The Catholic Faith Community describes marriage as a “mutual gift of two persons” to each other which finds its clearest symbol in the covenant of faithful and forgiving love initiated by God with His chosen people.
Faithful to the Lord’s call, expressed in the Gospels and in the Tradition of the Church, marriage is seen as a covenant between a man and a woman whereby they establish between themselves a significant partnership of their whole life. Of its very nature, this partnership of equals is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children. The nature of this covenant demands permanence, fidelity on the part of the spouses, and establishes an unbreakable oneness between them.
The 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, Jewish persons or non-Christians) is presumed to be valid and binding until proven to the contrary.
(“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” #48, Vatican II)
What is a Declaration of Nullity?
A declaration of nullity is a decision of the Church that a particular marriage union was not a marriage as the Church understands marriage. Because the faith community sees marriage as a call to mutual self-giving for the good of the spouses and the nurturing of children, the question addresses whether the spouses were capable of, and open to, entering into this special commitment. If it can be shown that something essential was lacking at the time of the exchange of vows, then the Church declares the union to be null.
The process can be also a way of helping people to come to peace within themselves, and in and with the faith community of the Church, after a union has ended in civil divorce.
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 civil divorce, for it does not dissolve an existing marriage. It does not affect the legitimacy of children, property rights, inheritance rights, names, etc. These are all matters of civil law.
This declaration is a statement of the Church community that a particular union, presumably begun in good faith and thought by all to be a marriage, was in fact not an authentic marital union as the Church describes marriage. There is no attempt in this process to attach blame to persons. On the contrary, the purpose of the procedure is to serve one’s conscience and spirit, and to reconcile persons to full sacramental participation in the community of the faithful.
What is the role of the Tribunal?
The diocese of Charlottetown has a functioning Tribunal office.
The Tribunal Office has a staff of specially trained and experienced people, lay persons, religious and clergy, who offer assistance to those who request that the Church study a failed marriage in order to determine whether or not there are grounds acceptable in Church law for a declaration of nullity. The Tribunal then investigates the union and on completion of the study, which follows a judicial process, declares whether or not nullity has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
The guidelines used by the Tribunal are the gospel teachings of Jesus, 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 persons.” The Tribunal works toward this end by striving to protect the rights of a man and a woman in a specific marital union as well as the rights of the faith community (the Church) which has been charged by Christ to be the guardian of the Sacraments, including matrimony.
Where to begin?
Contact the parish priest or the parish worker. This person will gather the necessary preliminary information and forward the request to the proper office. Or you can contact the Marriage Tribunal directly. The necessary documents to be completed may be downloaded from this site (see links on the right side of this page toward the top).
Please also secure the following documents before presentation to the Marriage Tribunal:
- Certificates of Baptism for Petitioner and Respondent
- Marriage Certificate
- Final Divorce Decree
- The person making the request will be formally interviewed (i.e., under oath) by a Tribunal staff member or someone appointed by the Tribunal for this task.
- The former spouse will be notified by the Tribunal Office and formally interviewed if he/she agrees to this.
- Witnesses will be interviewed; documents will be gathered.
- Psychological experts may be consulted by the Tribunal if there appears to be a need.
- The statements gathered will be reviewed by the Defender of the Bond, who will make a written observation.
- A judge will study the file and give a written decision based on law and fact.
- Both parties will be notified of the judge’s decision.
- After a mandatory waiting period (about 15 days) the decision will become executive unless an appeal is made.
Why is a former spouse contacted?
Church law requires notification of a former spouse of the fact that a declaration of nullity has been requested. Such a step allows the former spouse to be interviewed if he/she so wishes, and provides for their statements to be on record.
A Petitioner is asked to provide the former spouse’s current address. If this address is incorrect, much valuable time will be lost. If a former spouse freely chooses not to participate in the review, the study will proceed without this contribution of fact.
What about witnesses?
Help is required from persons other than the two spouses. The names of witnesses (persons knowledgeable about both parties during the courtship and marriage) are to be provided by the Petitioner. Such persons provide objective insight and firmer understanding of the difficulties in a particular situation. The Petitioner must contact such persons and obtain their permission to be called and interviewed. All information received at the Tribunal is regarded as confidential.
Sometimes doctors, psychologists, or professional counselors have been consulted before or during marriage to assist a couple with difficulties. If this has occurred, the names and addresses of such professionals are required. After both spouses have signed releases of confidential information, the professionals will be asked to give insight and understanding into the situation.
How long will it all take?
There is no average length of time for a study to be completed. Each file proceeds at its own rate, depending on the work of the Petitioner and the co-operation of others who are asked to help. It is not possible to determine or guarantee a completion date. Please remember that a date for remarriage in the Church cannot be set until a declaration of nullity has been granted and confirmed by the Appeal Tribunal.
How to help?
A quick response by the Petitioner in providing documents and witnesses helps greatly. The Petitioner should write to the Tribunal if new evidence or support for their cause comes to light.
Be sure to inform the Tribunal of changes of address and telephone numbers.
What about remarriage in the Church?
If a marital union has been declared null and there are no restrictions concerning marriage, the usual procedure of preparation for marriage in the Church may be started with the parish priest or the pastor of the catholic partner to a new marriage.
If a marriage is declared null due to an ongoing cause (i.e. emotional problems) a second marriage obviously cannot be permitted until it has been demonstrated that the cause which rendered the first union impossible has been removed.
How much will it cost?
At the request of Pope Francis, the Processes for Marriage Nullity will be sponsored by the Diocese and the Parishes.
The work of the Tribunal is one of the many services provided by the Church for members of the faith community. The right to present a petition for nullity of marriage, after separation, is available to anyone who has serious grounds.
The cost of processing cases is roughly $4,500.00 per case.
At the recommendation of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, the Diocese of Charlottetown along with the support of the parishes will absorb these costs.
Please consider making a donation to the “Marriage Tribunal – Diocese of Charlottetown” to help this ministry.
How to contact the Tribunal
Diocese of Charlottetown
P.O. Box 907
Charlottetown, PE C1A 7L9
Phone: (902) 368-8005
Fax: (902) 892-1253