How to Start an Annulment Process

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New Life After Divorce

Civil Divorce


Before anyone can start the process of petitioning for an annulment, a civil divorce must be final. This completed civil document demonstrates for the Church that the marriage has been definitively broken and is unable to be reconciled.

Preliminary Questions and documents

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.

The Petitioner (the one who is beginning the process) is asked to complete a questionnaire about basic facts of the marriage in question. Documents such as a recently issued baptismal certificate for a Roman Catholic and certified marriage and divorce decrees must be submitted with the initial paperwork.  Each Petitioner is assigned an advocate to help him or her complete the necessary paperwork and to answer any questions that come up along the way.

Acceptance of Petition

The Tribunal will accept the petition if it has competency – jurisdiction -- and potential grounds for an annulment exist. Generally, in order for the Pittsburgh Tribunal to have competency, either the marriage must have been celebrated within the six counties of the Diocese, or at least one of the parties to the marriage must reside within the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The advocate will help the Petitioner complete the questionnaire and make an allegation of nullity.  Potential grounds for a case center upon the intentions a couple had when they entered into marriage concerning fidelity, permanence and openness to children.

Grounds also exist concerning the knowledge parties have about Church teaching and understanding of marriage as well their ability to enter into and to fulfill the unique interpersonal relationship of marriage. Consequently the Tribunal will ask questions about how each spouse was raised, their formation in the faith, what they understood about marriage, their dating and engagement relationships as well as their life together.

Hearing for petitioner


The Petitioner will usually be scheduled to give testimony in the Tribunal offices at St. Paul Seminary, with the assistance of a trained interviewer, called an auditor. During this interview, the party will be asked questions based on the preliminary information gathered by the Tribunal. The interview is helpful for the judges because it can reveal possible grounds for finding that the marriage was not spiritually binding.

Notification of the Respondent


The Respondent -- or the other party to the marriage -- is notified of the petition and of the grounds upon which the Tribunal is considering the request for a Declaration of Nullity. The Respondent is given the option of providing written or oral testimony and providing the names of potential witnesses for the Tribunal to contact. If the Respondent chooses not to participate in the process after two notifications, the case may proceed without him or her.

The testimony of witnesses


After providing testimony, the Petitioner is requested to provide the names of witnesses who can complete a written questionnaire. These witnesses are asked to provide information regarding the parties' family backgrounds, their dating and engagement relationships and their marital history. The witnesses can be family members or friends.  Although first hand witnesses are preferred, witnesses not at the wedding itself are also acceptable.  The case will require as many witnesses as needed for the judge to arrive at “moral certitude” about the issue in question.  

Compilation of Testimony

When the testimony is assembled, both parties may inspect anything pertinent to the grounds for the case. This is known as the Publication of the Acts of the case. 

In some cases the testimony of the parties will be reviewed by a Court-appointed expert who provides an opinion about the likelihood of the presence of a “psychic anomaly” – a mental or emotional inability -- in either of the parties at the time of the wedding.  When these independent assessments occur it is helpful for developing and evaluating potential grounds for an annulment.

Defender of the Bond


After all of the testimony has been compiled, the case is presented to the advocates for the parties and the Defender of the Bond. The advocates provide arguments to the Court to support the position of each former spouse regarding the marriage in question. The Defender’s responsibility is to present the judges with arguments in favor of upholding the validity of the marriage in question.

Three-Judge Panel


The case is then typically presented, in written form, to a three-Judge panel (Tribunal) for a decision. When the judges have reviewed the case, discussed it and reached a decision, they issue a document known as a “sentence.” It includes information from the written testimony, a section on the pertinent law of the Church and the judges' arguments for the decision—an explanation of how the law applies to the marriage in question.

Appeal or ratification

If the Tribunal renders an affirmative decision, granting an annulment, Church law requires that every decision be appealed to an appellate Tribunal. This is the case even if both parties are in favor of a Declaration of Nullity. This is to insure that the rights of each party were respected and the law properly applied. Decisions of the Pittsburgh Tribunal are reviewed by the Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. If the Tribunal in Philadelphia confirms the Pittsburgh Tribunal's decision, the parties are then formally notified of the completed case and supplied with formal documentation of the Declaration of Nullity. The Pittsburgh Tribunal will cover the cost of this mandatory appeal to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Tribunal.

If either party is opposed to the decision of the Pittsburgh Tribunal – whether the annulment was granted or not granted -- a personal appeal of this decision may be made to the Tribunal of Philadelphia. Alternatively, an appeal may also be made to the highest Tribunal of the Church, the Roman Rota. Currently, there are financial costs for filing a personal appeal to either Philadelphia or Rome. Those costs are determined by those dioceses.