ARCHDIOCESE OF MIAMI
THE PROCESS FOR A DECLARATION OF NULLITY IN
ARCHDIOCESE OF MIAMI
1. WHAT IS A MARRIAGE?
The Catholic Church understands marriage to be
an enduring and exclusive partnership for the
mutual exchange of love and for the procreation
and education of children.
Between those who have been baptized, a valid
marriage is a sacrament. The
Church believes that every valid, sacramental
marriage that has been consummated is
indissoluble. This is the law of God according
to the evidence found in the Old Testament, the
Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the
writings of St. Paul, and almost two thousand
years of Christian tradition.
Although not every marriage is a sacrament, each
and every marriage (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish,
etc.) is presumed to be a valid marriage binding
unto death. The good of all
concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society,
the Church, etc.) demands this presumption.
2. WHAT ABOUT MARRIAGES THAT BREAK UP?
After a couple has been married, the husband and
wife go through a period of adjustment.
During this time many problems may arise.
Sometimes the problems remain below the surface
and do not come to the fore until later in the
marriage. Whenever these
problems do arise, if they become severe, the
parties often seek relief from this unhappy
relationship by obtaining a civil divorce.
For Catholics a civil divorce means that
there are no longer any civil effects enduring
from their marriage, although the Church
maintains that they are still married in the
sight of God.
Inasmuch as the Church recognizes as valid those
marriages between non-Catholics that take place
before a non-Catholic minister or a civil
official, the Church believes that civil
divorces or civil annulments among non-Catholics
as well as Catholics have no spiritual effects.
Whenever a marriage breaks up, the natural
reaction is to ask why these two people, who at
one time in their lives seemed so willing to
make a permanent commitment now want to resume
separate lives. The causes of marriage failure
Because marriage is a sacred contract or
covenant, there must be a free exchange of
consent if it is to be valid. Each party must be
able to fulfill the conditions for marriage.
Sometimes it is found that marriages have failed
because one of these is lacking. If one of the
necessary qualities was, indeed, lacking when
the exchange of consent took place, the marriage
could be declared null; then the parties could
be free to contract a valid marriage.
3. WHAT IS A DECLARATION OF NULLITY?
It is important to understand the meaning of a
declaration of nullity. A
declaration on nullity does not deny that a real
relationship did exist nor does it imply that
the relationship was entered into with ill will
or moral fault. A
declaration of nullity is a statement by the
Church that the relationship fell short of one
or more of these elements essential for the
relationship to be a marriage, a binding union.
Therefore, the union in question would not be
regarded by the Church as a source of continuing
marital rights and obligations.
A declaration of nullity differs from a divorce
in that a divorce breaks the civil effects of a
marriage bond, whereas a declaration of nullity
declares there never was a true bond.
An ecclesiastical declaration of nullity
in no way affects the laws and statutes of civil
law. The provisions established by the courts in
the issuance of a divorce certificate stand as
decreed. There are absolutely no civil effects
of a Church declaration of nullity in the United
States. It does not affect in any manner the
legitimacy of children, property rights,
inheritance rights, or names.
A Church declaration of nullity is a
declaration by the Catholic Church that a
particular union, presumably begun in good faith
and regarded by all as a marriage, was, in fact,
not a marriage according to the Church's
definition of a valid marriage.
4. WHO MAY APPLY FOR A DECLARATION OF NULLITY?
Any Catholic or non-Catholic within the
territory of the Archdiocese of Miami may approach the
Metropolitan Tribunal for the clarification of
his/her status in the Church.
The application for declaration of
nullity must be made to a
Tribunal that has proper jurisdiction. If the
Miami Tribunal is unable to undertake this study,
we will gladly assist persons in determining
which Tribunal enjoys competence.
5. HOW DOES ONE BEGIN THIS PROCESS?
If you live within the territory of the
Archdiocese of Miami, for beginning the process, these are the
Contact your parish priest, who either
personally or through a person trained by
the Tribunal, will assist you in this
With either your parish priest or FIELD
ADVOCATE (person trained by the Tribunal)
complete the Preliminary Fact Sheet.
Obtain the following necessary documents:
Recent copy of baptismal certificate of
Petitioner (if Catholic); Recent copy of
baptismal certificate of Respondent (if
Catholic) (This may be obtained from Church
of marriage); Copy of church marriage
certificate (if married in the Catholic
Church); Copy of civil marriage certificate
(if not performed in Catholic church); Copy
of final divorce decree (property
settlements alone not acceptable).
Contact the necessary witnesses and confirm
their willingness to cooperate.
Once the Preliminary Fact Sheet has been
completed and the necessary documents
obtained, the parish priest or the FIELD
ADVOCATE will forward the material to the
When the Tribunal receives the Preliminary
Fact Sheet and the necessary documents, a
packet of questionnaires will be returned to
your Advocate. You will
receive a copy of the letter to the Advocate
informing him or her that the process has
begun. Once you receive this copy, arrange a
meeting with your Advocate.
6. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE ADVOCATE?
The Advocate is the person (either your parish
priest or a person trained by the Tribunal) who
acts as a liaison between the Tribunal and the
persons involved in the case. The Advocate's
role is to assist the party in gathering the
necessary information. He or she is the one who
will also answer any particular questions
regarding the procedure. All questions should be
directed toward this person and NOT the
Tribunal. If there is a difficulty between you
and your FIELD ADVOCATE then notify the Tribunal
in writing. Be sure to indicate your protocol
7. ARE WITNESSES REQUIRED?
Marriage is never a totally private relationship.
It creates profound effects on the family,
society, and the Church.
Witnesses, therefore, are required by Church law
to assist the Tribunal in reaching a deeper
understanding of you, your spouse, your marriage
and its failure. The witnesses' questionnaires
will be included in the packet sent to the FIELD
ADVOCATE. The FIELD ADVOCATE will be responsible
for the completion of the questionnaires either
personally or through the mail.
8. ARE ANY SPECIAL WITNESSES NEEDED?
Sometimes doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists,
professional counselors, priests, ministers,
rabbis, etc., have been consulted before or
during a marriage to assist a person or a couple.
If this is the case, please provide the
complete name and address of the professional.
After you have signed a release provided
Tribunal, the professional may give information
that may prove to be of great value in the study
of the marriage. The
Tribunal will arrange to obtain this person's
9. WHO MAY REVIEW THIS INFORMATION?
Your own statements, the statements of your
witnesses, and the expert statements of
professionals are treated with the strictest
confidentiality. No one has access to this
except the parties to the case and individual
members of the Tribunal staff specially assigned
to the study of the marriage. They are all bound
to secrecy by an oath. If there are any doubts
or questions in this matter, or if there is a
need for particular testimony to be withheld
from the other party, please contact your
Advocate at once, but the final decision for
withholding testimony is left to the judge in
10. WHAT ABOUT THE FORMER SPOUSE?
After the Tribunal has received your petition,
we will notify your former spouse in writing.
He/she will be offered the opportunity to
present a complete account of the marriage as
well as to introduce any desired witnesses. The
universal law of the Catholic Church requires
this procedure. In some cases no decision can be
given without the testimony of the former spouse.
It is important, therefore, for the Tribunal to
have an accurate address of the former spouse.
If the current address is not available, then
the Tribunal must have his/her last known
address together with the address of a family
member through whom the former spouse may be
Please note that the Tribunal contacts the
former spouse. You may, if you wish, do likewise,
and often it is helpful if you do, but it is not
required. It has been the experience of the
Tribunal that in the majority of the cases the
former spouse is cooperative.
Usually a period of 15 days is allowed for the
former spouse to reply, after receiving the
notification from the Tribunal, but in certain
cases more time may be given.
11. WHAT HAPPENS IF THE FORMER SPOUSE GIVES A
TESTIMONY OPPOSITE TO MINE?
In a declaration of nullity the Judge must have,
according to Church law, moral certitude about
the nullity of the marriage.
If this is lacking after all the evidence has
been presented, he has no other recourse but to
decree that the invalidity of the marriage has
not been proved, even though it may, in truth,
be invalid. Therefore, it is
important to include the testimony of the other
party as well as other statements that will
enable the Judge to attain moral certitude. The
Judge will weigh carefully all evidence in
relation to the party presenting it.
12. WHAT STAFF MEMBERS WILL BE INVOLVED IN MY
The ADVOCATE is your contact person with the
Tribunal whose duties have been described
above. After he/she
collects all the evidence, he/she writes a
brief, arguing why the marriage should be
The JUDICIAL VICAR/ADJUTANT JUDICIAL VICAR
has the duty of examining your petition and
all supporting documents; he must determine
if the presented material is adequate for
the starting of a study.
The CASE DIRECTOR/ASSESSOR/ a member of the
Tribunal Staff is assigned to coordinate
your case from its beginning to its
The NOTARY has the responsibility of
assuring the authenticity of the acts of the
The DEFENDER OF THE BOND is charged by the
Church Law to examine the testimony that has
been given and to make those arguments that
support the validity of the marriage.
The JUDGE takes care that the correct rules
of procedure are followed in the hearing of
the case. He orders the
processing of the case, step by step. In
some instances the Judge will want to
personally interview either you or your
former spouse or both. Finally, he will
write the sentence.
13. WHEN IS A DECISION MADE?
When the formal hearing has been concluded, the
Defender of the Bond and the Advocate offer
views on the case. After
reviewing all the data, the Judge will then
render a decision.
If either party or the Defender of the Bond is
not in agreement with the decision, the law
provides for an appeal. The
appellate court for Miami is the diocese of
Pittsburgh, PA. An appeal
may also be made to the Sacred Roman Rota, in
Rome. Appeals are directed
to their proper appellate court through the
Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of
14. WHAT EFFECT DOES A DECLARATION OF NULLITY
HAVE UNDER CIVIL LAW?
In the United States there is a separation of
Church and State. While the
Government grants authority to ministers of
religious bodies to officiate at marriages in
the name of the respective civil entity, neither
an individual State nor the Federal Government
recognizes the right of Church bodies to
terminate or annul marriages insofar as the
legal effects are concerned.
Therefore, it is necessary to have obtained a
civil divorce before one seeks a Church
declaration of nullity. A
Church declaration of nullity has no civil
15. IS REMARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH ALLOWED?
If a declaration of nullity is decreed and there
are no restrictions attached to it the usual
procedure of preparing for marriage in the
Catholic Church may be started with the local
parish priest. In addition
to the documents usually required for all
weddings, it is necessary to provide the parish
priest with the Declaration of Nullity.
If a marriage is declared invalid due to a
specific cause, a second marriage obviously
cannot be permitted until it has been
demonstrated that the cause that invalidated the
first marriage has been removed.
Please note that permission to remarry in
the Catholic Church can in no way be guaranteed
before the completion of the entire process of
study and formal hearing (s).
No plans for future marriages should be made
before that time. THE TRIBUNAL CANNOT BE
RESPONSIBLE FOR ARBITRARY PROMISES OR GUARANTEES
MADE BY ANY PRIEST, RELIGIOUS, OR
16. HOW LONG DOES THE ENTIRE PROCESS TAKE?
It is impossible
to predict the exact length of time because of a
number of variable factors.
No two cases are the same.
Usually from our experience it takes AT LEAST A
YEAR to complete a case.
However, this is not a guarantee.
By Church Law PRIESTS ARE NOT PERMITTED
TO SET DATES FOR REMARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH UNTIL
A DECLARATION OF NULLITY HAS ACTUALLY BEEN
ISSUED. The Tribunal
processes each case as efficiently as possible.
17. HOW SOON AFTER A FAVORABLE DECISION HAS BEEN
RENDERED MAY I REMARRY?
When an affirmative decision has been rendered,
a letter to this effect will be sent to you, the
Defender of the Bond and your former spouse, if
he or she has cooperated in the process. The
Defender of the Bond or your former spouse has
the right to appeal this decision.
Even if there is no appeal the law of the
Church requires that we forward the case to our
appellate court, the Diocese of Pittsburgh for
review. You are not free to
remarry within the Church until you have
received a final notification from us indicating
that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has upheld our
decision and there are no restrictions placed
18. HOW MUCH IS THE FEE?
It costs the Archdiocese over $500,000.00 a year
to maintain the Tribunal. This works out to
$2,500.00 for a case. Since the
contributions of the Catholics of the
Archdiocese of Miami help the Archbishop to fund
the operations of the Tribunal, we only ask for
a subsidized fee of $650.00
if you are a faithful of the Archdiocese of
IF A CATHOLIC OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF MIAMI REQUIRES A REDUCTION, THE TRIBUNAL WILL
READILY ARRANGE TO HONOR SUCH A REQUEST IF
RECOMMENDED BY HIS/HER PASTOR AND WILL
ENSURE THAT YOUR CASE WILL BE PROCESSED.
AT NO TIME SHOULD FINANCIAL CONSIDERATION
DISCOURAGE OR PREVENT ANY FAITHFUL OF THE
ARCHDIOCESE OF MIAMI FROM EXERCISING
THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE A JUST HEARING FROM THE
CHURCH. HIS OR HER ABILITY OR
INABILITY TO PAY A FEE IN NO WAY AFFECTS THE
PROGRESS OR OUTCOME OF A REQUEST.