What if Joe, for his first wedding years ago, had sought permission from the diocese to be married at his first wife's Protestant Church? Or what if Joe's first wedding had occurred in a Catholic church, before a priest or deacon?
In the first case, the situation of special permission generally occurs when one of the persons seeking to marry is not a Catholic and, for good reasons, wishes to wed in her or his own Church and by her or his own clergyperson. During my 45 years in priestly ministry, I have participated in many of these arrangements.
Sometimes it meant standing next to the minister during the ceremony in his church; at other times, I stood by the side of a rabbi in a restaurant or hotel; at still others I even assisted as a judge conducted the service in a home. Occasionally I was not present at the ceremony, but only completed in advance the necessary paperwork.
In all of these circumstances, however, I met with the couple ahead of time, filled out the required documentation and petitioned the bishop for a dispensation from canonical form (marriage in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon and two witnesses). This special permission allowed the Catholic to marry before a minister, rabbi or even a judge according to the desires of the other party in the marriage.
In these cases where the first marriage was either a Catholic wedding or a non-Catholic wedding with special permission to be married before someone other than an ordained Catholic minister, the annulment process is more involved.
The annulment process in these circumstances, termed a formal case, examines not so much where the marriage took place, but what happened in the marriage. The procedure takes longer (six months to a year, or more, depending upon the diocese) and is more complex than the "lack of form" annulment mentioned in question seven above. The Church in these cases researches not merely the location of a wedding, but also the relationship between spouses before and during the marriage. That's a bit more complicated.
A fact sheet covering the basic details of the failed marriage begins the formal case procedure. However, the practice in the United States is that a person may start the process only after obtaining a legal divorce that terminated the marital relationship under civil law. The petitioning individual then works through an extensive printed inquiry that explores the childhood of both persons, their courtship, the early years of the marriage and what the petitioner considers the major cause for the marital breakup.
The petitioner will likewise need to secure certain official documents-proof of Baptism, if pertinent, a marriage record and the divorce papers-and provide names and addresses of the former spouse(s) as well as several witnesses who could share their observations and experiences of the courtship and marriage.
Once all the materials have been assembled, the diocesan tribunal examines the case, usually interviews the petitioner, often seeks the counsel of a psychologist or therapist, and makes a decision. The office then sends its initial judgment to a different tribunal for confirmation. The Syracuse Diocese, where I live and minister, for example, normally refers its cases to the Interdiocesan Tribunal of New York, an agency which covers all of New York state.
If both tribunals agree that there are sufficient grounds (see question 1) for an annulment, the diocesan tribunal communicates a declaration of nullity to the petitioner. Respondents who are interested and who have cooperated in the process are also notified about the declaration of nullity.
Sometimes cases receive a negative response, or petitions for an annulment are rejected. It is probably safe to say that a majority of formal cases in the United States receive positive judgments and the annulments are granted.