Types of Marriage Cases

Documentary Cases

Documentary Cases include the Lack of Form, Prior Bond and certain impediments to marriage such as lack of proper age, lack of proper dispensations that may be required or lack of jurisdiction (authorization) on the part of the officiant.

The proofs in these cases are obtained almost entirely from official documents and are not so complex to resolve as an Ordinary Process.

Lack of Form and Prior Bond

A Lack of Form case, generally speaking, deals with a Catholic party who married outside the Catholic Church without Church permission.

A Prior Bond case involves a situation in which a petitioner marries a person who has been validly married before and whose marriage has not been ended by the death of the spouse, a decree of invalidity or a privilege before the subsequent union was entered. It is also called a "ligamen."

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

Pauline Privilege and Privilege of the Faith

A Pauline Privilege is a dissolution of a non-sacramental but valid marriage between two unbaptized persons. The petitioner seeks to be baptized and enter a new marriage in the Church. This is mentioned by Saint Paul in First Corinthians 7:12-15, and so it is termed "Pauline." It is understood as the scriptural basis for this kind of case.

A Privilege of the Faith is granted by Papal authority and involves the dissolution of non-sacramental but marriage in which at least one of the parties was not baptized either before the wedding or during the entire common life of the marriage. The petitioner now wishes to become a Catholic, or marry a Catholic, or is a Catholic who now wishes to enter a sacramental marriage. Such a case is developed locally and sent to Rome.

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

Types of Marriage Cases

The most common type of case is the Ordinary Process which determines whether a marriage is invalid because of questions about the ability of the parties to give consent or the sufficiency of their consent at the time of the marriage. It involves a number of steps.

Other types are the Documentary Cases. These include the Lack of Form, Prior Bond and certain impediments to marriage such as lack of proper age, lack of proper dispensations that may be required or lack of jurisdiction (authorization) on the part of the officiant.

The proofs in these cases are obtained almost entirely from official documents and are not so complex to resolve as an Ordinary Process.

The Dissolution Cases are the Pauline Privilege and the Privilege of the Faith.

What Happens in an Ordinary Process?

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 questionnaire 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.
  • Decree of Acceptance of the Respondent.  Both parties are informed of the Acceptance and the respondent is informed of the proposed issue and names of witnesses supplied by the petitioner, of the right to participate and offer proofs.
  • Decree of Instruction. The parties are informed of the grounds (the alleged reasons for the invalidity of the marriage) set by the Judicial Vicar.  The personnel of the case are listed.
  • Gathering of the Proofs. 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 procurators and advocates are informed of the right to examine the acts of the case at the tribunal in the presence of a tribunal staff person. After this review, they may offer comments or further proofs. There is a time limit for inspecting the acts and for offering any additional material.
  • 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.
  • Notification 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 or the Roman Rota (a court of the Apostolic See). They are informed of the time limits for any appeal.
     
  • Final Decree of the Execution of the Sentence.  If no appeal and 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. If the case is appealed, the Final Decree of Execution is delayed until the outcome of the appeal is known.


Who is involved in an Ordinary Process case?

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

The Parties

The Petitioner is the party who submits a petition and questionnaire according to the guidelines of the Tribunal providing sufficient evidence for a declaration of invalidity.

The Respondent is the former spouse who will be notified by the Tribunal about the petition and be given the opportunity to present his/her history of the marriage as well as any witnesses he/she chooses.

While the completion of the case does not necessarily depend upon the cooperation of this second party, his/her participation can be helpful.

Any special circumstances regarding the notification of the Respondent should be brought to the attention of the Tribunal.

Witnesses

The Witnesses assist the Tribunal in a deeper understanding of the parties, their marriage and its failure. They will be asked to give testimony according to questions sent to them by the Tribunal.

Sometimes professionals such as counselors, psychologists, doctors, etc., may provide the Tribunal with very useful information - - - but only with the written consent (Medical Release) of the party or parties.

In Privilege Cases witnesses may be asked to testify about the baptism or non-baptism of a party.

The Personnel of the Tribunal

The Judicial Vicar assigns a judge or a panel of three judges, who review all of the information and testimony received and make the final decision.

The Defender of the Bond attempts to argue for the validity of the marriage and sees to the integrity of the process.

The Tribunal Notary/Secretary assists in the processing of the case.

The Procurator-Advocate
This is usually the priest or pastoral minister at the parish who assists and represents the petitioner or the respondent throughout the process.