The Tribunal of the Diocese of Helena is a service of the Catholic Church that assists with the pastoral care of divorced and remarried persons seeking to have their marriage recognized in the church, divorced persons seeking to remarry, and divorced persons seeking clarification of their standing in the Church.
Father John W. Robertson, JCL
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Declaration of Invalidity?
A Church Declaration of Invalidity determines that two people who formerly were married are not bound in the Church by that particular marital relationship because it was not a valid marriage as defined by the Catholic Church. This Declaration is a statement by the Church that the relationship did not meet at least one of the elements seen as essential for a union to be binding in the Church.
Who may apply for a Declaration of Invalidity?
Anyone who has obtained a civil divorce or annulment may apply to have his or her previous marriage investigated according to Church law. Not all situations involve a formal proceeding. The Tribunal will be able to make the proper determinations based on the information provided with the initial petition.
Anyone who has been married and divorced or received a civil annulment, and who wishes to marry in the Catholic Church, must apply.
Is testimony kept confidential?
Personnel of the Tribunal, who have access to the testimony as part of their work with the process, are bound to keep all information confidential.
How do I begin the process?
See your parish priest or pastoral minister. He or she can assist you with the initial petition. Once you have completed the information requested (it is necessary to give pertinent facts and some detail to substantiate the petition), take the petition to your priest or pastoral minister who will submit it to the Tribunal.
You are asked to submit the names and current mailing addresses of witnesses – persons who have knowledge of the events leading to the breakup of the marriage in question. Parents and other family members and personal friends are often the best witnesses. If at all possible, please give names of some persons who know your previous spouse as well as those who know you. Whenever possible, request your witnesses to reply promptly when the Tribunal contacts them.
Will my former spouse be contacted?
To ensure that the rights of both parties are protected in the Church, the Tribunal will contact your former spouse and give him or her the opportunity to participate in the process. Should your former spouse decide not to participate and provide information, the case will proceed. If the whereabouts of your former spouse are completely unknown, inform the Tribunal of this fact.
How is a decision reached?
Once sufficient information is gathered, one of the Judges of the Tribunal writes the final decision in each case. It is reviewed by another priest known as the Defender of the Bond, and if he has no objection, the decision stands as written. Three Judges are utilized in some circumstances.
Every decision declaring a marriage invalid in the Church must be reviewed by a second Defender of the Bond and a panel of three Judges. They may ratify the decision or ask for it to be reviewed more thoroughly. Both you and your former spouse have the opportunity to offer additional input or to appeal the decision.
In some extraordinary instances, the case must be reviewed in Rome before the decision is final.
A formal notification is sent to both parties at the conclusion of the entire process.
What if I (or my former spouse) have been married more than once?
Be sure to tell the priest or pastoral minister at the initial visit. It is important to reveal all marriages involved – even if that former spouse has died, or a civil annulment has been granted.
It also is important to know whether a spouse was married prior to his or her marriage with you.
When may I remarry in the Church?
All steps in the process must be completed and you must have received the formal declaration from the Tribunal indicating that the marriage was not valid in the Church before a date may be set for a marriage in the Church.
In some instances, depending on the situation involved, the Judge will offer some pastoral advice regarding the remarriage of either or both parties. If this is the case, the advice must be followed prior to a marriage in the Church.
Permission for a new marriage in the Church presumes that obligations from any previous marriage (e.g., child support) are being met justly.
Is there a fee?
The Tribunal is able to process marriage cases without asking a fee.
The Diocese has established an endowment fund to assist in funding the operating expenses of the Tribunal. Initiated through a gift from the estate of Father James Provost, a priest of the Diocese of Helena, an expert in Church law, and a person concerned about the ministry of the Tribunal. Donations to the endowment fund are appreciated, and assist the Diocese to provide this important ministry.
How long does the process take?
It is not possible to give an exact time. A “typical” amount of time is one year after the Tribunal accepts the petition. Sometimes there are circumstances that prolong the amount of time required. You will not be able to set a date for any future marriage in the Catholic Church until you have been notified that the decision is final.
For further information:
Please contact your parish priest or pastoral minister, or the Tribunal Office, Diocese of Helena, P O Box 1729, Helena MT 59624-1729, or email firstname.lastname@example.org