opportunity to nominate witnesses. Witnesses are interviewed in private and under oath. Everyone giving evidence does so on the understanding that they will not discuss their evidence with anyone else.
Must the Respondent be contacted by the Tribunal?
Yes. Clearly, justice demands that the Respondent know of the proceedings and be offered the opportunity to give evidence.
I have heard it is now a lot easier to get an annulment. Is this true?
The basis for nullity has not changed, however, the insights of human sciences over the past 60 years have broadened the basis on which a judgement in Church law can be made that a marriage is null.
How is the decision reached?
When there is sufficient evidence for a decision to be reached, the formal (and private) judgement of the Tribunal Court is made. The Petitioner and the Respondent are not required to attend.
The decision is made by Judges of the Tribunal. What is known as the ‘First Instance Judgement’ will declare either that the marriage is certainly null (an affirmative decision), or that the evidence does not allow such a decision to be made (a negative decision).
What happens after the First Instance decision?
Since December 2015 Pope Francis has stated that an affirmative decision given by the First Instance Court will determine that the marriage is null and a decree of nullity will be issued. However, in certain circumstances, the case must be forwarded to the Appeal Tribunal for Australia and New Zealand. If the affirmative decision is then ratified, a decree of nullity is issued. If a negative decision is ratified, the presumption remains that the marriage is binding.
Is everyone who seeks an annulment successful?
No. The fact that evidence is taken must not be construed as an indication of a favourable result. The decision rests entirely with the Judges, after they have reviewed all of the evidence.
How long does it take?
Sometimes less than a year is required, usually no more than two. It is important to remember that no arrangements should be made for the celebration of a marriage in the Catholic Church until the final decision has been given.
Isn’t an annulment praising one party and blaming another?
No. The Tribunal is only concerned with establishing whether or not there is a basis in fact for nullity, not with apportioning praise or blame.
Are children of the marriage declared null or considered illegitimate?
No. Church law states that such children are legitimate.
What if a person has been married more than once?
Each of the unions would have to be considered separately.
Are there costs?
The subject of costs is currently under review by the Bishops NSW/ACT. Reduced financial circumstances will not hinder the processing of a case. Appropriate amounts and payment plans can always be mutually agreed.
Is it all worthwhile?
In seeking an annulment there are sometimes painful and anxious moments. Nonetheless, most find the process and the sensitive approach of the Tribunal staff an experience of healing and wholeness. A decree of nullity clears the way to enter a marriage with the full blessing of the Catholic Church, if the proposed spouse is also free to marry according to Catholic Church law. For those who have already entered another union, a decree of nullity offers the possibility of having that union recognised by the Catholic Church, if the other party is also free to marry according to Catholic Church law. Before marrying or having a union recognised by the Catholic Church, counselling is often required.
Can you recommend further reading?
For further information, please refer to: Marriage, Divorce and Nullity – A Guide to the Annulment Process in the Catholic Church, Geoffrey Robinson, Collins Dove, Melbourne, 1984. This book and other reading materials are readily available at Catholic bookshops and Tribunal offices.
What if I am not baptised?
The above questions and answers address the concerns of a baptised person whose marriage, presumed valid to the laws of the Catholic Church, has definitively ended. Unbaptised persons or persons who married contrary to the laws of the Catholic Church may be handled differently in the annulment process from those who are baptised. The staff of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church can advise you as to which process of investigation will be necessary in considering your case.