Questions about the Tribunal and Annulments

  • What is Marriage? +

    The Catholic Church understands marriage to be an enduring and exclusive partnership for the mutual giving and receiving of love and the procreation and education of children. Marriage is much more than a legal contract; it is a sacred bond in which a man and a woman totally commit themselves to the good of each other for their entire lives. A sacramental bond can be dissolved only by the death of one of the spouses.

    In the Catholic Church, a marriage is considered valid when:

    1. It is celebrated in a ceremony which is legally acceptable in the eyes of the Church
    2. Both parties are free to marry each other
    3. Each party intends from the beginning of the marriage to accept God’s plan for married life as taught by the Church
    4. Each party has the physical and the psychological ability to live out the consent initially given at the wedding

    The Church presumes that every marriage is valid until the opposite is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

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  • What is an Annulment? +

    An annulment, properly called a declaration of nullity, is a discovery that at the time of the wedding, some essential feature was not present, the marriage was incomplete, and the Church, after thorough investigation, declares that a valid marriage did not exist. 

    The declaration of nullity does not deny that an interpersonal relationship existed, nor does it imply that the marriage was entered into with ill will or through moral fault. 

    A declaration of nullity is not some sort of “Catholic divorce” by which the Church allows the marriage bond to be broken.  Unlike a civil divorce, a declaration of nullity does not claim to break the marriage bond, but it is rather a statement that the marriage, as it is understood by the Church, was never valid in the first place. 

    In a declaration of nullity process, the tribunal judges conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the marriage, especially prior to and at the time the couple exchanged their vows.   The judges evaluate and examine the marriage for the necessary elements of a valid union: permanence, fidelity, true companionship and love of the spouses, and openness to bearing and educating children.  The tribunal seeks to determine if there was anything that prevented those elements from being present from the beginning or if one or both spouses were unable to enter into a valid union due to physical, psychological or circumstantial causes. 

    The entire process leading to a declaration of nullity is regulated by canon law and other ecclesiastical norms, which are universal and govern tribunals in every diocese throughout the world.  Declarations of nullity have no civil effects in the United States and do not render any children born of the relationship illegitimate. 

    Furthermore, a declaration of nullity does not pronounce one party guilty and the other innocent; it does not seek to assign blame to one of the parties. 

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  • What is the Office of the Tribunal? +

    The Tribunal of the Diocese of Lincoln is appointed by the Bishop with the power to adjudicate in accordance with Canon Law. Among its primary duties is to examine petitions for a Declarations of Nullity, in which someone petitions the tribunal to determine if their prior marriage may be declared null.

    3400 Sheridan Boulevard
    P.O. Box 80328
    Lincoln, NE 68501-3569
    Fax: 402-488-3569

    Judicial Vicar Rev. Steven Snitily
    Adjutant Judicial Vicars and Judges Rev. Maurice Current
    Judges Rev. Daniel Rayer, Msgr. Timothy Thorburn
    Promoter of Justice  Msgr. Mark Huber
    Defender of the Bond Rev. Gary Coulter
    Secretary and Notary Marilyn Friesen

    Those wishing to petition for a declaration of nullity should first contact their local parish priest, who will assist in preparing the necessary documents and petition.

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  • Who Should Apply for a Declaration of Nullity? +

    You should apply for declaration of nullity if you are:

    • A divorced Catholic who is now civilly remarried outside the Catholic Church and wishes to have his/her union validated
    • A divorced Catholic who would like to remarry
    • A divorced non-Catholic who is now civilly married outside the Catholic Church to a Catholic
    • A divorced non-Catholic who would like to marry a Catholic
    • A divorced Catholic who is thinking about dating

    It should be noted that Catholics who are divorced, but who have not entered into another marriage outside the Church are not required to apply for a declaration of nullity.  Catholics who are divorced are free to receive the sacraments and are encouraged to do so.  However, if the person is thinking about dating in the future, it is best to apply for a declaration of nullity to see whether he or she is free to remarry.

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  • Who Can Apply for a Declaration of Nullity? +

    One year after a divorce has been finalized, either spouse has the right to apply for a declaration of nullity. However, it should be clear that, just because one has the right to apply for a declaration of nullity, does not mean they have the right to have their marriage declared null. The tribunal’s final decision about whether the marriage is null is based on the evidence submitted by the parties in relation to the canonical grounds of nullity.

    Some of the marital issues investigated by the tribunal when considering canonical grounds include, but are not limited to the following:

    • Were both parties free to marry?
    • Was either party pressured into getting married?
    • Was either party previously married, but did not receive a declaration of nullity?
    • Did each party intend to remain faithful throughout the marriage?
    • Were both parties open to raising children?
    • Did both parties intend marriage to be until death?
    • Did either party lack the physical, emotional, and/or psychological ability to live out the consent given in marriage?
    • Was either party profoundly irresponsible or gravely immature at the time of the wedding?
    • Did either party suffer from serious mental illness?
    • Did the marriage only last for a very short time?
    • Did either party have deviant sexual practices?
    • Did either party deceive the other about their identity?
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  • How Long Does It Take? +

    The amount of time it takes to judge a declaration of nullity case varies because each case depends on many factors, such as:

    • The cooperation of the witnesses
    • Whether your former spouse chooses to cooperate
    • The required canonical procedures needed to judge the case, including gathering evidence and testimony
    • The number of cases that each judge is currently working on
    • Possible difficulties in obtaining certain Church, civil, and medical records if they are needed
    • The provision in Church law which requires three judges to review each case
    • The fact that each affirmative decision is automatically forwarded to a court of appeals for confirmation before the case is concluded

    It is impossible to give an exact timeline since each case is unique, but past experience indicates that, from the time the tribunal receives a case, the entire procedure lasts between 12 and 18 months. Some cases, because of their nature, require even more time to be resolved.

    The Church has a duty to protect, defend, and teach the sacred dignity of marriage. When the bond of marriage is challenged through a petition for a declaration of nullity, the Church must examine the challenge cautiously to make sure the decision is a just one based on the law and the facts. The declaration of nullity process is designed to get to the truth of the matter as quickly and justly as possible while protecting the rights of the parties involved.

    Remember that a favorable decision is never guaranteed and no future wedding plans should begin until after a final favorable decision is made.

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  • How Much Does It Cost? +

    No fees are sought and donations for the work done by the tribunal staff are not accepted prior to a case being closed; if you then wish to give a donation to the Diocese of Lincoln that is left to your discretion.

    As would be expected, expenses are incurred in the operation of the tribunal.  There are salaries to be paid to tribunal staff, costs incurred for mailing, stationery, and telephone bills among many other factors.  The tribunal is subsidized by the Diocese of Lincoln through generous contributions of the Catholic faithful of the Diocese.  We hope that the more affluent remember their moral obligation to offer a just contribution towards the causes of the poor and the Church.

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  • Where can I get more Information? +

    Frequently Asked Questions about the 2015 revised marriage nullity process

    Our Sunday Visitor: Is an Annulment Just a Catholic Divorce?

    Catholic Answers Video: Marriage, Divorce, and Annulment

    Faith Facts: The Annulment Process

    Knights of Columbus: Preserving the Sanctity of Marriage - The Catholic Teaching on Annulment (PDF)

    Catholics Come Home: Divorce & Annulment Questions

    Below are some frequent Misconceptions about Annulments

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  • Can you receive the sacraments if you are divorced? +

    The Church teaches that civil divorce does not dissolve the covenant of marriage.  Thus, while recognizing the seriousness of divorce, it also understands that:

    • There are situations in which civil divorce may be necessary: "If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense" (CCC 2383), and
    • Divorce may occur due to no fault of an innocent spouse: "It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage." (CCC 2386)

    Note that those who are divorced and who are living with someone or have remarried outside the Church are not permitted to receive the sacraments: "If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists." (CCC 1650)

    A unique situation is that of those who have repented of their illicit union, but remain together for a serious reason, such as for the sake of their children. Catholic pastoral practice allows that IF their pastor judges that scandal can be avoided, then they can undertake an agreement to live as "brother and sister" (without any sexual relations) and be readmitted to the sacraments. If scandal cannot be avoided, then they must either separate or refrain from the sacraments.

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  • Does everyone who applies for a declaration of nullity get an affirmative decision? +

    The truth is that tribunals do give negative decisions. The burden of proving a case rests on the petitioner, that is, the person who applies for a declaration of nullity. The Catholic Church presumes that every marriage is a valid union, and there must be sufficient grounds for declaring otherwise. The tribunal will help the petitioner to understand what's needed to develop a case, but if there isn't enough proof, the tribunal will give a negative decision.

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  • Does my former spouse have to agree to a declaration of nullity? +

    The truth is that both spouses have equal rights in a declaration of nullity proceeding, but that doesn't mean that the respondent—the ex-spouse of the person who starts the declaration of nullity process—has to agree to a declaration of nullity. The truth is that the tribunal judges can grant a declaration of nullity even if the ex-spouse is adamantly opposed to the idea.  While your former spouse does not have to agree to the declaration of nullity, Church law does require that the former spouse be contacted and informed that you have started the process, and they will be given the opportunity to give testimony and name witnesses.  The former spouse does not always exercise this right, but the law requires that they be informed.  In the event the address of the spouse is unknown, this should be explained to the priest helping you with the application.

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  • Does a declaration of nullity render children illegitimate? +

    No. Church law specifically states that children born of a marriage which has been declared null are legitimate and remain legitimate (canon 1137). This is a greatly misunderstood point. The decision of a Church Tribunal has no effect on civil norms that govern child support, visitation rights, and the legitimacy of children. Just as a civil divorce or a civil annulment do not make children illegitimate, neither does a Church declaration of nullity.

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  • Is a declaration of nullity just "Catholic divorce"? +

    The truth is that civil divorce and a Church declaration of nullity are two vastly different things. A divorce is concerned with the legal realities of marriage only; a declaration of nullity is concerned with the religious and spiritual element—the sacrament of marriage. A divorce focuses on the end of a marriage; a declaration of nullity looks at the beginning, the very moment the couple said "I do." A divorce looks at marriage in civil law; a declaration of nullity looks at marriage from the perspective of the Gospel and of Church doctrine.  A divorce civilly breaks a marriage; a declaration of nullity does not break the marriage bond, but is rather a statement that the marriage, as it is understood by the Church, was never valid in the first place.

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  • Is the testimony kept confidential? +

    All the information gathered in the course of the investigation is considered confidential. This information is not made available except as authorized by Church law. Church law states that both parties do have access to the information collected unless the judge determines that access to a particular part of the information may cause serious harm, or unless the information is protected by civil statute. The purpose of this access is to defend one's position for or against the ecclesiastical declaration of nullity. No one else has access to the information contained in the case. The addresses of the parties are never given out, and all contact with the parties is done through the Tribunal. At no time do the parties have to appear before the Tribunal together.

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  • What is the role of a witness in a marriage nullity case? +

    A witness is a person who can provide the tribunal with information about the parties and their relationship. Ideally, a witness is able to provide information about the time leading up to the marriage, the marriage itself, and the reasons for the break-up of the marriage.

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  • Who can be asked to serve as a witness? +

    Most persons, including family members, are eligible witnesses. Specifically excluded by Church law are confessors. In general, the tribunal does not accept adolescent or adult children of the parties, a current civil spouse or a prospective spouse of either party to offer testimony unless there is some special reason. The judge will contact the witnesses by mail usually within three weeks of accepting the petition. They are not required to appear at the tribunal office. The petitioner will be asked to provide the names of four or more witnesses who will be able to provide substantive testimony about the marriage. The respondent has the right to provide the names of witnesses.

    It is important that the petitioner makes sure that the witnesses have agreed to cooperate prior to submitting their names to the tribunal. In addition, the petitioner should encourage the witnesses to return their testimonies to the tribunal office in a reasonable amount of time (i.e., two weeks). Failure of the witnesses to cooperate in due time is one of the main reasons for a delay in the processing of a case.

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  • Whom can I contact if I have further questions about requesting a declaration of nullity? +

    It is best to contact your parish priest with any further questions.  Your parish priest can help you determine which forms and documents are required for your individual circumstances and he will sign and stamp the application before forwarding it to the tribunal.

    To directly contact:

    Office of the Tribunal
    3400 Sheridan Boulevard
    P.O. Box 80328
    Lincoln, NE 68501
    Fax: 402-488-3569

    Click here to contact the tribunal at


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