Canonical Services at 1201 E. Highland Ave, San Bernardino, CA 92404 US - Formal cases
The Formal Case
Concerning the functioning of the Tribunal and its staff, the following are several points to be aware of in processing a Formal Case for a Declaration of Nullity.
- The time involved in reaching a decision in cases seeking a Declaration of Nullity varies. It greatly depends on how quickly the evidence is gathered from a former spouse and witnesses as well as a party’s diligence in pursuit of any evidence requested of him or her.
- An Advocate must be appointed. An Advocate is a person experienced in handling petitions for Declaration of Nullity. Ordinarily this will be a Pastor or a deacon or qualified lay person delegated to fulfill this task. The Advocate helps determine the possible grounds for nullity as a part of completing the Preliminary Questionnaire. In that way a party can address the specific issues involved in the proposed grounds. The Tribunal will ultimately determine the correct canonical grounds based on the facts provided.
- The Respondent in the case is entitled to the same rights that are extended to a Petitioner in the investigation of the possible nullity of the marriage. Thus, a former spouse has the right to know the grounds on which the case is being pursued, to object to a finding of nullity, to appoint an Ecclesiastical Advocate, to know who the witnesses are, to designate his or her witnesses and to review the testimony of witnesses at the Office of Canonical Services.
- The evidence on which the request for a Declaration of Nullity is made must be corroborated and substantiated by the testimony of witnesses or by other physical evidence—documents. Three or four good witnesses are necessary for each case. A good witness is one who knew the parties before and/or during the marriage, particularly from the beginning. A good witness is one who is willing to provide answers to questionnaires or telephone inquiries relevant to the issues of a particular case. A good witness is one who will reply to questionnaires promptly and not delay the processing of the case. A good witness is one who has first hand knowledge of the facts leading to the failure of the marriage. Naming a person as a witness who can only offer speculation about the failure of the marriage is counterproductive to the case. Only the Tribunal staff, the Petitioner and the Respondent have a right to review, at the Office of Canonical Services, the evidence of the witnesses.
- Experts are used for opinions in some cases. Typically, such witnesses are doctors, psychologists or counselors. Such professionals require a release from confidentiality to discuss a case or supply a report. An authorization for the copying of records may also be needed.
- After the evidence has been gathered and before the case will be completed the parties will be contacted to be interviewed by a member of the staff of the Office of Canonical Services, in some cases by one of the Tribunal Judges. An interview of this type may include a deposition under oath, which will be recorded for the review of the judges.
- If an affirmative decision is not possible, under the facts of the case as presented, the parties will be notified. The possibility of producing further evidence will be discussed at that time.
- In some cases an affirmative decision may be rendered with a condition that one or both of the parties participate in counseling sessions before a subsequent Catholic marriage may be witnessed by a Priest or Deacon. Ordinarily such counseling must be with a Catholic Psychologist or Marriage and Family Therapist familiar with Catholic teaching concerning marriage.
- If an affirmative decision is given in the case, canon law requires that the case automatically be reviewed by the Tribunal’s appellate court, The Tribunal for the Diocese of San Diego. If the appellate Tribunal agrees in an affirmative opinion, the case is then complete. If the appellate Tribunal does not agree, further investigation of the case may be needed. A limited form of higher recourse is also possible.
The cost of processing a formal nullity case is $400.00. This sum only defrays a small portion of the actual cost of Tribunal operations. A $100.00 nonrefundable deposit must be included when a case is submitted in order for us to process the matter. The balance of $300.00 will be due during the duration of the trial. If, for some reason, the Tribunal does not initially accept the case the deposit will be returned. For those truly unable to pay for these costs, the initial deposit may be paid by your parish. This issue should be raised with your Pastor or Advocate before the Petition is filed. No further charges will be billed if the Tribunal accepts the case under these circumstances.
The Petitions for a Formal Case are to be accompanied by the following:
1. A copy of the Catholic party’s baptismal certificate issued by the parish of baptism within the six months prior to the filing of the Petition.
2. A copy of the civil marriage license/certificate for the marriage for which a Declaration of Nullity is sought. Each state or nation will have a different form. We are looking for the form that provides statistical information, in particular which marriage this was for each party, 1st, 2nd, etc. It should also contain the name of the minister or official who performed the ceremony as well as his or her title.
3. A copy of any church certificate for the marriage for which a Declaration of Nullity is sought if any church wedding was performed.
4. A copy of the Final Decree of Judgment of Dissolution, Divorce or Nullity issued by the civil court terminating the civil aspect of the marriage. Each state or nation will have a different form. We are looking for the form that specifies the date on which the marriage is terminated by the civil authority. The copy must bear a stamp or imprint showing that the Final Decree or Judgment has been entered by the court. (We do not want martial settlement agreements or copies of court orders regarding property.)
5. The $100.00 nonrefundable deposit toward processing fees.
Formal Petitions should not be sent to the Office of Canonical Services unless accompanied by each of these documents. The absence of any of these documents or the fee will prolong the processing of the case. In such a situation, the Office of Canonical Services reserves the option of delaying the acceptance of the Petition until the documents or deposit is provided. If a document truly cannot be provided, the Petitioner, with the assistance of an Advocate, must supply a complete written and sworn explanation for the inability to provide the document.
No Petition is to be sent to the Office of Canonical Services without completing that portion of the Petition concerning the current whereabouts of the Respondent. (See information regarding the rights of Respondents stated above.) If an address for the Respondent truly cannot be provided, the Petitioner, with the assistance of an Advocate, must supply a complete written and sworn explanation for the inability to provide the address. A form available from the Office of Canonical Services—Declaration of Due Diligence—should be completed for this purpose. This form will assist the Petitioner and Advocate in determining what efforts should be made to provide the Respondent’s address.