Church Annulment: Void from the Start

There are so many discouraging advices you will get from people around you when considering church annulment. Most of the time, they will tell you to go for civil annulment first, then after it is granted, go for the church annulment. If you fall for this trick, you will most likely to cross out the church annulment totally afterwards.

Your call.

Below is the almost-entire content of the 'Marriage "ANNULMENT" What? How?" by G.F. REYES, JCD, including the GROUNDS FOR ANNULMENT, that is freely given by the Archdiocese of Manila Office just for the asking.  Some of it can be found also at the Archdiocese of Manila website: The only missing part here is the "How to Make the Case History".

(Marriage "ANNULMENT" What? How?" by G.F. REYES, JCD)

Dear Friends,

The ending of a marital relationship, in which two people invested so much of their lives, their emotions, and their dreams, can be one of the most painful and difficult experiences a person will ever face.

While the Catholic Church teaches and believes in the permanence of the marriage bond and strives to promote stable and faithful marriage, she also recognizes that some unions do not survive because they were lacking form the very beginning some essential ingredients without which there could not be a valid marriage. When such a lack of an essential element can be proven through demonstrate evidence in a Church court, the nullity of that marriage can be declared.

It is the purpose of the Matrimonial Tribunal to assist you at this difficult time in your life. The Tribunal is staffed by trained and competent priests and religious, who, with the assistance of able lay people, will evaluate your former marriage and make a judgment of its validity based on the norms of Canon Law and the facts of your particular case.

It is the hope and objective of the Tribunal staff that this experience will be beneficial for you and will be a time for healing any hurt or guilt resulting from the broken relationship.

Be assured that, as you go through this procedure, you will have my prayers that God will strengthen you in your resolve to learn well from the past so that you may better prepare for the future.

Devotedly yours,

Archdiocese of Manila

The Value of the Process

Pope Pius IX defined the work of the Tribunal in this beautiful phrase: "To care for the dignity of marriage, to work for the good of persons."

The Tribunal works towards this goal by diligently protecting the rights of men and women in their specific marriage, as well as the rights of the Church which has been charged by our Lord Jesus to be the guardian of the sacrament of Matrimony.

No matter why is a marriage "ab initio" null and void, that is, no matter what causes the nullity of marriage, the Church recognizes the dictate of pastoral solicitude in exercising her judicial authority, demonstrative of true justice, enlivened by charity and tempered by equity.

"As a pastor," John Paul II exclaimed, "I am concerned about the distressing, critical problems experienced by those faithful whose marriage has failed through no fault of their own."

It is the sincere intention and desire of any ecclesiastical Tribunal that the entire annulment process be, for all those involved in it, a time for healing and instruction, a healing of the pain and guilt that they may be undergoing as a result of a broken marriage, and an understanding of the real reasons for the breakdown of their marriage.

I wish to end by sayi8ng that the parties involved in the nullity process should be patient with the process, and realize how important this is to them and to any future marriage. The Tribunal wants the new marriage to be a happy, enriching, and rewarding experience, and hopes that the parties (spouses) will be willing to work for that same goal.

Msgr. Geronimo F. Reyes, JCD
Judicial Vicar, Archdiocese of manila
Professor of Canon Law, San Carlos School of Theology

What is Christian Marriage?

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is an intimate partnership of life and love, arising from the irrevocable consent of husband and wife, geared to the giving and receiving of mutual love. This partnership or "community of life and love" is characterized by unity and indissolubility and is ordained by God to the well being of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children (Code of Canon Law, 1055, 1056).

For those validly baptized, Christ raises this "consortium vitae" to the dignity of a sacrament.

The Church believes that every valid marriage, which has been consummated, is indissoluble. She bases this belief on the law of God as found in the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) and in the millenarian Christian tradition.

In principle, marriage enjoys the favor of the law. Furthermore, the Church presumes every marriage (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, non-believers, etc.) to be a valid marriage until the opposite is proven (can. 1060).

When the relationship has ended and the couple has irreparably separated, any one of them may petition a Church's Tribunal to investigate the circumstances of that union to determine if, in fact and in law, there are grounds for declaring the marriage invalid on the basis of an impediment, a defect in the person's consent or the non-observance of some formalities prescribed by law for the validity of marriage.

The Tribunal, in turn, has a sacred duty to respond to the petition and to declare, insofar as human wisdom can determine, whether or not a true marriage ever existed, that is, whether the parties fully understood the nature of marriage, freely consented to a permanent and faithful union, and were capable of assuming the essential rights and obligations of such a union.

The Church is Strict About Marriage

The Catholic Church teaches that a new marriage cannot be initiated while a previous marriage still exists. This teaching of the Catholic Church is based on the words of Jesus, "What God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Mt. 19:6).

A civil divorce puts a marriage asunder and bestows the right to remarry. The Church does not acknowledge the right of civil authories to dispense from vows taken in Church. In the same manner, the Catholic Church does not honor the civil annulment granted by the government.

Divorce, separation, and civil annulment have become common in all walks of society, even in marriages where there are children. Apparently, some parents place their own happiness before the good of their children. Others are more conscientious and terminate their marriage precisely to save their children from a dysfunctional family situation. In either case, the children are always the victims, although not the only ones who suffer. The Church tries to minimize this suffering.

Ill-Effect of A Broken Marriage

Divorce apparently contributes to as many as three out of every fourteen suicides and four out of every five psychiatric admissions. The children of separated couples are more likely to drop out of school, have premarital sex and become pregnant outside of marriage than youngsters form sound families. Young adults, from ages 18 to 22 who come from divorced families are twice as likely to have poor relationships with their parents. As young adults, they show higher levels of emotional distress than those from intact families.

This does not mean that all divorced and separated are bad people. Not at all. Many of them are saints-in-the-making, who gave more than 100 percent of their effort to make their marriage work. Unfortunately, that effort was not enough because marriage as a relationship is, as it were, a two-way-traffic. As the saying goes, "It takes two to tango."

It should be noted that divorced/separated Catholics are not excommunicated from the Church. They are considered Catholics in good standing and they have the right to receive Holy Communion as long as they have not entered an uncanonical marriage or another relationship. The only way a divorced/separated Catholic can remarry lawfully in the Church is by obtaining a Church's declaration of nullity of his/her previous marriage.

In the Philippines, the Church's declaration of nullity has no effects whatsoever in civil law. Such matters, as the legitimacy of children, property rights and others, are in no way affected by a declaration of nullity. Canon law declares that the children born of an annulled marriage remain legitimate (c. 1137). They do not become illegitimate, for the term "illegitimate" is technically reserved for those born out of wedlock, which is certainly not the case here.

It should be noted that a nullity process must not be initiated until there are clear indications that the marital relationship is in fact over and reconciliation is no longer possible.

What is a Declaration of Nullity?

First of all, the term "annulment" is a misnomer. The Church does not annul any marriage. The Tribunal judges declare that the marriage in question was null from the very beginning - that something constitutively essential was missing from the moment of consent, which prevented this union from becoming one that is binding for life. (This is different from some special cases where the Church - through the Pope, by virtue of his vicarious power - dissolves the bond of valid marriage on account of some particular circumstances, for instance, privilege of the faith cases).

Here, instead of the term "annulment," the proper term to be used should be "declaration of nullity" or "ecclesiastical nullity".

An ecclesiastical nullity is a formal declaration by a Church Tribunal that a particular contracted marriage was not a valid union from the very beginning.

"Nullity" differs from "divorce" since "divorce" purports to break the bond of marriage, while a Church declaration of nullity is an official declaration by the church Tribunal that a particular marriage, which was though to be valid, was not canonically binding. When "Church annulment" or nullity is granted, the Church is declaring that there never was a valid marriage.

Why is Nullity Necessary?

The Church believes as Christ taught, that marriage is meant to be a permanent and indissoluble union, a sacred bond which, if validly contracted, cannot be broken by any human power. Thus, a married and separated person (and this includes those who have obtained a divorce in places where it is recognized) seeking a new marriage in the Catholic Church, cannot be allowed to marry in the Church until the Tribunal has investigated the circumstances of the previous union to determine whether a valid bond ever existed. If invalid, then and only then, will the parties of that union be considered free to marry in the Church.

When doubt about the validity of marriage arises, the spouses (or one of them) have to present their petition to the Tribunal of the diocese where they live, or where the marriage took place. The local parish priest can help in making contact with the appropriate Tribunal.

If a person needs help to identify grounds for the nullity of his/her marriage, the Tribunal can assign an advocate to help. There are priests/canon lawyers who are trained to perform this task.

About 30 percent of the cases presented to the Tribunal never reach the trial stage because of either insufficient ground, or lack of evidence, or lack of witnesses. This pre-screening process explains in part the high percententage of affirmative decisions. Tribunals accept only cases that have a good chance of getting affirmative decisions.

How Does the Tribunal Operate?

The whole process of investigating a marriage is designed to find the truth, not prove that one party is right and the other wrong or guilty. In order to determine whether or not there is a ground acceptable in Church law that would have caused the invalidity of the marital union, the Tribunal must investigate the pre-marital history of the parties involved, as well as the history of the marriage itself and what led to the breakdown of the marital relationship. It must be proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that this particular ground for nullity actually existed at the same time of the wedding, and that this ground could either juridically or actually interfered with the giving of valid matrimonial consent and the accepting of obligations of marriage.

The Church’s juridical system is not a trial by jury, but a trial by Tribunal. Usually, three-priests judges form the Tribunal and they decide the case by majority decision.

If a declaration of nullity is granted by the first instance Tribunal, it must be upheld by the Appellate Tribunal (the Court of Second Instance). Two concurring affirmative decisions are needed before the declaration of nullity is final. If there is a split decision between the two courts, the case must go to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (in Rome) for final resolution.

What are the Most Commonly Presented Grounds for Nullity?

* Grave Lack of Due Discretion

This refers to a situation where one or both partners gravely lacked sufficient maturity or good judgments to consent to the marriage and to assume freely (and discharge) all the accompanying obligations of married life.

For example, suppose a woman has married her husband because she was pregnant. They just thought of marriage as the solution to her pregnancy. Once the marriage was contracted, he simply refused to go to work, sitting around the house drinking beer all day while the wife supported the family with an outside job. She did all the shopping, cooking and childcare. He never lifted a finger to help her. After a few years, she decided she had enough and she separated from him.

* Psychological Incapacity

If a person is incapable of fulfilling the rights and obligations of marriage because of some psychological causes, the marriage can be declared null. Spouses must be psychologically capable of assuming and carrying out the essential obligations of marriage. One cannot validly exchange consent of marriage if it is beyond one's capacity. One cannot promise to do something, which he/she is incapable of doing. A person may be capable of understanding the nature of marriage and of making a deliberate act of the will, while at the same time being radically incapable of assuming its essential obligations. For instance: a paranoid schizophrenic may have behaved normally at the time of the wedding, but later, when the illness becomes full blown, the marriage falls apart irreparably. The incapacity to assume the essential obligations of marriage differs from an unwillingness to do so, in that one or both parties suffer a debilitating psychological condition to such an extent that it is impossible to begin and sustain a marital relationship. The psychic factor itself is not the cause of invalidity; rather the gravity of the affliction is the root of the incapacity.

* Intention Cases

These involve an actual intention against one of the ends or purposes of (the sacrament of) marriage.

Intention Against Permanence - entering marriage with a divorce mentality or with the intention to abandon marriage, or the reservation that "I will decide after the wedding and see what is like before committing myself permanently."

Intention Against Fidelity - a deliberate intention to have an "open marriage," whereby relations with others is intended and there is no commitment to an exclusive relationship. Take the case of a man who got married to her girlfriend, but kept a lover before, during and after the marriage.

Intention Against Children - when one partner actually refuses to grant the right of having children to the other partner who has clearly expressed the desire for children, and made it clear prior to the wedding that this was his/her intention from the beginning. This denial of intention against children is evidenced by constant use of contraceptives or other forms of birth prevention or the habitual refusal to have sexual relations.

* Force and Fear

A marriage is invalid when entered into by reason of force or of grave fear imposed from outside, and from which a person has no escape other than by choosing marriage.

* Conditional Consent
This refers to a marriage where the consent to marry is given only on the basis that certain conditions will follow, i.e., the gaining of a large inheritance after the wedding.

* Error and Fraud

This deals with a serious mistake or error concerning the partner in the marriage. The error must be so serious that without it, there would have been no marriage. In order for error to exist as ground for nullity, there must have been deception or the actual concealment of the truth: i.e., "I would not have married this person if I had known that..."

* Administrative Cases

Declaration of nullity is given in other less complicated cases where it is not necessary to go to trial. For instance: if it is discovered that a man was validly and canonically married to someone else before he married the petitioner. The second marriage will be declared null and void on the ground of impediment of prior bond. This case is settled rather quickly in an administrative process, which involves little more than documentary evidence.

The same type of administrative process is used when Catholics marry outside the Church. This is so called a declaration of nullity based on "non-observance of canonical form". The couple did not exchange vows before a priest and two witnesses in a Catholic Church as stipulated by Canon Law (c. 1108). When Catholics fail to observe this so-called "canonical form," their marriage is invalid.

What are the steps of a Nullity Process?

1. The Initial Contact

Once you have decided to seek an annulment, you must get in touch, either directly or through your parish priest, with the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of your diocese, specifically with the Judicial Vicar or his assistant/s (these are the priests appointed by the bishop to exercise judicial power in his name).

2. Filling Out the First Forms and Petition

After initial contact with the Tribunal, you will receive forms, which, after filling them up, will enable you to begin the process.
The first form is called the “Bill of Complaint” or Petition Letter. In the Bill of Complaint, you will be asked to give the general facts about your particular marriage and about your spouses, as well as to state the ground (s) on which you believe your marriage is invalid.

The above-mentioned “Bill of Complaint” will be explained in the “Marriage Case History,” which you will be asked to submit as initial testimony in the case. The Marriage Case History should be written according to the questionnaire or set of guidelines attached to it. It is a personal report explaining in detail what really happened in your married life. In this report, you are asked to provide information about your family background and that of your former spouse, circumstances of the acquaintance, courtship and engagement, significant factors surrounding the time of the wedding, a short history of the marriage itself and the factors that led to its breakdown: it should end with a situationer on the present status or actual life of the spouses (and of the children, if any) as well as the efforts made at the reconciliation. Somewhere along the line, you will be interviewed. This may be a discussion with an expert on Canon Law as you fill out the forms, or an interview with an Advocate from the Tribunal. In some dioceses, the interview may take place after the filing of petition.

3. Appointment of the Tribunal

Once your petition has been received at the Tribunal office, it must be determined that this Tribunal has legal competence or jurisdiction to hear the individual case. Competence is based either on where the marriage actually took place; the respondent’s actual residence; or residence of the petitioner, as long as the Tribunal of the place where the respondent resides have given permission, and your former spouse has no objection; and the place where most of the witnesses/documentations are found.

4. The Tribunal Gathers Evidence

Once competence has been established, the merits of the petition are evaluated. First, your former spouse (the respondent) must be cited and be given the opportunity to participate in the case by submitting written or oral testimony. If the respondent does not want to participate, this does not “per se” interfere with the processing of the case. It is important that the respondent is cited.

The initial testimony of the petitioner and that of the respondent will have to be substantiated by the objective testimony of witnesses, whose names, addresses and telephone numbers have been submitted. Unnecessary delays will occur if this information is not complete.

If the tribunal finds no ground or the alleged ground cannot be proven in accordance with the requirements of Canon Law and Jurisprudence or if there is absolutely no hope for the case to prosper, the petition is rejected and the case is dismissed.

The case is formally accepted once the: “Decree of Acceptance” is issued. A Judicial Hearing” will then be scheduled. This hearing or interview will give the parties involved and the judge-auditor and the defender of the bond the opportunity to clarify some matters concerning the marriage in question. Witnesses whom the judge-auditor has previously selected from among the names the petitioner submitted for testimony are also requested to appear at this hearing in order to corroborate the evidence presented. It should be noticed that all hearings are done in private, unlike the usual civil court hearings.

Besides the testimonies of the parties and witnesses, the Tribunal may request medical, psychological, scholastic, military, personnel records, and other relevant documents, and experts assistance.

It would be good to remember that any information given and submitted to the Tribunal could be made available to your former spouse. In fact, the other party (respondent) has the right to petition to review such information either in person or to a duly appointed proxy (procurator/advocate). No absolute confidentiality can then be requested or granted. Therefore, whatever the petitioner/respondent/witness tell (s) the Tribunal must be provable either through documents or sound testimony. Claims, which cannot be substantiated, are of little or no help at all.

Only the parties to the marriage and the Tribunal officials have a right to know what is said by each party or the witnesses. There is some limitation to what information may be made available to the parties. For example: you may be asked to sign a release from professional secrecy, so that testimony may be obtained from psychologist, psychiatrist whose evidence is offered in strict confidentially to assists the Tribunal judges. No relatives or concerned friends may have access to any information. In fact, no one but the parties themselves may even be told about the progress of the case. The Tribunal must balance the rights of the petitioner and those of the respondent, the public nature of marriage end the confidentiality of this process, the common good and the individual good, fidelity to law and pastoral concern for the individual person and situation.

The parties may avail themselves of the assistance of an advocate or procurator who will help them throughout the case. In his absence, the Tribunal staff performs the function of the advocate. This is in line with the Tribunal’s policy of service; in sparing the parties unnecessary spending for the services of those who may be charging exorbitant fees. An advocate is officially appointed by the diocesan bishop for a specified term of office and, such, is officially recognized by the Tribunal. Licentiates in Canon Law and those who are qualified according to the requirements of Canon Law to act as advocates/procurators, but who are not officially appointed, may be considered by the Tribunal on a case to case basis.

No other person or office or agency may perform the function of advocate or procurator except those who have been officially appointed. However, the parties may seek the counsel or advice of the assistance of persons or agencies who, they think, may be able to help them because of their expertise. The Tribunal however, considers this as a purely private arrangement between the parties and such persons or agencies. Evidence obtained through such persons or agencies will be evaluated according to procedural law.

5.The Decision

When all the testimonies have been received, a panel of three judges will review the judges will review the testimonies and render judgment. Before reaching the final decision, the former spouse, the Defender of the Bond (who represents the Church) has the right to state any objection that may have to an affirmative decision. These objections must be considered before proceeding any further. Of course, this could delay the processing of the case. An official written decision of the Tribunal, whether in the affirmative or in the negative, normally called “sentence”, will mean that the “trial” is over. What follows next is a re-examination of the Tribunal’s decision by a Second Instance Tribunal.

6. Automatic Review

An affirmative decision of the Tribunal of First Instance still needs a confirmatory decision of the Tribunal of the Second Instance before it becomes a definitive and executory.

7. Right to Appeal

If a negative decision has been made, i.e., if the judges determine that there is no basis for the nullity of the marriage, then the petitioner also has the right to appeal the decision to the Second Instance of the Tribunal.



The total time for nullity process varies from case to case and depends on the merits of the case and the value of the proofs presented, as well as the time involved in gathering the testimonies from the parties. However, because of the requirements inherent in the canonical process, each case normally takes a minimum of two years to complete. If there is a backlog of cases, it could take more than that. Therefore, it is imperative to begin the nullity process as soon as the separation has become irreparable and there is no longer any hope for reconciliation, and prior to making any plans for a new marriage.

A separated or divorced Catholic or any other divorced person wishing to marry in the Catholic Church cannot enter a new canonical marriage unless the previous marriage has been declared invalid.

Therefore, the parties involved in the nullity process should not initiate plans for a new marriage (setting of date, sending out invitations, reservation for reception) until the nullity process has been completed, i.e., until a decree of nullity has been issued by the proper Church authority (an affirmative decision rendered by the Court of First Instance and a confirmatory decision by the Court of Appeals or Court of Second Instance).



There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to annulment fees. Some people say, “You can buy a declaration of nullity in the Church.” This is absolutely not true.

Just consider that there are three judges who will decide the case in the Court of First Instance, and another set of three judges in the Court of Second Instance. Any one of these six judges can reject any case. Definitely, this form of corruption could not easily creep into the judicial system of the Church. Of course, the judicial system of the Church is human and, therefore, with imperfections. But the Church’s deciding tribunals always judge in the name of God, and each decision, based on moral certainty, binds in conscience.

The Tribunal System of the Church was never and cannot be a moneymaking scheme. Many times I have heard people spreading the nasty rumor that they did not get their annulment simply because they were not willing to pay the huge fees involved. Again this is a lie. Most probably, their case was rejected by the Tribunal because they did not have any credible evidence and witnesses to prove their claim.

Tribunal fees are minimal compared to civil annulment fees, which could run up to hundreds of thousands of pesos. It is only fair that those who avail themselves of the services of the Tribunal assist in bearing its financial burden. If people have the means to pay, the full fee ranges from P20,000.00 to P30,000.00, depending on the locality. Outside Metro Manila, in other Diocesan Tribunals, the amount is relatively cheaper.

Metropolitan Tribunal of Manila – To begin a nullity process, a P5,000.00 non-refundable filing fee is required. When the petition is officially accepted, the petitioner is asked to pay P10,000.00, which, together with the filing fee, constitute the first 50% of the entire amount of P30,000.00, the fee for the processing of the case. The remaining balance should be paid toward the conclusion of the case, or upon some arrangement with the Tribunal, it may be paid in installments until the decision has been rendered.

If there is a genuine financial difficulty, the concerned parties may discuss this matter with a Tribunal officer who will attend to their need on a case to case basis. If they have limited means, they pay as much of the fee as they are able. If they are really poor, it costs nothing. Partial or total condonation of the Tribunal fees can be granted by the Judicial Vicar, and all it takes is a written endorsement of the parish priest or of any priest who can attest to the financial difficulty. Our records show that there has been a good number of cases which were processed “gratis” (totally free). Recent reports from some dioceses show that the number of charity cases (free of charge or minimum fee) reach 35% of the total number of cases processed. These are facts usually people ignore. Contrary to the general misconception , it is not financially expensive to obtain a nullity declaration.

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