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“It’s one of the safeguards the process puts in there to make sure there is adequate argumentation for [the marriage bond],” Nguyen said, adding that, sometimes, both parties want the annulment.He was once the defender of the bond for the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and, at times, the tribunal upheld the validity of the marriage in question because his arguments showed it was truly valid. If the majority of the judges of the case vote in favor of a declaration of nullity, then the presiding judge, called the lays out the issue and cites the applicable canon law and jurisprudence of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the Roman appeals court for marriage cases), before giving the judgment. Nguyen said that in the case of an affirmative decision, an appellate tribunal in another diocese does an entire review of the case before voting on it.

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However, the Church has a third canon lawyer, called the defender of the bond, who makes sure all the reasonable arguments have been made for the validity of the marriage.As they tell their stories, he is looking for grounds for nullity in their stories that would indicate whether they might have a potential case.“What we’re looking for is: Was everything that is required for a [valid] marriage there from the very beginning? The deacon said he assures many of them that they are not failures for attempting a sacramental union that was not actually valid.Grounds for Nullity The Catholic Church presumes a person contracted a valid marriage unless the evidence completely proves otherwise.The standard used in the canonical trial to judge a marriage null is much higher than the threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt” used in criminal trials.Nguyen said the tribunal has to keep in mind that the presence of a “psychic anomaly” at the time of marriage does not necessarily mean a person was unable to consent.

“Just because a person, for example, has an addiction, are we saying all persons with addictions can’t get married? “We have to examine whether ‘this person, because of this addiction, could not discern, consent or live out this marriage.’ It has to be that kind of one-to-one [relationship].

Now, Deacon O’Toole helps prepare people to go through the annulment process as part of his special ministry to divorced Catholics in the Diocese of Springfield, Ill.

“Generally, I begin the process with our theology of marriage: why we believe what we believe and why the Catholic Church recognizes marriage between two Christians — just like baptism — as a sacrament, whether their denomination would call it that or not,” he said.

Canonical Process for Nullity Once the application is complete, it is sent off to the diocesan tribunal, an ecclesiastical court that includes among its staff a judicial vicar, at least three judges and a canon lawyer known as the defender of the bond.

The tribunal decides whether and on which grounds the petition is accepted, Nguyen said, and then informs both civilly divorced parties once the petition, or , is accepted.

Nguyen said the most common annulments are granted due to the lack of canonical form, such as Catholics married by a justice of the peace or a non-Catholic minister, because canon law requires a Catholic priest or deacon with faculties to officiate the marriage.