A Tribunal is the Church court for a local Roman Catholic diocese. It adjudicates internal Church legal affairs, including petitions for declarations of nullity of marriage. A Tribunal is composed of the Judicial Vicar, other judges, and court officers, such as Promotors of Justice, Defenders of Marriage, Advocates and Auditors.
The Philadelphia Tribunal is a Metropolitan Tribunal because it is the court of the Metropolitan Episcopal See of Philadelphia. It is the appeal court for all of the Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.
Marriages are to be performed legally and validly. Legally means the marriage is properly performed according to civil and religious regulations. Validly means that when the people marry, their intentions, their understanding of marriage, and their ability to enter marriage are sufficient.
In the Catholic Church for one to marry validly one must have the inention to enter a permanent faithful union that is open to the possibility of children. In the Catholic Church marriage is understood to be a community of life for a man and a woman, for their mutual, interpersonal growth and for the procreation and education of children.
Finally, one must have the basic physical, emotional, and psychological ability to understand the intentions and meaning of marriage and to intend and fulfill them.
For all marriages, this validity is presumed. The Catholic Church cannot end or break a valid marriage bond between two baptized persons. The Church can examine the presumed valid marriage to see if the validity that is presumed really existed and can do this only if one of the spouses asks for it to happen.
This procedure is what the annulment process is all about.
The Church cannot refuse to investigate the validity of a marriage once one of the spouses has challenged it. This investigation does not mean that the case is proved, only that the marriage has to be investigated.
Anyone, whether baptized or not, who was a party to a marriage involving at least one baptized person, whether Catholic or not, may petition a competent tribunal for an annulment (c. 1671).
Moreover, even when an unbaptized person who was married to another unbaptized person and now wants to marry a Catholic in the Church may petition for an annulment (cc. 1476, 1674.1).
The party who petitions the tribunal for an annulment is called the PETITIONER. The other party who is asked to respond to the petition for a declaration of nullity is called the RESPONDENT.
In matrimonial cases that are not reserved to the Apostolic See, the following are competent:
1. The Tribunal of the place where the marriage was celebrated.
2. The Tribunal of the place where the Respondent has a residence or a part time residence.
3. The Tribunal of the place where the petitioner has a domicile, provided that both parties live in the territory of the same episcopal conference (e.g., in the United States) and that the judicial vicar of the Respondent's domicile, having heard the Respondent, gives his consent.
4. The Tribunal of the place where de facto most of the proofs are to be collected, provided the judicial vicar of the Respondent's domicile give consent and, before doing so, asks the Respondent whether he or she has any objections (c. 1673).
There are fees involved in carrying out the entire process. A filing fee of $50.00 is to be sent to the Tribunal when you return your completed Initial Questionnaire. This filing fee is not refundable and will be credited to the total court fees. If it is decided at the Initial Interview that the Tribunal cannot be of any further assistance to you, no further fee will be required.
If, however, your case is accepted for further investigation, a check for $150.00, payable to the Tribunal, is needed at the time of your Initial Interview. This will be considered the second payment toward the total fee of $800.00. This total fee is due before any expert opinion, if needed, is requested and before the final decision concerning your case is reached.
The Tribunal does accept time payments and a suggested payment plan for court fees is included with your initial questionnaire. The Tribunal also accepts Master Charge, Visa and Discover for payment of all or part of the court costs. This can be arranged at the time of your call for your appointment with the Auditor.
The Tribunal also realizes that some people legitimately cannot afford these fees. It is important that this fact be made known to the Auditor. The Tribunal has a process to determine if a person is truly needy and will reduce its fees in such cases.