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Metropolitan Tribunal of Manila

 

121Arzobispo St. Intramuros, Manila
Tel: 527-7631 to 36 loc. 217; 522-8108
Telefax: 527-5695
Judicial Vicar: Msgr. Geronimo Francisco Reyes
Assistant Judicial Vicar: Fr. Wilmer Rosario

The ending of marital relationship, in which two people invested so much of their lives, their emotions, and their dreams, can be one of the most painful and difficult experiences a person will ever face.

 

While the Catholic Church teaches and believes in the permanence of the marriage bond and strives to promote stable and faithful marriage, she also recognizes that some unions do not survive because they were lacking from the very beginning some essential ingredients without which there could not be a valid marriage.  When such a lack of essential element can be proven through demonstrate evidence in Church court, the nullity of that marriage can be declared.

 

It is the purpose of the Matrimonial Tribunal to assist you at this difficult time in your life.  The tribunal is staffed by trained and competent priests and religious, who, with the assistance of able lay people, will evaluate your former marriage and make a judgment on its validity based on the norms of Canon Law and the facts of your particular case.

 

It is the hope and objective of the Tribunal staff that this experience will beneficial for you and will be a time for healing any hurt or guilt resulting from the broken relationship.

 

Be assured that, as you go through this procedure, you will have my prayers that God will strengthen you in your resolve to learn well from the past so that you may better prepare for the future.

 

Devotedly yours,
JAIME CARDINAL L. SIN, D.D.
Archbishop of  Manila


THE VALUE OF THE PROCESS

 

Pope Pius IX defined the work of the Tribunal in this beautiful phrase; “To care for the dignity of marriage, to work for the good persons.”

 

The Tribunal works towards this goal by diligently protecting the rights of men and women in their specific marriage, as well as the rights of the Church which has been charged by our Lord Jesus to be the guardian of the sacrament of Matrimony.

 

No matter why is a marriage  “ab initio” null and void, that is, no matter  what causes the nullity of marriage, the Church recognizes  the dictate of pastoral solitude in exercising her judicial authority, demonstrative of true justice, enlivened by charity and tempered by equity.

 

“As a pastor,” John Paul II exclaimed.  “I am concerned about the distressing, critical problems experienced by those faithful whose marriage has failed though no fault of their own.”

 

It is the sincere intention and desire of any ecclesiastical Tribunal that the entire annulment process be, for all those involved in it, a time for healing and instruction , a healing of the pain and guilt that they may be undergoing as a result of a broken marriage, and an understanding of the real reasons for the breakdown of their marriage.

 

I wish to end by saying that the parties involved in the nullity process should be patient with the process, and realize how important this is to them and to any future marriage.  The Tribunal wants the new marriage to be a happy, enriching and rewarding experience, and hopes that the parties (spouses) will be willing to work for that same goal.

 

Msgr. Geronimo F. Reyes, JCD
Judicial Vicar, Archdiocese of Manila
Professor of Canon Law, san Carlos School of Theology

 


HOW DOES THE TRIBUNAL OPERATE

 

The whole process of investigating a marriage is designed to find the truth, not prove that one party is right and the other wrong or guilty.  In order to determine whether or not there is a ground acceptable in Church law that would have caused the invalidity of the marital union, the Tribunal must investigate the pre-marital history of the parties involved, as well as the history of the marriage itself and what led to the breakdown of the marital relationship.  It must be proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that this particular  ground for nullity actually existed at the same time of the wedding, and that this ground could either juridically or actually interfered with the giving of valid matrimonial consent and the accepting of obligations of marriage.

 

The Church’s juridical system is not a trial by jury, but a trial by Tribunal.  Usually, three-priests judges form the Tribunal and they decide the case by majority decision.

 

If a declaration of nullity is granted by the first instance Tribunal, it must be upheld by the Appellate Tribunal (the Court of Second Instance).  Two concurring affirmative decisions are needed before the declaration of nullity is final.  If there is a split decision between the two courts, the case must go to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (in Rome) for final resolution.

 


MOST COMMONLY PRESENTED GROUNDS FOR NULLITY

 

  1. Grave lack of Due Discretion

  2. Psychological Incapacity

  3. Intention Cases

    1. Intention Against Permanence

    2. Intention Against Fidelity

    3. Intention Against Children

  4. Force and Fear

  5. Conditional Consent

  6. Error and Fraud

  7. Administrative Cases

STEPS OF A NULLITY PROCESS

The Initial Contact

 

Once you have decided to seek an annulment, you must get in touch, either directly or through your parish priest, with the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of your diocese , specifically with the Judicial Vicar or his assistant/s (these are the priests appointed by the bishop to exercise judicial  power in his name).

 

Filling Out the First Forms and Petition


After initial contact with the Tribunal, you will receive forms which, after filling them up, will enable you to begin the process.

 

The first form is called the “Bill of Complaint” or Petition Letter.  In the Bill of Complaint, you will be asked to give the general facts about your particular marriage and about your spouses, as well as to state the ground (s) on which you believe your marriage is invalid.

 

The above-mentioned “Bill of Complaint” will be explained in the “Marriage Case History,” which you will be asked to submit as initial testimony in the case.  The Marriage Case History should be written according to the questionnaire or set of guidelines attached to it.  It is a personal report explaining in detail what really happened in your married life.  In this report, you are asked to provide information about your family background and that of your former spouse, circumstances of the acquaintance, courtship and engagement, significant factors surrounding the time of the wedding, a short history of the marriage itself and the factors that led to its breakdown: it should end with a situationer on the present status or actual life of the spouses (and of the children, if any) as well as the efforts made at the reconciliation.  Somewhere along the line, you will be interviewed.  This may be a discussion with an expert on Canon Law as you fill out the forms, or an interview with an Advocate from the Tribunal.  In some dioceses, the interview may take place after the filing of petition.

 

Appointment of the Tribunal


Once your petition  has been received  at the Tribunal office, it must be determined that this Tribunal has legal competence or jurisdiction to hear the individual case.  Competence is based either on where the marriage actually took place; the respondent’s actual residence; or residence of the petitioner, as long as the Tribunal of the place where the respondent resides have given permission, and your former spouse has no objection; and the place where most of the witnesses/documentations are found.

 

The Tribunal Gathers Evidence


Once competence has been established, the merits of the petition are evaluated.  First, your former spouse (the respondent) must be cited and be given the opportunity to participate in the case by submitting written or oral testimony.  If the respondent does not want to participate, this does not “per se” interfere with the processing of the case.  It is important that the respondent is cited.

 

The initial testimony of the petitioner and that of the respondent will have to be substantiated by the objective testimony of witnesses, whose names, addresses and telephone numbers have been submitted .  Unnecessary delays will occur if this information is not complete.

 

If the tribunal finds no ground or the alleged ground cannot be proven in accordance with the requirements of Canon Law and Jurisprudence or if there is absolutely no hope for the case to prosper, the petition is rejected and the case is dismissed.

 

The case is formally accepted once the : “Decree of Acceptancec” is issued.  A Judicial Hearing” will then be scheduled.  This hearing or interview will give the parties involved and the judge-auditor and the defender of the bond the opportunity to clarify some matters concerning the marriage in question.  Witnesses whom the judge-auditor has previously selected from among the names the petitioner submitted for testimony are also requested to appear at this hearing in order to corroborate the evidence presented.  It should be noticed that all hearings are done in private, unlike the usual civil court hearings.

 

Besides the testimonies of the parties and witnesses, the Tribunal may request medical, psychological, scholastic, military, personnel records, and other relevant documents, and experts assistance.

 

It would be good to remember that any information given and submitted   to the Tribunal could be made available to your former spouse.  In fact, the other party (respondent) has the right to petition to review such information either in person or to a duly appointed proxy (procurator/advocate).  No absolute confidentiality can then be requested or granted.  Therefore, whatever the petitioner/respondent/witness tell (s) the Tribunal must be provable either through documents or sound testimony.  Claims which cannot be substantiated are of little or no help at all.

 

Only the parties to the marriage and the Tribunal officials have a right to know what is said by each party or the witnesses.  There is some limitation to what information may be made available to the parties.  For example: you may be asked to sign a release from professional secrecy, so that testimony may be obtained from psychologist, psychiatrist whose evidence is offered in strict confidentially to assists the Tribunal judges.  No relatives or concerned friends may have access to any information.  In fact, no one but the parties themselves may even be told about the progress of the case.  The Tribunal must balance the rights of the petitioner and those of the respondent, the public nature of marriage end the confidentiality of this process, the common good and the individual good, fidelity to law and pastoral concern for the individual person and situation.

 

The parties may avail themselves of the assistance of an advocate or procurator who will help them throughout the case.  In his absence, the Tribunal staff perform the function of the advocate.  This is in line with the Tribunal’s policy of service; in sparing the parties unnecessary spending for the services of those who may be charging exorbitant fees.  An advocate is officially appointed by the diocesan bishop for a specified term of office and, such, is officially recognized by the Tribunal.  Licentiates in Canon Law and those who are qualified according to the requirements of Canon Law to act as advocates/procurators, but who are not officially appointed, may be considered by the Tribunal on a case to case basis.

 

No other person or office or agency may perform the function of advocate or procurator except those who have been officially appointed.  However, the parties may seek the counsel or advice of the assistance of persons or agencies who, they think, may be able to help them because of their expertise.  The Tribunal however, considers this as a purely private arrangement between the parties and such persons or agencies.  Evidence obtained through such persons or agencies will be evaluated according to procedural law.

 

The Decision


When all the testimonies have been received, a panel of three judges will review the judges will review the testimonies and render judgment.  Before reaching the final decision, the former spouse, the Defender of the Bond (who represents the Church) have the right to state any objection that may have to an affirmative decision.  These objections must be considered before proceeding any further.  Of course, this could delay the processing of the case.  An official written decision of the Tribunal, whether in the affirmative or in the negative, normally called “sentence”, will mean that the “trial” is over.  What follows next is a re-examination of the Tribunal’s decision by a Second Instance Tribunal.

 

Automatic Review


An affirmative decision of the Tribunal of  First Instance still needs a confirmatory decision of the Tribunal of the Second Instance before it becomes a definitive and executory.

 

Right to Appeal


If a negative decision has been made, i.e., if the judges determine that there is no basis for the nullity of the marriage, then the petitioner also has the right to appeal the decision to the Second Instance of the Tribunal.

 


HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PROCEESS THE CASE?


The total time for nullity process varies from case to case and depends on the merits of the case and the value of the proofs presented, as well as the time involved in gathering the testimonies from the parties.  However, because of the requirements inherent in the canonical process, each case normally takes a minimum of two years to complete.  If there is a backlog of cases, it could take more than that.  Therefore, it is imperative to begin the nullity process as soon as the separation has become irreparable and there is no longer any hope for reconciliation, and prior to making any plans for a new marriage.


A separated or divorced Catholic or any other divorced person wishing to marry in the Catholic Church cannot enter a new canonical marriage unless the previous marriage has been declared invalid.

 

Therefore, the parties involved in the nullity process should not initiate plans for a new marriage (setting of date, sending out invitations, reservation for reception) until the nullity process has been completed, i.e., until a decree of nullity has been issued by the proper Church authority (an affirmative decision rendered by the Court of First Instance and a confirmatory decision by the Court of Appeals or Court of Second Instance).

 


FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS


There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to annulment fees.  Some people say that “you can buy a declaration of nullity in the Church.”  This is absolutely not true.

 

Just consider that there are three judges who will decide the case in the Court of First Instance, and another set of three judges in the Court of Second Instance.  Any one of these six judges can reject any case.  Definitely, this form of corruption could not easily creep into the judicial system of the Church.  Of course, the judicial system of the Church is human and, therefore, with imperfections.  But the Church’s deciding tribunals  always judge in the name of God, and each decision, based on moral certainty, binds in conscience.

 

The Tribunal System of the Church was never and cannot be a money-making scheme.  Many times I have heard people spreading the nasty rumor that they did not get their annulment simply because they were not willing to pay the huge fees involved.  Again this is a lie.  Most probably, their case was rejected by the Tribunal because they did not have any credible evidence and witnesses to prove their claim.

 

Tribunal fees are minimal compared to civil annulment fees, which could run up to hundreds of thousands of pesos.  It is only fair that those who avail themselves of the services of the Tribunal assist in bearing its financial burden.  If people have the means to pay, the full fee ranges from P20,000.00 to P30,000.00, depending on the locality.  Outside Metro Manila, in other Diocesan Tribunals, the amount is relatively cheaper.

 

Metropolitan Tribunal of Manila – To begin a nullity process, a P5,000.00 non-refundable filing fee is required.  When the petition is officially accepted, the petitioner is asked to pay P10,000.00, which, together with the filing fee, constitute the first  50% of the entire amount of P30,000.00, the fee for the processing of the case.  The remaining balance should be paid toward the conclusion of the case, or upon some arrangement with the Tribunal, it may be paid in installments until the decision has been rendered.

 

If there is a genuine financial difficulty, the concerned parties may discuss this matter with a Tribunal officer who will attend to their need on a case to case basis.  If they have limited means, they pay as much of the fee as they are able.  If they are really poor, it costs nothing.  Partial or total condonation of the Tribunal fees can be granted by the Judicial Vicar, and all it takes is a written endorsement of the parish priest or of any priest who can attest to the financial difficulty.  Our records show that there has been a good number of cases which were processed “gratis” (totally free).  Recent reports from some dioceses show that the number of charity cases (free of charge or minimum fee) reach 35% of the total number of cases processed.  These are facts usually people ignore.  Contrary to the general misconception , it is not financially expensive to obtain a nullity declaration.