Tribunal - Formal Case | Diocese of Lansing

Tribunal - Formal Case

What Happens in a Formal Case?

Note:  information on Church law is of a general nature and not intended to cover the technical details of any given case.

  • Submission of case by procurator-advocate mandated to act on behalf of the petitioner. It includes a résumé or history of the marriage, records of baptism, marriage and divorce, names and addresses of witnesses who promise to cooperate. This offers a general sense of why the marriage may be invalid according to Church law.


  • Assignment of judge(s) and defender of the bond by the judicial vicar.


  • Citation of the Respondent. The respondent is informed of the proposed issue and names of witnesses supplied by the petitioner, of the right to participate and offer proofs, and propose additional grounds. The personnel of the case are listed.


  • Decree of Joinder of Issues. The parties are informed of the grounds (the alleged reasons for the invalidity of the marriage) set by the judge(s).


  • Instruction of the Case. Testimony, including that of the respondent and the witnesses, and proofs are collected; and the court expert interviews the parties if requested by the judge(s). Additional special questionnaires may be sent to the parties.


  • Publication of the Acts. The parties and their advocates are informed of the right to examine the Acts of the case at the tribunal. They may offer rejoinders or further proofs in order to complete the instruction.


  • Decree of Conclusion. The judge(s) declares the case to be sufficiently instructed; that is, enough evidence has been received to issue a decision.


  • Discussion of the Case. The defender of the bond presents any reasonable arguments in favor of the presumption of the validity of the marriage.


  • Sentence. The judge(s), applying the law and the facts of the case, render(s) a decision.


  • Publication of Sentence. The parties are informed of the decision and how they may receive the text of the sentence of the judge(s) and are informed of their right to appeal the decision to the provincial appellate court (also called court of second instance) or the Roman Rota (a court of the Apostolic See). They are informed of the time limits for any appeal.


  • Transfer of the Case to the Court of Second Instance. Affirmative decisions need ratification, usually by the provincial appellate court. It ratifies the decision of the first court (the Tribunal of Lansing), or retries the case, issuing an affirmative or negative decision. If the two decisions are not concordant, a party may appeal to the Roman Rota to decide the issues or initiate a new case in the local diocesan tribunal on a different ground.


  • Final Decree. The parties are informed that the appeal process is complete, and the marriage is found invalid or sustained as valid. If the marriage is found invalid, the parties are free to marry provided that no stipulation forbidding marriage has been placed upon them and after due preparation.

When Is Marriage in the Catholic Church Allowed?

How Long Does the Entire Process Take?

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