While the Church does not offer a definition of marriage, it does provide us with a clear description of this unique relationship. This description is drawn from the Second Vatican Council as reflected in the Code of Canon Law:
"The matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children..."
This marital covenant is brought about through the consent of both parties. Consent, once given by the spouses, is presumed, in law, to exist until the contrary can be established before a Church Tribunal. One of the marital partners can petition a Church court to investigate the canonical validity of a particular marriage (Catholic or non-Catholic). This process is normally initiated after a civil divorce has been obtained.
The church legal system holds that certain conditions must be present at the time of the contracting of a marriage for the marriage to be considered canonically and ecclesiastically valid. The Peninsular Malaysia Ecclesiastical Tribunal is the office designated to investigate marriages that fall within its competence, i.e. the marriage was contracted in the Archdiocese and Dioceses in the region or either one of the spouses is domiciled (legally resides) within the Archdiocese and Dioceses.
An Annulment is a declaration by the competent ecclesiastical Tribunal that a particular marriage was canonically invalid from its inception. This declaration does not deny that an interpersonal relationship existed, nor does it imply that the marriage was entered into with ill will or through moral fault. Likewise, this declaration has no civil effects in Malaysia and does not render any children born of the relationship illegitimate.
INITIAL INTERVIEW AND PRELIMINARY PHASES
Those who wish to initiate a petition for an annulment should call the Tribunal to ask for a set of directions. At that time you will be told what documents must be procured and what statements prepared. When you have collected all the required papers, an appointment will be arranged with one of the consultants to help you identify some possible grounds for the annulment and to explain the rest of the procedure.
It is important for you to understand that the word of the parties alone is not adequate to prove that the marriage is in fact null. The allegation must be supported by evidence. For this reason, you will be asked to provide the names and addresses of witnesses (family members, friends) who will be willing to provide testimony.
If grounds for the annulment are based in any way on psychological factors, the Petitioner will be required to have one interview with a psychologist or psychiatrist. The purpose is to examine what effects such underlying psychological factors may have had on the parties at the time of the wedding.
From the above information it can be determined whether or not there appears to be a basis for a FORMAL HEARING. When there seems to be some basis for an annulment, a PETITION will be drawn up in your name to be submitted to this Tribunal. The presentation of your petition in no way guarantees an affirmative decision by a Judge. The outcome will depend on what develops during the FORMAL HEARING.
THE FORMAL HEARING
The Tribunal is composed of: A Judge or Judges, a Defender of the Bond, a Notary (who records or transcribes testimony) an Advocate (for your former spouse). At a prescribed date and time, you will be asked to appear and give formal sworn testimony. Your witnesses will also be asked to appear and testify. Every witness, as well as the parties, will be contacted by the Judge. Throughout this process CONFIDENTIALITY is protected.
The FORMAL HEARING is not public. There is no confrontation of the parties or witnesses. The process is meant to verify the conditions that existed at the time the marriage was contracted.
When all the available testimony has been gathered, the Judge, after studying the testimony and the briefs of the Advocate, and of the Defender of the Bond, will reach a decision. If a negative decision is reached, which means that the gathered evidence does not warrant the decision for nullity, you will be informed of your right to appeal. If an affirmative decision is reached, you will be so informed. Church law requires that each case be reviewed by the Inter-Diocesan Tribunal before a final decision is given.
LENGTH OF TIME
The amount of time it takes to process a case depends upon many factors:
- Your cooperation in writing your preliminary statement and the cooperation of your witnesses in submitting their statements.
- The cooperation of your former spouse.
- The required court procedures needed to adjudicate the case, including the appearances of parties and witnesses.
- The number of cases pending on the Judge's calendar.
- The provision of the Church's law that requires all formal cases to be reviewed by a forum of three Judges after an affirmative decision has been reached.
It is impossible to give an exact time, but past experience indicates that an entire procedure lasts between eighteen months and two years depending upon the nature of the case. Many cases because of the above-mentioned factors cannot be resolved even in this time. Under no circumstance should a Church wedding be planned until a favourable decision is rendered.
More than half of the cost incurred in processing an annulment is supplied by the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and the Dioceses of Penang and Melaka-Johor. Those seeking an annulment are asked to pay a portion of these expenses. The actual amount always depends on the type of case. At this time, a fee of $1000 is requested for a FORMAL HEARING, a portion ($350) is paid when a PETITION is submitted and the balance is paid in a manner determined by the Judge and yourself.
Inability on the part of the Petitioner to pay the entire fee, or even a portion of the fee, has absolutely no bearing on the final decision. If you cannot pay, a letter from your pastor or social worker will normally suffice to have the Judge reduce or cancel the amount of your Court costs. A person is never turned away from this Tribunal because of lack of money.
If you require further information or help, do not hesitate to contact the Tribunal Secretary at the following address:
Ms Theresa Ong
Peninsular Malaysia Ecclesiastical Tribunal
Melaka-Johor Diocesan Office
2101 Jalan Masai, Plentong
81750 Masai, Johor
Telephone: 07-387 1121 (extension: 130)