A Formal Case is generally referred to as petition for a Declaration of Invalidity. In reality, the petitioner is asking the Church to acknowledge there was no valid consent regarding the marriage in question. The Church holds that a previous union is valid and because of Divine Law, a person with a valid union cannot enter into a subsequent marriage. Unless the Petitioner can show the previous union was not valid according to the Church’s understanding of the requirements for a valid consent, they are not free to enter into a new marriage.
A person is not free to marry unless and until an Affirmative Decision is rendered. The new Motu Proprio establishes that “The sentence that first declared the nullity of the marriage – once the terms as determined by the law have passed – becomes executive” (Canon 1679 MP Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus).
Once a person has been civilly divorced, they can approach the local parish to initiate the process. You may speak to a case sponsor, deacon or priest there. Any person living within the Archdiocese of Atlanta can submit a case provided they are a party to the marriage in question.
During the initial meeting with the case sponsor, deacon or parish priest, the Petitioner will describe the specifics of the marriage so that they can make an initial determination of the type of case to present. The Petitioner will be asked to obtain their final divorce decree (bearing the signature of the judge), marriage certificate, and current baptism certificate. For Catholic parties, the certificate should be no more than six months old. The Petitioner will be given the preliminary questionnaire to complete.
In addition, the correct, current and complete address of the Respondent must be provided. The Respondent must know of the proceedings and the case cannot be initiated without this issue being resolved.
If the Respondent (ex-spouse) in the case cannot be located, the case can still be heard. The Respondent can be declared unlocatable only after the Petitioner has submitted documented proof of his/her efforts to locate and provide a valid address for the ex-spouse. If there are documented circumstances in which the Petitioner has a valid reason that the ex-spouse should not be contacted this must be communicated to the Tribunal. Documents should be presented for the case in situations where a current civil restraining order exists or where there is an abusive history in the marriage. Perhaps the Petitioner prefers that their whereabouts or personal information are not to be revealed to the Respondent, under these circumstances, the Tribunal will attempt to protect the Petitioner’s safety and/or whereabouts, while still fulfilling the canonical requirements of the process.
Upon completion of the questionnaire and obtaining the necessary ecclesiastic and legal documents, the Petitioner should make a subsequent appointment with the Case Sponsor in the parish. The Case Sponsor will review the documents at the second appointment to ensure that all questions are answered and that the facts presented during the initial meeting are covered in the answers submitted. At this time, the Case Sponsor and the Petitioner will present the signed and notarized petition to the court, including the suggested grounds along with a list of three to four witnesses.
The links for the Flow for a Formal Case and additional information about the Formal process are available to the right. You are invited to follow the links for a more detailed explanation.