Frequently Asked Questions
A tribunal is the Church court for a local eparchy or diocese. It adjudicates internal Church legal affairs, including requests for declarations of nullity of marriage. A Tribunal is composed of the Vicar Judicial, other Judges, and court officers, such as Promoters of Justice, Defenders of Marriage, Advocates and Auditors.
The Pittsburgh Tribunal is a Metropolitan Tribunal because it is the court of the self-ruling Metropolitan Archbishop of the Metropolia of Pittsburgh. It is the appeal court for the Eparchies of Passaic, New Jersey, Parma, Ohio, and Phoenix, Arizona.
What is an Annulment?
Marriages are to be celebrated legally and validly. Legally means the marriage is properly celebrated according to civil and religious regulations. Validly means that when a man and a woman marry, their intentions, their understanding of marriage, and their ability to enter marriage are sufficient.
In the Catholic Church for one to marry validly one must have the intention to enter a permanent faithful union that is open to the possibility of children. In the Catholic Church marriage is understood to be a community of life for a man and a woman, for their mutual, interpersonal growth and for the procreation and education of children.
Finally, one must have the basic physical, emotional, and psychological ability to understand the intentions and meaning of marriage and to intend and fulfill them.
For all marriages, this validity is presumed. The Catholic Church cannot end or break a valid marriage bond between two baptized persons. The Church can examine the presumed valid marriage to see if the validity that is presumed existed and can do this only if one of the spouses asks for it to happen.
This procedure is what the “annulment” process is all about.
The Catholic Church cannot refuse to investigate the validity of a marriage once one of the spouses has challenged it. This investigation does not mean that the case is proved, only that the marriage has to be investigated.
Anyone, whether baptized or not, who was a party to a marriage involving at least one baptized person, whether Catholic or not, may petition a competent tribunal for an annulment.
Moreover, even when an unbaptized person who was married to another unbaptized person and now wants to marry a Catholic in the Catholic Church may petition for an annulment.
The party who petitions the tribunal for an annulment is called the Petitioner. The other party who is asked to respond to the petition for a declaration of nullity is called the Respondent.
In matrimonial cases that are not reserved to higher authority, the following are competent: 1) The Tribunal of the place where the marriage was celebrated.· 2) The Tribunal of the place where the Respondent has a residence or a part time residence.· 3) The Tribunal of the place where the Petitioner has a residence, provided that both parties live in the same nation (United States) and has the Vicar Judicial of the Respondent’s residence gives his consent.· 4) The Tribunal of the place where actually most of the proofs are gathered provided the Vicar Judicial of the Respondent’s residence gives his consent.
There are fees involved in carrying out the entire process. A filing fee of $50.00 is to be sent to the Tribunal when a completed initial questionnaire is returned. This filing fee is not refundable and will be credited to the total court fees. If it is decided at the initial interview that the Tribunal cannot be of any further assistance, no further fee will be required.
If, however, your case is accepted for further investigation, a check or money-order for $100.00, payable to the Metropolitan Tribunal, is needed at the time of your initial interview. This will be considered the second payment toward the total fee of $ 500.00. This total fee is due before any expert opinion, if needed, is required and before the final decision concerning your case is reached.
The Tribunal does not accept time payments and a suggested payment plan for court fees is included with your initial questionnaire.
The Tribunal also realizes that some people legitimately cannot afford these fees. It is important that this fact be made known to the Tribunal. The Tribunal has a process to determine if a person is truly needy and will reduce its fees in such cases.
1. A civil divorce is necessary to begin the process since there can be no hope of reconciliation for the Church to investigate the validity of a marriage. A person seeking a declaration of nullity (Petitioner) is asked by the tribunal to complete a preliminary questionnaire and supply essential documents.
a) A recently issued Certificate of Baptism if you and/or your former spouse are baptized.
b) A recently issued Certificate of Marriage by the Church (if the marriage occurred in a Catholic Church).
c) A copy of the civil marriage license and of the civil divorce.
2. The Tribunal must then decide if it has jurisdiction or the legal ability to hear the case and if there is a basis to accept the request.
3. The Petitioner must provide testimony to the tribunal with the assistance of a trained priest or deacon auditor.
4. The Respondent (other party of the marriage) must be formally notified that the case is in process and the basis for the case. The Respondent must be given the opportunity to participate.
5. The Petitioner must supply competent witnesses for the case. Witnesses are persons who knew the parties before and during the marriage and can speak about the facts of the case.
6. When all testimony has been compiled, the case is presented to the Defender of the Bond whose task is to point out the proofs for the validity of the marriage.
7. The case then goes to the designated Judge who formulates a decision based on Church Marriage Law, the teachings of the Catholic Church and the jurisprudence of the Catholic Church.
8. The Parties are next notified of the First Instance Decision. A formal appeal of that decision may now be made by either Party to the Appeal Tribunal. If no appeal is made, the case sent on to ratification, and the Parties are then notified of the Definitive Decision.