FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- What is Canon Law?
Canon Law is the oldest system of law still in use in the world. It is a system of law which regulates the Church and its members. Canonists study for either a license (3 years) or a doctorate (2-6 additional years) at a university with a faculty of Canon Law, such as St. Paul University in Ottawa.
- What is a Tribunal?
Tribunals are overseen by a Judicial Vicar who exercises the judicial power which belongs to the Diocesan Bishop. Church law requires every Diocese to have or participate in a Tribunal. Marriage cases are only one type of many different kinds of cases handled by Church Tribunals.
- What is the difference between a divorce and a Declaration of Nullity?
A divorce is a statement issued by civil authority which states that a marriage has irreparably broken down.
A Declaration of Nullity states that an element essential to the requirements and understanding of the Church was missing and that a canonical Church marriage never came into existence.
- Do I need a divorce before seeking a Declaration of Nullity in the Church?
Yes. Church law requires a Tribunal to be certain that a reconciliation is not possible. One way of determining this is through the evidence of a civil divorce.
- Does a Declaration of Nullity mean my children are illegitimate?
No. A Declaration of Nullity does not make children illegitimate because the children were born at a time when the marriage was presumed to be valid. A Declaration of Nullity in no way retroactively changes this fact.
- If I apply for a Declaration of Nullity, does my former spouse have to be notified?
Yes. Both parties have the right to challenge or defend the marital bond.
- What if I don't want my former spouse to be involved?
Your former spouse has rights which must be respected. A former spouse is cited and given the opportunity to participate. If he or she fails to respond to the citation, then he or she can be declared absent and the case can proceed. If your former spouse's rights are not respected, the process would be liable for a complaint of invalidity.
- Will everything I tell the Marriage Tribunal remain confidential?
Confidentiality is integral to the process and all Tribunal personnel take oaths of secrecy. The principals in the case (Petitioner and Respondent) do have the right to view certain testimony, but there is no obligation to do so.
- Can family members act as witnesses?
Yes. The Tribunal officials will assess the credibility and objectivity of any witness testimony according to the norm of Canon Law.
- What happens if there are no witnesses available?
Without witnesses it is almost impossible for a case to proceed because there would be too little evidence for Judges to reach moral certitude. It might be possible to judge a case without witnesses if there is documentary evidence of an exceptionally strong nature.
- What if someone doesn't speak English?
In some situations, it is possible to have an interpreter present during the interview.
- Are there any civil effects to a Declaration of Nullity?
In British Common Law countries such as Canada there are no civil effects to Tribunal proceedings.
- Is adultery a recognized grounds for nullity?
The Church recognizes the pain and suffering that occurs in marital breakdown, especially in cases of adultery. However, in the case of adultery, a Declaration of Nullity is not viewed in the same way as it is in a divorce. While adultery may indicate a level of immaturity or an intention against fidelity, it is not in and of itself a grounds for nullity. A Declaration of Nullity must not be seen as either a reward for good behaviour or a punishment for immoral behaviour. A Declaration of Nullity is a statement that there was a fundamental problem in the marital relationship.
- How long will the process take?
It depends on the nature of the case. Delays can occur when witnesses are not cooperative or forthcoming. As a rule, Petitioners should allow one year from the time of acceptance until a decision becomes final. Extensions to this timeline would occur if the case is appealed to a higher Tribunal, either by the parties or by the Defender of the Bond. If such a situation occurs, the case would be referred to the Canadian Appeal Tribunal in Ottawa and would add to the length of the case.
- What about the new proposals from Pope Francis where annulments are done in two months?
This new processus brevior has stringent requirements. Firstly, it must be manifestly a case of invalidity (An extreme example is someone forced to marry at gunpoint.). Secondly, both parties must agree to and participate in the Petition. If a Respondent does not respond to the citation, disagrees with the Petitioner, or is not locatable, the briefer process cannot be used. Proofs for a processus brevior must also be readily available.
- What if I already have a new wedding booked and need an annulment in a hurry?
All cases are processed following the order in which they are accepted. Priority can only be given when there is a situation of terminal illness. No dates should be set for a marriage until a final decision is made.
- How much does it cost?
The marriage tribunal is a ministry of the Archdiocese and, as such, is subsidized by the Archdiocesan budget. However, those who benefit from this ministry are asked to contribute to the costs. However, no members of the faithful will be turned away due to lack of funds.
- I've never been married. My fiancé was previously married but isn't Catholic. Do we need to do anything?
All marriages (whether civil or in another religion) are presumed valid by the Church until proven otherwise. The Church would consider your fiancé to be validly married and therefore not free to marry you. An investigation would need to be undertaken with a view to granting a Declaration of Nullity.
- If I am not planning to remarry, do I still need a Declaration of Nullity?
A Declaration of Nullity can provide a sense of closure to a divorced Catholic. In addition, the future may hold an unanticipated new relationship which might lead to the desire for a second marriage.