Metropolitan Tribunal Court of First InstanceLast updated: about 2 years ago
Judicial Vicar: Very Rev. Peter O. Akpoghiran, J.C.D.
Very Rev. Peter O. Akpoghiran, J.C.D.
Rev. Msgr. L. Earl Gauthreaux, J.C.L.
Rev. Msgr. Andrew C. Taormina, J.D.
Rev. Vinh D. Luu, J.C.L.
Rev. Gerald L. Seiler, Jr., J.C.L.
PROMOTER OF JUSTICE:
Rev. Nicholas P. Pericone, J.C.L.
DEFENDERS OF THE BOND:
Deacon A. David Warriner, Jr.
Ms. Geri A. Woodward
Sister M. Judene Lillie, O.P.
Deacon Arthur Kingsmill, J.D.
Ms. Olivia George
Ms. Janet Urrutia
Ms. Janice Buhler
PROCURATORS AND ADVOCATES:
Priests and Deacons of the Archdiocese
The Metropolitan Tribunal of New Orleans adjudicates matrimonial cases, penal cases, administrative canonical matters, and other canonical matters referred to it. The Tribunal also offers canonical advice to the Archbishop and to other clergy in the Archdiocese as well as to the religious and laity in the Archdiocese. The Tribunal also represents the judicial arm of the Archbishop. It is staffed by priests, deacons, religious, and lay persons who are trained in Canon Law.
The Tribunal comprises the First Instance Court, which adjudicates cases which arise from within the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Second Instance Court, which reviews and adjudicates all matrimonial cases appealed to it from the suffragan dioceses in the State of Louisiana.
The First Instance Court is further categorized into the Episcopal Court of the Archbishop and the Ordinary Court of the Tribunal. The Archbishop judges those cases which have been remitted to him by means of the abbreviated process and the Ordinary Court of the Tribunal judges those cases which have been remitted to the ordinary contentious process.
The Metropolitan Tribunal Court of Second Instance also consists of the Episcopal Court of Appeal of the Archbishop of New Orleans and of the Ordinary Court of Second Instance. The Archbishop hears the appeal of any of those cases which any of the bishops in the Province has presided over as judge and which has been appealed to the Archbishop. The Ordinary Court of Appeal, on the other hand, hears the appeals of those cases which have been judged by judges other than a diocesan bishop in any of the suffragan dioceses and which have been appealed to the New Orleans Tribunal.
- What are the financial costs for annulment?
- Is an annulment guaranteed?
- Does annulment render children illegitimate?
- May Future Marriage Plans Be Made?
- Why Are Witnesses Important?
- What Role Does The Former Spouse Have?
- What if my former spouses will not cooperate?
- Who are Procurators?
- Who Are Advocates?
- Who Will Read What Is Submitted?
- How Does The Process Begin?
- How long does the process take?
- What is the Abbreviated Process?
The financial costs associated with petitioning for a declaration of nullity of marriage (annulment) are borne by the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Therefore, on the part of the petitioner it is free. Nonetheless, people are encouraged to make freewill donations. Such a donation should be made to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the check mailed to the Tribunal. Donations received will be acknowledged by the Tribunal.
No. We begin with the presumption that the marriage valid. Nullity must be proven. Divorce is not a proof of invalidity. All marriages are presumed valid until proven otherwise, whether or not there is a civil divorce or civil annulment (canon 1060).
No. Children of a marriage declared null by an ecclesiastical tribunal are still legitimate. (canon 1137).
Permission to remarry or validate a civil marriage in the Catholic Church cannot be guaranteed by anyone before this process is completed. Sometimes, as a condition of remarriage, counseling will be required and a report provided to the parish minister preparing a couple for the new marriage. No plans for a future marriage, not even a tentative date, may be made with the parish priest or deacon until such time as a Decree of Ratification of the Invalidity of the Marriage is given and conditions are satisfied. The Tribunal bears no responsibility for any promises or guarantees made by anyone if a wedding date is scheduled before the completion of a case.
Church law requires that a case be proven by documents and the supporting testimony of witnesses. Witnesses are necessary for the Tribunal to gain a deeper understanding of the background and dating experience of both parties, the wedding and marriage itself, and the reasons for its breakdown. Anyone who has known the parties well or for a long time may be a witness. The best witnesses are those who have known the former spouses since the time of courtship. Typically, parents, brothers and sisters, childhood neighbors, or other relatives and friends make good witnesses. The witnesses will be contacted by mail or invited to the Tribunal to give their personal observations. Parties should inform potential witnesses before they are contacted by the Tribunal.
A former spouse must be contacted and given the opportunity to present his or her views of the marriage as well as to introduce witnesses. This is required by the law of the Church. It is therefore necessary to have a current address. If a current address in unavailable, then the last known address and/or the address of a family member should be provided. The internet is another good place to find current address of a former spouse. If a former spouse is said to be unlocatable, the Tribunal will ask for evidence of this good faith effort to locate him or her.
In any case, the respondent is entitled to know the grounds for nullity, has the right to an Advocate, the right to name witnesses and to know the names of the Petitioner’s witnesses, the right to reply to pleadings and observations, the right to know the evidence used in the decision, the conclusions and reasons for the judgment, and the right to appeal a judgment.
Church law recognizes the right of the respondent to participate fully in the process if he or she so chooses. The former spouse does not have the option of preventing the process. If the former spouse ignores the citation (or summons), the process continues without his or her cooperation. However, the respondent’s participation in the process is always of assistance to the Tribunal in reaching a decision.
A procurator is one who has been chosen and appointed to represent the party, to present the petition or recourses to the tribunal, to receive its notifications, and to inform the party of the state of the case; but those things pertaining to defense are always reserved to the advocate. (Dignitas connubii, art. 104 §2). The priests and deacons in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have been approved by the Archbishop to serve as procurators. Your procurator will assist you in preparing and presenting to the tribunal the petition, together with your narrative, the names and addresses of your witnesses, psychological, medical, and counselor’s records, if any, and other pertinent documents.
Advocates are trained Catholic priests, deacons, religious sisters, and lay persons who represent the parties at the Tribunal. They are to assist in the timely and orderly preparation of the case, see that the rights of the parties are fully honored, and provide canonical guidance and pastoral care as the party goes through the process. Additionally, they may write briefs and accompany the petitioner or the respondent to the hearing. The priest who witnessed the wedding may not serve as the advocate; his assistance may be more valuable in the capacity of a witness. To expedite the processing of the case, the advocates are usually named by the Tribunal. However, a party may designate an advocate of his or her choosing from the list of advocates approved by the Archbishop.
All material relative to the nullity process is treated confidentially as required by Church law. Only those who have a right to the information, that is, the parties, their Advocates, Court-appointed Experts, and the Tribunal officials are permitted to review it for the purposes expressed in canon law. All are bound by oath to keep all information confidential and to use it only for the express purpose of resolving the case.
1. First of all, a canonical investigation into the validity of marriage can occur only when there is no hope of reconciliation and after a final decree of divorce has been issued by a civil court.
If you have reasons to believe that your previous marriage(s) may be invalid, you are encouraged to make an appointment with your pastor, or a deacon, or a delegate of the pastor to assist you with the preparation of the annulment process. Tell your story to the priest, deacon, or lay parish assistant, focusing on your religious and family background and the events and circumstances that led to your decision to marry, wedding, and marriage. The priest, deacon or assistant will listen and try to help clarify the key issues. He or she may also offer pastoral guidance and assistance in dealing with the aftermath of the marriage relationship.
If it appears that there exists the basis for a case, you will receive a preliminary questionnaire to complete and a list of documents required of you to complete and submit. E.g. baptismal certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, witness information form, etc. You should prepare a draft of your answers to the questionnaire and review it with the priest, deacon, or lay parish assistant in a subsequent meeting. This is a most important step in the preparation of your case. A well-prepared preliminary deposition can facilitate the processing of the case and save much time in the later stages. Take time and reflect, endeavoring to answer the questions as objectively and completely as possible, avoiding both simple “yes” or “no” answers, and lengthy, unnecessary or irrelevant detail. Your answers should preferably be typed.
While working on your preliminary questionnaire, you will also wish to gather the necessary religious and civil documents (e.g., baptismal and marriage certificate(s), final divorce decree, etc.). Upon completion of your questionnaire, the priest, deacon or parish minister will assist you in completing the petition form and other preliminary documentation. When the priest or the deacon has cross-checked his or her checklist that you have tendered all the required documents, and after providing him or her with payment of the necessary filing fee for the Tribunal, he or she will mail your case, together with recommendations or comments to the Tribunal.
2. When the Tribunal receives your petition, it examines it to ensure that all the documents are complete. You will receive an acknowledgment of receipt of your petition from the Tribunal when we receive it. Your case will be assigned its name and protocol number, which you should always have with you whenever you wish to speak with your procurator or with the Tribunal.
When the Tribunal receives your petition, the Judicial Vicar will also assess whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction and determines whether the case has merits to warrant opening the case to trial. After an initial evaluation of the case history and a review of the documents submitted, and it has been determined the case can proceed to a trial, your former spouse will be notified by the Tribunal that you have requested to have your marriage with him or her annulled by the Catholic Church. The respondent will be sent a copy of the petition, a series of questions to answer, and a form which asks whether or not they agree with the petition, and to provide reasons for their answer.
He or she will be invited to participate in the search for the facts and the truth of the relationship. Out of courtesy inform the respondent to expect a mail from the Tribunal so that he or she are not taken unawares.
If the tribunal receives a response back from the respondent, and he or she agrees in writing to the annulment and if either the marriage lasted less than ten years or the canonical ground on which the case is to be tried is among those permitted for use in the fast track, the case will be put on a fast track and the Archbishop of New Orleans will normally be appointed to judge the case. The Archbishop will be assisted by two case auditors in the Tribunal and a defender of the bond of marriages in the Tribunal. Their names will be communicated to you and the respondent in writing.
However, if the respondent writes back to the Tribunal and states that he or she is opposed to the annulment or if the respondent does not reply within the two weeks given to him or her, a judge or a panel of three judges in the Tribunal will be assigned to the case. A defender of the bond, who is bound by office to propose and explain everything which reasonably can be brought forth against the nullity of the marriage (c. 1432), is also appointed to the case. The names of the judge(s) and the defender are also communicated to you in writing.
Also in both the fast track process and the ordinary process, the canonical grounds for the alleged invalidity of the marriage are established. Proofs are gathered from witnesses. Nullity is not proven on the words of the parties alone. (new canon 1678 §1). In some cases, experts in psychology or other sciences or fields are consulted. Advocates may submit briefs as requested by the judge, and the case is reviewed by the case auditors and by a defender of the bond who offers all reasonable arguments in favor of the legally presumed validity of the marriage. After weighing the evidence and considering the observations of all concerned, the judge or judges issue a decision in writing setting forth the facts of the case, the law, and the reasons for the decision reached. The decision of the judge(s) can be reviewed by the parties, if they so desire. If the Archbishop is the judge in the case, the documents and proofs gathered by the Tribunal on behalf of the Archbishop will be sent to him for examination and evaluation. If he determines that the marriage should be annulled, he then declares it annulled. After he has annulled the marriage, the case is sent back to the Tribunal so that the parties can be informed.
3. There are no more mandatory appeals to an appeal tribunal. Nonetheless, a party who opposes the Archbishop’s decision or the Tribunal’s decision may lodge an appeal through our Metropolitan Tribunal either to the competent Court of Appeal or to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Church’s appeal court for marriage cases based in Rome. If no appeal is lodged, the affirmative decision of the Archbishop or of the Tribunal the stands and the parties are free to enter into new marriages in the Catholic Church.
Each case is unique. It is impossible to predict the exact time it will take to process a case because of a number of variable factors. A case moves along rapidly if all documents are presented as requested and if the information requested from the parties and witnesses are received back in a timely fashion. On the average, it takes one year to process a formal case from the time the Tribunal receives the petition and the supporting materials to the end of the process. Other kinds of marriage case such as lack of form, prior bond, Pauline privilege, and Petrine privilege take less time than a year to process. Your procurator can assist you in determining the kind of marriage case you may have. However, the final decision lies with the Tribunal Staff to determine the kind of marriage case you have.
With the promulgation of the apostolic letter motu proprio, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, by Pope Francis on September 8, 2015, which pertains to the reform of the process for the declaration of marriage nullity, an abbreviated process (or briefer process) for the declaration of marriage nullity for use by first instance Tribunals was introduced. The abbreviated process, as the term implies, means that the case will be put on a fast track. Furthermore, the Archbishop of New Orleans himself will be the judge. A case is put on the fast track if the following conditions are fulfilled:
- The alleged nullity of the marriage is supported by particularly strong facts and circumstances, which were present prior to the marriage.
- The respondent, after he or she has been cited by the Tribunal, replies and agrees in writing to the annulment.
- Either the marriage lasted less than 10 years or if it lasted more than 10 years, the canonical ground on which the nullity of the marriage will be investigated by the Tribunal can be lawfully used for fast-track cases. The canonical grounds for putting a case on the fast-track are: marrying for reasons extraneous to marriage, belief in divorce prior to and subsequent to the marriage, belief in infidelity prior to and subsequent to the marriage, intention to exclude children prior to the marriage and the obstinate refusal to have children during the marriage itself, deceiving the other party in order to marry him or her, and marrying someone due to moral or physical force and out of fear.
- The Archbishop, after reading all the arguments and evidences gathered in the case and after consulting with the Tribunal people, is morally convinced that the marriage should be annulled.
If all the documents, responses, and testimonies requested by the Tribunal are received within stipulated deadlines, a case which has been put on the fast track will take about 3 months to complete.
Documents from the Tribunal should be downloaded by following this link.