Tribunal


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Welcome

You are likely here seeking information with the hope of healing. We invite you to learn more by watching our welcome video and reading the information that follows.

The resources available below have been assembled for you by the Tribunal office to review at your leisure to aid in understanding the reasons a marriage would be declared null and void and to help you begin the process of the declaration of nullity (commonly referred to as an annulment). When you are ready to begin the process, please contact your pastor, or parish procurator/advocate. Our staff is also available to offer assistance and answer questions.

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Resources

For a Checklist of Documents needed by your procurator/advocate to submit your case to the Tribunal, click here.

For an Explanation of Commonly Used Grounds (reasons) that a Tribunal may declare a marriage null and void from the beginning, click here.

For a Glossary of Terms used by the Tribunal, click here.

General Information

Tribunal proceedings

A tribunal is the Church's court of justice. From a practical standpoint, a tribunal functions principally in the investigation of marriage nullity cases, applying the Church’s laws found in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Tribunal proceedings are exclusive to the Church or ecclesiastical in nature. As such, these processes have no civil effects. 

Marriages are always valid until proven invalid

The process of declaring a marriage null and void from the beginning requires the Petitioner and/or the Respondent to prove the sacrament of marriage was not entered into by one or both of the parties. The burden of proof is on the individual(s) not the Church or its Tribunal.

The right to judge a marriage valid or null

The Church maintains its right to judgment. The party opposed to the process must provide proper proofs a marriage is valid. Your opinion is important to you, but the Church maintains a level of objectivity to maintain the integrity of the sacrament of marriage.

Access to case information

The Petitioner, the Respondent, the Procurator, the Defender of the Bond, and the Judge(s) are parties to a case, and the Tribunal Staff that handles cases are the only individuals who have access to case information. Also, only the above-mentioned parties can request case information.

Case information

The Tribunal must maintain the file indefinitely. The Petitioner, the Respondent, and the Procurator should keep copies of all submitted information until the case is completed. Once the letter of notification is received, all copies held by the Petitioner, the Respondent, and the Procurator are to be destroyed.

Baptismal record

Petitioners will need to obtain and provide to the Tribunal an authenticated baptismal certificate within the last six months. This will be returned when the case is completed.

Civil marriage license

You will need to obtain a copy of your civil marriage license. This may be obtained from the county clerk's office in the county where the marriage took place.

Civil divorce decree

You will need to obtain a full copy of your civil divorce decree. This may be obtained from the county clerk's office in the county where the divorce was granted.

Protection of Rights

The Tribunal is diligent in the protection of the rights of the Petitioner, the Respondent, and the witnesses. Anyone without the right to see the case file will never see it.

The Tribunal staff and updates regarding your case

The staff is here to assist as we are able. Please know the Tribunal is processing 150-250 cases at any given time and the staff may respond only as they are able as caseloads demand. Please know that cases are completed as they are ready and not in numerical order. Calling frequently (daily or weekly) will not move your case forward more quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Please review the FAQ's provided below which are meant to aid in understanding the reasons a marriage would be declared null and void and the process of the declaration of nullity (commonly referred to as an annulment).

Click on each question below to view or hide the response:

Because at the time the man and woman married there was a grave defect or problem in one or both of the parties that prevented the one or both from entering the sacrament of marriage.

The first step to starting the process for declaring your marriage null is to go to your pastor or to the local Catholic parish. Either the pastor himself, or someone he delegates will help you start the process by giving you the necessary paperwork.

No, the process of declaring a marriage null and void from the beginning only affects the sacramentality of the marriage in question.

No, the Church teaches that even if a marriage is later declared null and void it has no effect on the legitimacy of the children. It is of utmost importance to state clearly and unambiguously that children born of a marriage that has been declared null are legitimate.

No, a declaration of nullity means the sacrament of marriage never existed.

You will still need to get a recent copy of your baptismal certificate with notifications. If you remain a resident in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, the case may be heard in this Church jurisdiction.

The Catholic church teaches that marriage between any two baptized Christians is a sacrament. Therefore, your marriage must be formally examined and declared null before you may marry again.

The Catholic Church recognizes that two unbaptized people have a natural right to freely exchange marital consent. Known as natural law marriage, such an act is considered valid and must be formally examined to ensure one or both parties are free to marry in the Catholic Church.

For an Explanation of Commonly Used Grounds (reasons) that a Tribunal may declare a marriage null and void from the beginning, click here.

The libellus is the legal document required by the law of the Church prior to beginning the process for declaring your marriage null. The libellus is one of the first documents you receive from the Tribunal Office once your case has been accepted. You must return the libellus to our offices after it has been signed by you and notarized by either a priest, someone from your parish, or a civil notary public. No work may be done on your case until this document is received in the Tribunal Office.

The Tribunal respects you and recognizes the trauma you have suffered. Your information is tightly held with only a few members of the Tribunal staff having access. Please know that the Tribunal will never give your information out to anyone, including your former spouse.

The Tribunal must make all reasonable efforts to locate the Respondent. Failure to properly find and cite the Respondent renders any decision irremediably void. If you cannot find the Respondent, you must list all the modes you have attempted to find him/her. Please note with the ability to use the internet, Respondent’s are often found within minutes. If you have children and share custody, 99.9% of the time the Petitioner knows how to find the Respondent. If your former spouse is in prison anywhere in the United States, he/she can be found easily using the online prison data base every State maintains.

Yes, the Tribunal must contact your former spouse. Please note that the Tribunal must have contact, but the Petitioner does not have to be in contact with the Respondent! If there is a history of abuse and legitimate fear on the part of the Petitioner, the Tribunal will not provide the Respondent with your contact information!

No, the Respondent cannot stop the process of declaring your marriage null. Though it is always preferable to have the most accurate picture of the marriage in question, if the Respondent refuses to participate in the interest of justice the process may move forward. The Tribunal must do all it can to make sure the rights of the Respondent are protected. This includes a possible delay in the process, but no longer than 90 working days.

Church law requires you to name individuals who will corroborate your testimony. They are proving that you are telling the truth. You must have witnesses, there are no exceptions to this requirement.

Parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, members of the wedding party, and childhood friends make the best witnesses. Anyone you named as a witness needs to have known you before your marriage to the Respondent and may attest to the courtship, engagement, and marriage. Three witnesses usually render sufficient corroboration if they meet the above requirements.

No, if you named a professional witness, you were sent a copy of the release to complete. Please return the form to the Tribunal Office and the office staff will send the questionnaire.

There are many variables with this question. The Church prefers First Instance cases, like yours, to be completed within 12 months. This depends on the quality of your testimony, the quality of the testimony of your witnesses, how quickly you and your witnesses return your questionnaires, and how many cases are presently being processed in the Tribunal Office. If the necessary documents and testimony is received on a timely basis the case will be completed on an equally timely basis.

The Tribunal is experienced with individuals in your situation. From the beginning, be aware we will need the same information for all cases, e.g., baptismal certificates within six months with notations if you are Catholic, copies of the civil marriage license and full divorce decree, and copies of pre-nuptial agreements, if any. You will also need to provide some testimony and witnesses for each marriage, although different cases require different information and number of witnesses. Please speak further with your Procurator/Advocate if you have multiple marriages.

At any given time, the Tribunal has about 150 – 200 cases in process. Cases are not heard in order of case number but in the order in which they are placed in the drawer for the second evaluation and/or final decision. Please be patient, you are not the only one waiting and your case will be heard as soon as possible.

In the Diocese of Grand Rapids every effort is made to process cases as quickly as possible. The Church gives the Tribunal 12 months to complete an ordinary process case. Regardless of whether or not your case is an “easy” case, there are many cases ahead of yours and cases are processed in the order they are received. Please be patient!

Please remember that your priest does not work in the Tribunal Office and is unfamiliar with the Tribunal caseloads. If you wish to get an accurate assessment of how long it will take to process your case, please speak with your Procurator/Advocate. Typically you may plan your case being completed in twelve months from the date you signed the libellus.

At the beginning of the process, you signed an agreement indicating you were not to make any future marriage plans until receiving a letter of notification stating your marriage is null. Second, your case will be heard in the order in which it was received (not by case number). Please be patient. You are not the only person waiting for a declaration of nullity. If you have made plans and your case has not been completed, you may have to cancel those plans and wait until your marriage has been declared null and void and you are notified that you are now free to marry.

No, the notification of an affirmative decision gives the Petitioner and/or the Respondent fifteen working days to appeal the decision. If an appeal is not lodged, then you will receive notification informing you about the freedom to marry.

If a caution (Monitum) was placed on you by the Judge, please have the priest, deacon, or pastoral minister preparing you for marriage contact the office. A caution does not prevent you from marrying, it only provides a method for the Judge to communicate to the person preparing you for marriage that certain information must be taught to you and your intended spouse. If a prohibition (Vetitum) was placed on you by the Judge, you may not marry until the stipulations have been fulfilled. Please have the priest, deacon, or pastoral minister preparing you and an intended spouse for marriage contact the Tribunal for proper directions.

A declaration of nullity cannot be bought. Those people who get their cases processed quickly are the ones who read through all the information that is sent to them and return all the information and documents requested on a timely basis. If you have received information that you do not understand, please call the Tribunal Office at 616-459-4509 immediately. You too may get your case done quickly if you choose to respond and reach out with questions without delay.