TRIBUNAL

TribunalDeclaration of Nullity Process Frequently Asked QuestionsContact Us

Welcome to the Tribunal

It is through a Tribunal that the Bishop of a diocese exercises judicial authority, i.e., officially resolves disputes and issues binding decisions. The Bishop calls upon the Tribunal to investigate and adjudicate matters that come to his attention and need to be resolved according to the norms and procedures established in Church law.

The Diocese of Hallam Tribunal offers assistance to individuals who request that the Church study a marriage in order to determine whether or not there is any possibility of a declaration of nullity. The Tribunal investigates the marriage and proceeds to a decision.

Most of the Tribunal's time is devoted to processing petitions requesting a declaration of nullity. It is the right of an individual to ask for an official decision about the binding nature of a particular marriage. As a norm, all marriages are presumed to be valid and binding. However, through the course of 2000 years of history the Church has realised that the human act of giving marital consent can be defective to the point of being ineffective. The process of seeking a declaration of nullity investigates and settles this matter.

By Church Law, the Hallam Tribunal accepts cases when a request is made from someone married in the Diocese of Hallam (the Petitioner), or if the other marriage partner (Respondent) resides in the Diocese of Hallam. The Tribunal can also accept a request from an individual residing in Hallam.

Who Needs A Declaration of Nullity?

People often use the word "annulment" but the Church refers to this process as seeking a Declaration of Nullity. It is not the Church's role to nullify a marriage that is valid, only to make a decision when the validity of a marriage is questioned.

If you are a Catholic and you have been married before in the Catholic Church, and you want to enter a second marriage and at the same time remain within the good graces of the Church, and your first spouse is still living, you need a declaration of nullity or a dissolution of the natural bond of marriage in favour of the faith.

If you are not Catholic and have been married before and you want to enter a second marriage involving a Catholic who wants to remain within the good graces of the Church, and your previous spouse is still living, you either need a declaration of nullity or a dissolution of the natural bond of marriage in favour of the faith.

Before anyone can enter a valid second marriage in the Catholic Church, the first marriage (or all previous marriages when there have been multiple marriages) must be officially investigated by the Church. A determination needs to be made about the binding nature of any and all acts of marital consent previously expressed in the presence of witnesses.

How to Get Started on the Nullity Process

If you are interested in pursuing the process of having a marriage declared null, you can approach the Tribunal in one of two ways:
1. Contact a priest or deacon in your parish. However, because of the sensitivity of the situation, sometimes it is difficult to approach someone in your own parish. For this reason a second option is available.
2. Contact the Tribunal directly by phone on 0114 256 6450 and speak to Mrs Anne Ashton. Anne is available for anyone in need of guidance regarding the nullity process.

Once you have approached the Tribunal, either directly or indirectly, you will be issued with a number of preliminary forms for completion. These forms ask for basic details such as full names, age, addresses etc., and ask you to provide a short account of the relationship, the marriage and its breakdown. You will also be asked to propose witnesses who will be interviewed locally at a later date.

Having received the preliminary forms arrangements are made for the person presenting the case to be interviewed by the Judicial Vicar at the Tribunal Office. It is not until after this interview that a formal Petition for Nullity is drawn up and the Formal Process begins.

The Participation of the Former Spouse

According to the laws of the Catholic Church, the Tribunal is required to inform your former spouse that the nullity process has been initiated. Your former spouse has the right to participate. If your former spouse chooses not to participate, the judge assigned to the case notes this and the procedure continues. From the perspective of the Law it is always preferable that both parties participate in the process, but when this is not possible the process will not be adversely affected.

How Long Will the Nullity Process Take?

It is impossible to predict the exact length of time any particular case may take because there are so many variable factors. Usually from our experience it takes 12-18 months to complete a case. However there can be no guarantee that a case can be completed within this time. Priests are not permitted to set dates for remarriage in church until a Declaration of Nullity has actually been issued.

The Tribunal processes each case as efficiently as possible in strict rotation according to the order in which they are presented.

The Decision

When the statements of the parties, the evidence of witnesses, and any other relevant items have been collected, the case is sent to a Tribunal Official called the Defender of the Bond. This official is charged by law to examine the evidence and to propose any legitimate reasons for upholding the validity of marriage. Sometimes, other officials will also be required to offer observations, whether this be expert witnesses or an Advocate, who is a legal expert appointed to act on your behalf.

When this is complete the evidence together with any observations are forwarded to a panel of Judges who will study the case and make a decision. Both parties have the right to appeal any decision to the Liverpool Metropolitan Tribunal. Should an appeal be made, then our role becomes essentially that of your agent; we will communicate the Appeal, and send all the documentation etc… if required we will take more evidence as directed by the Liverpool Tribunal.

Declaration of Nullity and the Legitimacy of Children

The granting of a declaration of nullity will not affect the legitimacy of your children. Any child born within a civilly recognized marriage is considered legitimate. The procedure is a Church matter and has no civil ramifications.

The Order of Hearing Cases

Canon 1458 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “Cases are to be adjudicated in the order in which they were presented and inscribed in the register unless one of them requires speedier treatment than the others; this fact must be established through a special decree which gives the substantiating reasons.”

The Tribunal appreciates the fact that people want to move on with life as soon and as quickly as possible but some cases take more time than others. It doesn’t hurt to check in with the Tribunal every once in a while to see how things are going, but keep in mind that with each case in our system there is a potential for a number of people wanting updates and information. When the Tribunal staff has to spend time updating people, that’s time not spent on processing cases through the system.

As far as the length of time it normally takes to process a case, there are too many variables and too many unknowns to make an accurate prediction. In the Hallam Tribunal, on the average, formal cases have been taking 12 months. Please keep in mind that the process does not always lead to the desired outcome. It may happen that there will either not be enough evidence to accept your case for trial, or once accepted for trial, the Tribunal may conclude that the marriage in question is valid.

Dissolution of the Bond of Marriage

The Catholic Church believes that when two baptized Christians marry a sacramental bond of marriage is established. When a baptized Christian and a non-baptized person marry, or when two non-baptized persons marry, a natural bond of marriage is established.
Over the course of history, it has become a practice in the Church for the Bishop to dissolve the natural bond of marriage existing between two non-baptized persons. This is called a Pauline Privilege. Likewise, it has become a practice in the Church for the Holy Father to dissolve the natural bond of marriage existing between a baptized Christian and a non-baptized person. This is called a Petrine Privilege. Both the Pauline Privilege and the Petrine Privilege are considered to be favours, i.e., no one has a right to receive either privilege but they can be requested, and if the situation satisfies the established criteria, the Bishop or Pope grants the favour for the benefit of the Catholic party.
For either favour to be granted the person’s “non-baptized” status must be proven beyond doubt. This usually entails testimony from the non-baptized party and written verification of non-baptism by witnesses (parents, siblings, relatives or close friends). If the non-baptized party does not participate, it is still possible to prove non-baptism through witness testimony. It must be shown that responsibilities incurred in the previous marriage (eg. child support) have been and are being fulfilled by the person requesting the favour. It must also be shown that the person requesting the favour was not the major cause of the failure of the marriage.


The following represents those questions that are regularly asked of the Tribunal staff of the Diocese of Hallam. Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact the staff.

Who may apply for a Declaration of Nullity?

Any divorced Catholic has the right to ask for an investigation of a previous marriage by the appropriate Tribunal of the Catholic Church. Any non-Catholic divorced person remarried to a Catholic, intending to become a Catholic or intending marriage to a Catholic has the same right. Only a party to the marriage, however, may apply.

How long will the nullity process take?

Requests, once accepted, are heard on a first come, first served basis. The sooner the case is completely documented, the sooner the case is considered. The average time is twelve to eighteen months for the process to be complete.

Among the practical factors that prolong the process are:
• Your cooperation in completing the marital history
• The cooperation of your witnesses in submitting their statements
• The cooperation of your former spouse
• The difficulty in obtaining medical records that may be required or very helpful in assisting the Tribunal in making its decision.

How much does this cost?

It is often said, by persons who know little or nothing about the revised procedures of Tribunals, that one needs a great deal of money to begin a declaration of nullity. Money is not a significant consideration in a marriage case.

The Nullity process is a considerable administrative procedure involving a number of people employed by the diocese. Although we do not hope to cover these costs we do try to recoup some of the expenses by making basic charges. When a case is begun we ask for a deposit of £60, in the course of the process we ask for a further £240, which can be paid in a variety of ways.

Financial considerations do not determine the work of the Tribunal or the outcome of a case. The Tribunal will readily accept a reduction in fees or process the case free of charge. At no time should financial circumstances discourage or prevent a person from pursuing a Declaration of Nullity. If you have any concerns in this area please do not hesitate to contact the Tribunal.

How soon after divorce can I seek a declaration of nullity?

The policy is not to accept any request for a marriage that has not received a final divorce decree of civil divorce. Only after the final decree is in effect can the Tribunal be approached.

How is my ex-spouse involved?

It is a requirement of canon law that your former spouse be informed of the investigation and given an opportunity to participate in the investigation. You will not be required to have any direct contact with your former spouse during this process. However, the Tribunal is required to have direct contact with your former spouse. If your former spouse chooses not to cooperate or participate in the investigation, your application for a declaration of nullity will still be considered.

What are witnesses?

In a formal case process witnesses are necessary. Persons proposed as witnesses can be nominated by either of the spouses of the marriage. They are not simply character references. These people must be willing to be interviewed confidentially by the Tribunal about what they know about the marriage or respond in writing if at a distance. They must have some knowledge of the marriage under question but are not expected to have total overview of the marriage.

Does this affect civil proceedings?

There are absolutely no civil effects to a Church Declaration of Nullity in the United Kingdom. It does not affect in any manner the legitimacy of children, property rights, inheritance rights, change of names, adoption, etc., nor is there any attempt in this process to impute guilt or to punish persons.

Does a Declaration of Nullity affect the legitimacy of children?

Not at all. Children are a gift from God. The law of the Church states that children born of a marriage that is later declared invalid are legitimate. Children cannot lose their legitimacy.

Does the Catholic Church allow remarriage?

Permission to remarry in the Catholic Church can, in no way, be guaranteed before the completion of the entire process of study and formal proceedings. Diocesan policy forbids arrangements for future marriages to be made before that time. The Tribunal cannot be responsible for arbitrary promises made by any priest, religious or layperson. In some cases, there may be conditions which either or both parties must fulfil before a Catholic Church marriage can take place. The Church wants to be reasonably certain that the same factors that caused the invalidity of the previous marriage are no longer present. In some cases, for example, the Tribunal might require professional counselling or evaluation by a priest or counsellor to verify that both parties are properly disposed for a successful marital union. If a marriage is declared null and there are no restrictions attached to the declaration, preparation for a subsequent marriage in the Church may be started within the local parish.

Is it really worthwhile?

For many, going through a nullity process may involve some painful or anxious moments, as this process often involves aspects of unresolved grief. However, it can be a pastoral and therapeutic process while still being a canonical procedure. Many applicants find that the process itself, and the sensitive approach of Tribunal staff, can be an experience of healing and an opportunity to find freedom from the debilitating memories of the past. Moreover, whether a decree of nullity is issued or not, the decision may bring peace of mind to the parties who have been wondering or questioning whether the Church would regard the marriage in question as valid or invalid. Naturally, a Decree of Nullity brings many persons the satisfaction of being able to celebrate a planned marriage in the Catholic Church, or to have another marriage (already entered) validated by the Church. But even those applicants who petition unsuccessfully for a decree of nullity can at least make their future plans with a clear understanding of their marital status as best the Church can judge.

Is a divorced person excommunicated from the Church?

Again, the answer is ‘no’. A Catholic is not excommunicated when he or she is divorced. A divorced person is fully and completely a member of the Church.

Can a divorced person receive communion?

Yes. There is nothing itself that prevents a divorced Catholic from receiving the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. It is only a marriage or remarriage outside the Church that would affect receiving the Eucharist.


Judicial Vicar:  Rev Craig Fitzpatrick, JCL, MA

Administrator:  Mrs Anne Ashton

The Hallam Diocesan Tribunal
The Hallam Pastoral Centre
St Charles Street
Sheffield
S9 3WU
Tel:  0114 – 2566450
Email:  tribunal@hallam-diocese.com (Please noteby emailing us, you consent to your submitted details being collected, stored and used by the Diocese of Hallam only for the purpose or purposes for which you have provided them to us. Read more in our Privacy and Security Policy.)

The office is open between 8.00 AM and 4.00 PM, Monday-Thursday

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Tram: Nearest stops either Woodbourn Road or Attercliffe. Approx 5-10 minutes walk.

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