What is the Marriage Tribunal?

The Marriage Tribunal is one part of the Church's ministry to offer support to those who have experienced a broken marriage.  The Tribunal investigates cases of marital failure to determine whether the parties may be free to marry in the Catholic Church. 

What is the work of the Marriage Tribunal?

Most often the decision to marry is accompanied by the best of intentions and good will, yet despite these good intentions marriages can fail and usually such failure brings with it considerable grief and heartache.   Many people wonder about their position within the Catholic Church following a failed marriage, and some wonder whether it is possible for them to remarry in the Church.  The Tribunal deals primarily with applications for annulment of marriage. 

The Townsville Tribunal is part of the Regional Tribunal of Queensland. 

Who can approach the Tribunal?

Anyone who wants to clarify their marital status in terms of the law of the Catholic Church is welcome.

Some More Information about the Marriage Tribunal

Often people who approach the Tribunal have questions they would like to ask.  Some of the more frequently asked questions are answered below. 

How does a decree of nullity differ from a divorce decree?

A divorce decree dissolves the bond recognised in civil law without questioning the validity or the binding force of the agreement.  A decree of nullity declares that the bond of marriage, as understood by the Catholic Church, did not come into being because the agreement was invalid.

What can rob marriage agreements of their binding force?

There is more to making a binding marriage agreement than participating in a wedding ceremony.  A couple cease being single when each of them speak the words of the marriage promises to the other in the type of ceremony they are bound to observe. 

The promises can lack the required binding force for a number of reasons.  The most obvious is when the bride or groom or both does not mean what they say.  The ceremony is a pretence.  This happens in what is called a "marriage of convenience" such as when a marriage will fulfil requirements for citizenship in a country.  Church law calls this total simulation.  Simulation can also be partial as when the bride or groom does not intend to be faithful, refuses from the start to have children or does not accept marriage as a life-long unbreakable union. 

Some people are incapable of making proper marriage agreements.  Among these we can list those who lack the use of reason, those who lack seriously the ability to judge what being married asks of them, and those who are unable, for psychological reasons, to undertake the essential obligations of marriage.  Other agreements fail because either the bride or groom participates in the ceremony only out of fear.  The Tribunal staff members are there to assist inquirers as they explore their own unique situation. 

Must the other party be informed of the proceedings?

Yes.  Justice demands that the other party knows of the proceedings and is invited to give evidence. 

Will I need to meet with my former spouse?

No.  The party seeking the decree of nullity gives evidence in a private interview with one member of the Tribunal staff.  The other party to the marriage is invited to take part in an interview that is conducted in the same manner. 

Is it now easier to get a decree of nullity (annulment)?

The factors that make a marriage agreement invalid have not changed.  However, the insights of the human sciences over the past fifty years have broadened the basis on which Tribunal judges can declare that a marriage agreement is invalid. 

Is everyone who seeks an annulment successful?

No.  Not everyone is successful.  The judges decide each petition on the evidence presented to them.  Fulfilling the requirements of the process does not guarantee an affirmative decision.

How is a decision reached?

The Tribunal gathers the facts of the matter from the documents presented and oral evidence.  The Tribunal needs to know about the background and upbringing of each of the parties, their courtship, the story of their marriage and the story since the marriage.

One member of the Tribunal staff meets with the person who is seeking the decree of nullity in a private interview.  The other party to the marriage is invited to attend an interview that is conducted in the same manner.

Every encouragement is given to both parties to participate as fully as possible in the procedure.

Both parties to the marriage are invited to nominate witnesses who are willing and able to speak to the facts of the case.  The witnesses are interviewed in the same manner as the parties to the marriage. 

When there is sufficient evidence gathered, the Tribunal Judges make a form a decision.  The parties to the marriage do not attend the judgment session.  Advocates may represent them if desired. 

The Defender of the Bond, a Tribunal official, always submits observations which uphold the teaching of the Church on marriage. 

The decision of the Judges at the local level (First Instance) declares either that the marriage agreement is invalid (an affirmative decision) or that the evidence does not allow such a decision to be made (a negative decision). 

Where is the decision made?

Once the materials are gathered they are sent to Brisbane where decisions are made for the five dioceses of Queensland - Brisbane, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns.

Does a decree of nullity mean children of a marriage are illegitimate?

No.  Church law affirms that children of a marriage are always regarded as legitimate. 

What if a person has been married more than once?

Each of the unions is considered separately.

Is it all worthwhile?

For most people it is.  However, people are understandably disappointed when petitions are not successful.  Although disappointed, many value the opportunity to tell their story to people who have received them in a professional, sensitive and pastoral manner. 

The granting of a decree of nullity clears the way for the parties to enter a marriage within the Catholic Church.  For those who have already entered another union, a decree of nullity allows that union to be recognised by the Catholic Church provided the other party is likewise free to marry. 

Before a couple marry or have their union recognised by the Catholic Church, careful preparation is strongly recommended. 

How much does it cost?

To cover the costs associated with the work of the Tribunal we need to ask those who approach to assist by making a financial contribution.   Tribunal charges a fee proportionate to income, but genuine financial difficulties will not prejudice or hinder the processing of a petition. 

How long does the process take?

Sometimes it takes less than a year to complete, but at other times it may take considerably longer. 

To avoid disappointment and anxiety people should not make arrangements for the celebration of marriage in the Catholic Church until the final decision has been given. 


 

Making Contact with the Tribunal

 

How do I make contact with the Marriage Tribunal?

All are welcome to contact the Tribunal office.  If after viewing the content of this site, you would like further information or assistance we can be contacted by phoning (07) 4726 3240.  The usual office hours are Tuesday & Wednesday 8.30am to 5.00pm.

Where is the Marriage Tribunal?

Each Diocese has a Marriage Tribunal.  The Marriage Tribunal for the Townsville Diocese is located in the Diocesan Office, 270 Stanley Street, Townsville.  The Diocesan office is next door to the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

How do I approach the Tribunal if I don't live in Townsville?

If you live in the Townsville Diocese but do not live in Townsville we can discuss ways of meeting if that is necessary.