- What is Marriage?
- What is a declaration of nullity?
- Are there any civil effects to a declaration of nullity?
- What is the role of the Tribunal?
- Where do I begin?
- What are the steps involved?
- Why is my former spouse contacted?
- What about Witnesses?
- How long will it take?
- When should I call?
- What about re-marriage in the Catholic Church?
- How much will it cost?
1. What is Marriage?
The Catholic Church describes the Sacrament of Marriage as a “mutual gift of the two persons” which finds its clearest symbol in a covenant of faithful and forgiving love under the grace of God. Faithful to the Lord’s call, expressed in the Gospels and the Tradition of the Church, the Church sees marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman whereby they establish between themselves a partnership for their whole life. By its very nature, this partnership is ordered to the mutual well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children. The nature of this covenant demands total fidelity on the part of the spouses and establishes an unbreakable bond between them. The Catholic Church teaches that every valid marriage is permanent and that a valid marriage between baptized persons is a sacrament. For the good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society and the Church) every marriage, whether between Catholics, Christians of other denominations, or non-baptized persons, is presumed to be valid.
2. What is a declaration of nullity?
A declaration of nullity is a judgement from the Catholic Church that a marriage was not a valid Christian marriage as the Church defines marriage. Because the Church sees marriage as a call to mutual self-giving for the good of the spouses and the nurturing of children, the question of validity addresses whether the spouses were capable of, and open to, entering into a permanent commitment. If it can be shown that something essential was lacking at the time of the exchange of vows, then the Church declares the marriage “null.” The annulment process can help people come to peace within themselves and with the community of the Church, after a failed marriage ends in divorce.
3. Are there any civil effects to a declaration of nullity?
A church declaration of nullity has no civil effects in Canada. It is not a legal divorce, for it does not dissolve an existing marriage. It does not affect the legitimacy of children, property or inheritance rights, usage of names, etc. This declaration from the Catholic Church that a particular union, presumably begun in good faith and erstwhile thought by all to be a marriage was, in fact, an invalid union as the Church defines marriage. There is no attempt in this study to attach blame or to punish individuals. Instead, the purpose of the procedure is to serve one’s conscience and spirit, and to reconcile persons to full participation in the community of the Church.
4. What is the role of the Tribunal?
The Tribunal has a staff of specially trained and experienced priests, religious and lay persons. We offer assistance to people who request the Church to study a marriage in order to determine whether or not there are any grounds acceptable in church law for a declaration of nullity. The Tribunal then investigates the failed marriage following a judicial process, and declares whether or not invalidity has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The guidelines used by the Tribunal are the gospel teachings of Jesus Christ and the Law of the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XI defined the role of the Tribunal in these words: “to care for the dignity of marriage; to work for the good of the persons.” The Tribunal works towards this end by diligently protecting the rights of a man and a woman in a specific marriage, as well as the rights of the Church which have been charged by Christ to be the guardian of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
5. Where do I begin?
Contact either your parish priest or the Marriage Tribunal at 604 443 3285. A preliminary appointment will determine what type of procedure needs to done in your individual situation. Appropriate forms will be given to you and more information sought. Once the forms are completed and returned, the Tribunal will determine whether or not there are probable grounds to initiate an investigation.
6. What are the steps involved?
- You will be formally interviewed, under oath, by a staff member of the Tribunal
- We will notify your former spouse about the proceedings and arrange for a formal interview, if he/she agrees to participate
- Witnesses will be interviewed
- Experts may be consulted
- The gathered testimonies will be reviewed by the Defender of the Bond for observations
- Three Judges will study the evidence presented and give their decision
- The case will then be sent to the Canadian Appeal Tribunal in Ottawa for a mandatory examination and confirmation
- You and your former spouse will be notified when the decision is confirmed by the Second Instance court
7. Why is my former spouse contacted?
Catholic Church law requires us to notify your former spouse of the fact that you are seeking a declaration of nullity of your marriage. Your former spouse is offered the opportunity to participate in the proceedings and present his/her own testimony. You are asked to provide us with your former spouse’s contact information and address. Failure to do so will only extend the overall processing time.
8. What about Witnesses?
We require from you the names of witnesses (people knowledgeable about both parties during the courtship and marriage), who can assist the Tribunal in a deeper understanding of you, your spouse and your marriage. We ask you to contact these people and obtain their permission to be called and interviewed by the Tribunal. All information received from witnesses is kept private and confidential. Sometimes doctors, psychologists and/or professional counsellors have been consulted before or during a marriage in question. If this is applicable, please provide the complete name(s) and address(es) of the professional(s). After you sign a Release for Information, the professional(s) may provide the Tribunal with a written assessment that will be of great value in our study of the marriage.
9. How long will it take?
The Tribunal attempts its utmost to finish and finalize our proceedings within one year; however, it is not possible to guarantee any length of time due to factors that may be beyond our control - such as difficulty in contacting and obtaining the cooperation of knowledgeable witnesses or other unforeseen circumstances.
10. When should I call?
Please contact us if you have new evidence to support your case or if you have names of additional witnesses. Also, let us know if you have a change of address and/or phone number. Whenever you call or write us, please refer to your protocol case number and names under which it is listed.
11. What about re-marriage in the Catholic Church?
Please note that a date for remarriage in the Church cannot be set until a declaration of nullity has been actually granted and secondarily confirmed by the Canadian Appeal Tribunal. If the marriage is declared invalid and no restriction or condition has been attached to the judgement, discussions should be initiated with your parish priest (or of the Parish of the Catholic person whom you intend to marry) who will advise you on arrangements. This will include all diocesan requirements for marriage preparation. In some cases, pastoral concerns will necessitate a cautionary restriction before any new marriage in the Catholic Church. Possible existing or ongoing issues will need to be dealt with before permission is granted to assure that causes which rendered the past marriage invalid will not affect the validity of a future union.
12. How much will it cost?
The work of the Tribunal is one of the many services of the Catholic Church. The right to present a marriage nullity cause, after a divorce has been obtained, is available to anyone who has serious grounds, whether or not they can meet the entire costs involved. We are always open to discussing ways to make payments easier to handle. The fee helps only partially to defray the realistic costs of operating a full-time and efficient office with salaried professional staff. In addition, the Canadian Appeal Tribunal charges a separate fee for its mandatory examination services. For more information, call 604 443 3285 and ask to speak to a member of the Tribunal staff.