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Tribunal of the Catholic Church for New Zealand

  • Why is a Declaration of Nullity sometimes referred to as an Annulment?
    A Declaration of Nullity is not a catholic word for divorce. A Decree of Nullity is a declaration by the Church that a particular marriage is not binding for life according to criteria of the Catholic Church. The Church does not “annul” a valid marriage. Therefore, the correct term for the Tribunal’s decision is a Declaration of Nullity, a term which is used through this website. It does not deny that there had ever been any kind of bond between the couple or erase the relationship that existed, nor does it assign blame for the breakup of the marriage. The Church recognises that there was a real civil marriage, a real relationship and the children are and always will be legitimate even if a Declaration of Nullity is granted. A Declaration of Nullity simply affects the freedom and ability to remarry in the Catholic Church and has no civil effects or implications at all.
  • How does marriage as a sacrament differ from marriage as a legal contract?
    The validity of a marriage contract in a civil context, is based on the observance of civil law. A Decree of Civil Divorce ends the civil recognition of the union. In short, civil authorities have come to understand that marriage can be cancelled. A divorce declares that the marriage contract has been terminated as of a certain date. On the other hand, the Church teaches that marriage is a sacred covenant of life and love. The fidelity and permanence of marriage is a symbol of the fidelity and permanence of God's love for all people. The freely given consent of a man and a woman establishes a marriage covenant. This consent is an act of the whole human person and it involves psychological, physical, and spiritual dynamics. A wedding in good faith always has the potential to establish a true marriage covenant, but unfortunately not all do.
  • What does it all mean - null and void, validity, and invalidity?"
    A Declaration of Nullity affirms the fact that the sacred bond of marriage was not validly established at the wedding, according to Church teaching and Church law. Thus, that particular marriage is not binding for life according to criteria of the Catholic Church, though a civil marriage certainly existed. For a spiritual bond of marriage to be properly established, there must be certain requirements present in the individual who consents to marriage at the time of the wedding. If any of these requirements are absent or seriously distorted, the Tribunal judges can declare that the marriage is not recognized by the Catholic Church. Church law determines what these requirements are. In summary, a Declaration of Nullity does not break the marriage bond. A Declaration of Nullity declares that the marriage bond was never validly established at the time of consent according to Catholic Church teaching and Church law.
  • Does a Declaration of Nullity establish that a former marriage never existed?
    No. Even if a declaration of nullity is granted there was always a real civil marriage, a real relationship and if there were any children they are and always will be legitimate. Obviously, the couple was wed according to civil law and lived together, and possibly had children. They have a history from being together. It is presumed that both parties entered the marriage with good intentions and good faith. No one can deny that a relationship existed in some form and at least for a time, with its own hopes and disappointments, joys and sorrows. The relationship established, love shared, and the good and bad memories will always remain. In almost all cases, a civilly recognised union was at least certainly present.
  • What is the status of a divorced catholic in the Church?
    Catholics who are divorced but have not entered into another civil union are encouraged to practice their faith fully, including participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Merely being separated or divorced does not change one’s status in the Church. Divorced Catholics are full members of the Church with all of the same rights as any other member. Catholics who have divorced and remarried, or are in a civil partnership or relationship, without a declaration of nullity, are not free to receive the sacraments, but are still encouraged to practice the other aspects of their faith, pending a decision by a Tribunal regarding their previous marriage.
  • How does the Catholic Church regard the marriage of non-Catholics?
    The Church respects all marriages, irrespective of where they took place. The Church considers the marriage bond between non-Catholics to be as equally binding as those of Catholics. Like marriages in the Catholic Church, whenever there has been a public exchange of consent, the validity of these marriages is presumed until the contrary is proven. Therefore, the marriage of two non-baptised people; the marriage of two baptised non-Catholics; or the marriage of a baptised non-Catholic and a non-baptised person, are all presumed to be valid, whether they are celebrated before a civil official or a non-Catholic minister.
  • If a marriage is intended to be a permanent union, how can a Church tribunal declare some people free to remarry while their former spouse is still alive?"
    The Catholic Church is committed to the teachings of Jesus Christ concerning marriage. It is also committed to manifesting the compassion of Jesus to those people whose marriages have failed. The Catholic Church and its ministers are committed to be both "prophetic" (to teach what Jesus taught) and to be “pastoral" (to minister to those people whose marriages have ended in a civil divorce). A Church Tribunal has the competence to hear cases concerning ALL marriages and to respond to requests that are made by those who have received a divorce to inquire whether or not their marriage was validly established according to the requirements of Church law and Catholic understanding of sacramental marriage. Tribunal personnel look upon their efforts and work as a vocation and a healing ministry, an expression of the Church's compassion and concern for those whose marriages have ended. The Church has a division of courts to handle marriage nullity cases. Inquirers have the right to petition a tribunal to look into their claim. The work of the Tribunal in a marriage case, for the most part, involves a process of reviewing and discerning the basis of such petitions. Any person (i.e., Christian or non-Christian, Catholic or Protestant) who wishes to enter marriage in the Catholic Church, and who has a former spouse who is living, needs to look at the possibility of a Declaration of Nullity in order to determine whether they are free to remarry in the Catholic Church. The fact that a couple was married before a Catholic priest and two witnesses does not necessarily guarantee that all the requirements were present to establish a valid marriage. A fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church is that marriage is sacred and that it does not recognize divorce as ending the sacred spiritual bond established, believing that the spiritual marriage bond is binding until death, even though civil bonds has been severed. While the presumption always exists that a marriage is valid, either of the spouses has the right to ask the Church to examine this presumption after common life has ceased, there is no hope of reconciliation, and a civil divorce has been obtained. A Declaration of Nullity simply affects the freedom and ability to remarry in the Catholic Church and has no civil effects or implications at all.
  • What documentation will I have to provide to the Tribunal?
    In order to expedite your case, marriage and divorce documents should accompany your preliminary application. Please see "Application Pack" page for submission instructions. When the initial application has been received and assessed, a Tribunal personnel will be in touch with you to arrange for an appointment to further discuss your case.
  • What is the length of the process?
    Each case is unique. It is difficult to predict even the approximate time to process a case due to a number of factors. An average case takes a number of months or more from the time the Petitioner is interviewed. A case can be processed more efficiently if all documents are presented as requested, and if the parties and witnesses reply in a timely and in an informative manner. The Tribunal Personnel (Case Instructor) assigned will guide you through the process, and advise you as the case progresses. Please do not make any plans for marriage in the Catholic Church until you have received a Declaration of Nullity.
  • Is there a fee?
    The applications for Declaration of Nullity are free of charge. The Tribunal is supported by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
  • May future marriage plans be made?
    It is sensible to plan ahead, however, no plans for a future marriage, not even a tentative date, may be made with the priest or deacon until such time as a Declaration of Nullity is given and any conditions are satisfied. Sometimes, as a condition of remarriage, counselling will be required and a report provided to the parish minister preparing a couple for the new marriage. The Tribunal bears no responsibility for any promises or guarantees made for any wedding date that is scheduled before the completion of a case by anyone. Permission to remarry or validate a civil marriage in the Catholic Church cannot be guaranteed by anyone before this process is completed.
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