There are a number of distinct types of annulment procedures in Church law. The ordinary procedure is described here.
The first step for a Petitioner considering a marriage case is to approach the local parish priest or pastoral assistant, who will assist the Petitioner in completing a preliminary questionnaire for submission to the Tribunal. This questionnaire provides the Tribunal staff an overview of the marriage.
If the information indicates no evident basis for a case, the Petitioner might be required to submit a more detailed account of the marriage in question.
The Tribunal next contacts the other party to the marriage – the Respondent – who has a right to be heard. A questionnaire is sent to the Respondent to request information regarding the alleged grounds of nullity.
The importance of the Respondent’s cooperation varies from case to case. In some instances it might be impossible to prove the contention without such cooperation; in other cases it might be less important. The Respondent is given a set period of time to reply. An additional period can be requested if the one initially established is inconvenient.
A Respondent is not permitted, however, to delay a case unreasonably. The Respondent’s cooperation is not essential and, in the event of non-cooperation, the case can proceed, recognizing that the grounds of the case must still be proved. Contact, therefore, with the Respondent is necessary for the purpose of information and to implement the Respondent’s rights.
In the ordinary course of events, both the Petitioner and the Respondent will be given the opportunity to review each other’s written testimony, as well as any statements by witnesses which are not protected by the seal of confidentiality. The Petitioner should take all this into consideration at the beginning of the process, to assess whether he/she has an objections to this procedure.
It is the Petitioner’s responsibility to ensure that the various witnesses cooperate. The Petitioner is expected to inform witnesses that they will be contacted by the Tribunal, and request their prompt cooperation. Each witness is sent a questionnaire based on the grounds in the case and a cover letter explaining how to proceed. Witnesses are encouraged to be as complete as possible in their answers. The testimony is to be given under oath, and witnesses have the option of signing the completed questionnaire before a Catholic priest or pastoral minister or before a notary public.
The length of time involved varies from case to case and depends on many factors, most of which are beyond the control of the Tribunal. The Petitioner will be informed of the average length of time for the type of case presented. It should be understood that this is simply an average and by no means guarantees that the case will be completed in that time or that the final decision will be favorable. For this reason, the parties are cautioned against making any plans regarding a future marriage until the entire tribunal process is complete and the final decision rendered.
A favorable decision in the Diocesan Tribunal must be reviewed by the Court of Appeal of the Province of Atlanta. This requires additional time, which may be substantial depending on the kind of case. This is another reason why a Petitioner should make no plans for a marriage until the process is finally complete. Upon completion, the Petitioner is notified and sent a copy of the final decree. A similar communication is sent to the Respondent unless he/she has indicated to the contrary or has waived the right of notification either expressly or tacitly earlier in the process.
The Diocese subsidizes the Tribunal. To keep the subsidy within manageable limits, each Petitioner is assessed a fee. The Diocese of Charlotte incurs costs of approximately $1000 in processing a case. The Petitioner is asked to assume a portion of the cost, which involves ordinary office expenses, telephone calls, fees for psychiatric experts, appellate court costs, etc.