Investigating the validity of a marriage

What is an invalid marriage?

A marriage is invalid, although it may appear to be a true marriage, if the spouses were prohibited from marrying by the laws and teaching of the Catholic Church, or if the consent they gave on their wedding day was ineffectual according to the laws and teaching of the Catholic Church.

What are some reasons a person’s consent might have been invalid?

Some common grounds are:

  • Grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning essential matrimonial
  • rights and obligations
  • Inability to assume the essential obligations of marriage for psychological reasons
  • Willful exclusion of essential elements or properties of marriage, such as children, fidelity, or permanence

Your parish staff can provide more information about these and other grounds.

Why ask the Church for a declaration of invalidity?

The Catholic Church does not recognize divorce. However, if a marriage is invalid according to the laws and teaching of the Catholic Church, the spouses may be free to marry other people. A declaration of invalidity is necessary to establish this freedom.

What about marriages of Non-Catholics?

The Catholic Church recognizes the marriages of non-Catholics. Therefore, a non-Catholic who has been married before cannot marry a Catholic unless and until the previous marriage has been declared invalid. Under some circumstances, the marriage of a non-baptized person can be “dissolved” to permit the spouses to enter new marriages. But this, too, requires Church intervention.

Is a declaration of invalidity guaranteed?

Every marriage is presumed valid unless and until proven otherwise. The Church Tribunal’s decision about the validity of a marriage will be based on the evidence gathered in the course of its investigation. The Tribunal is bound by Church jurisprudence and cannot declare a marriage invalid if the facts and law do not support such a decision. There is no guarantee a marriage will be declared invalid.

Who can apply?

Anyone may ask the Church to determine whether his or her marriage was invalid. Non-Catholics usually do so because they want to marry a Catholic in the Church. While anyone may petition a competent Tribunal to investigate the validity of their marriage, a declaration of invalidity cannot be guaranteed.

How do I apply?

Contact your local parish. The parish staff can answer questions and supply the proper application form. When completed, the form is sent to the Tribunal.

How long does it take?

While some cases take a long time, typical cases, with responsive parties and no complicating circumstances, take 7 to 10 months.

Can I set a date for a future wedding?

Do not set a date for a wedding unless and until the Tribunal process has concluded and your previous marriage has been declared invalid. Remember, there is no guarantee a marriage will be declared invalid. Even if it is declared invalid, the Tribunal may impose a restriction on your future marriage, which could cause further delay.

If I already have wedding plans, can my case be expedited?

Regrettably, no! By canon law, with rare exceptions, we have to process cases in the order we receive them.

How much does it cost?

As of July 1, 2014 there is no charge for an annulment.

When a Catholic married “outside the Church” . . .

A Catholic whose previous marriage was celebrated in a civil or non-Catholic ceremony may not need a declaration of invalidity. The marriage may be automatically null for lack of “form.” This is because Catholics are required by Church law to marry in the Church, unless they receive a dispensation from Church authority. The process for declaring lack of form is much simpler.  As of July 1, 2014 there is no charge.

How can I get more information?

Contact your local parish staff. If you need more information than they can provide, contact:

Diocese of Rochester Tribunal
1150 Buffalo Road
Rochester, NY 14624-1890
585.328.3228 x1223 or 1.800.388.7177