Overview of the Marriage Nullity Process

Marriage Nullity Process

THE “PLAYERS”:

Judge: The person with the power to resolve, in accordance with the law, a dispute concerning a right to be pursued or vindicated. In marriage nullity cases, the right in question is for a party to a marriage to challenge the validity of that marriage.

Judicial Vicar [or Officialis]: The priest appointed by a Bishop or Bishops to exercise vicariously their power to judge and to oversee the correct administration of justice in the Tribunal. The Tribunal can refer to the building or place where cases are judged. It can also refer to the group of three judges who form the particular Court to hear a case.

Defender of the Bond: Marriage enjoys the favour of the law. This means that a marriage is presumed valid until and unless the contrary can be proven in law. The Defender of the Bond defends the validity of the marriage before the Court. He examines the evidence produced in the case and has the duty to put forward all reasonable arguments in law which defend the bond and refute the sufficiency of the arguments against it.

Instructor: The person who, at the behest of the Judge, gathers the evidence in the case by interviewing the parties and preparing questions for any witnesses. The line-manager of the Instructor is the Judge on whose behalf he/she is acting.

Procurator: A person named by a party to receive on the party’s behalf all communications from the Tribunal concerning the party’s case and to respond to those communications on the instructions of the party.

Advocate: A qualified person accredited to the Tribunal who acts for a party in all that concerns the party’s right of defence. The Advocate has either an academic qualification in the Church’s law [Canon Law] or has experience in that law. Very often the Procurator and Advocate are combined in one person.

Petitioner: Whichever party to the marriage who takes the initial step to introduce a case of nullity at the Tribunal.

Respondent: The other party to the marriage.


SOME KEY CONCEPTS:

Petition: This is the document which the Petitioner presents to the Tribunal introducing a case of nullity.

Decree: A decision taken by the Judge either unilaterally or in response to a request from a party [e.g. the decree admitting the petition, the decree appointing the judges of the court, etc.].

Citation: Being called to judgment, to testify.

Deposition: The testimony given in the interview during which a party or witness is formally questioned under oath.

Expert: At times the court must enlist the expertise of professionals to assist in understanding or clarifying the nature of something. Usually, the experts consulted are psychologists/psychiatrists, but experts in hand-writing and in foreign cultures, etc., have been used.

Witness: The witness in marriage nullity cases is someone who has a reasonable knowledge of one or both parties to the marriage and of the issues implied by the grounds of nullity. First-hand eye-witnesses have a special value, but by the nature of things, this is not often possible in internal matters of the mind, will, or private married life. The witness may have knowledge of a party over a long period of time, a short period, in all circumstances or in only a few circumstances, etc.. Each party to the marriage can present witnesses. The number will depend on the specific case.

Animadversions: This word is simply a technical term to indicate the written observations made by the Defender of the Bond.

Pleadings: This refers to the written defence which an Advocate will submit to the Court after the evidence has been gathered and the parties have been given the opportunity to see all of the evidence.

Decision/Sentence: The decision is the outcome of the case as decided by the Judges in response to the grounds of nullity examined. The sentence is the longer written explanation of the reasons in law and in fact by which the Judges reached their decision.

Appeal: If a party does not accept the outcome of the case, whether it be positive or negative, that party has the right to appeal to a higher Tribunal for a re-examination of the case.

Ratification: This refers to a decree issued by a higher authority in which a sentence declaring nullity is confirmed without the need for a formal judicial investigation.

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