What is canon law?
Canon law is the oldest system of law still in use in the world. It is the Church's system of law which regulates the Church and its members. Canon lawyers study canon law for either a license (3 years) or a doctorate (2-6 additional years) at a faculty of canon law, perhaps in Ottawa, Washington, DC, or Rome.
What is a tribunal?
A tribunal, through the judicial vicar and his staff, exercises the judicial power which belongs to the diocesan bishop. Church law requires every diocese to have or participate in a tribunal. Tribunals can handle many different kinds of cases, one type of which are marriage cases.
What is the difference between a divorce and a declaration of nullity?
A divorce is a statement issued by civil authority (and some non-Catholic Churches) which states that a marriage, which occurred, has irreparably broken down.
An annulment, however, states that a marriage, as the Church understands it, never existed.
Do I need a divorce to approach the tribunal?
Yes. Church law requires a tribunal to be sure that the spouses will not reconcile; one way this occurs is by ensuring a civil divorce has been granted.
Does a declaration of nullity mean my children are illegitimate?
No. Canon law specifically excludes a declaration of nullity from resulting in the illegitimacy of children. At the time the children were born, it was presumed this marriage was valid and thus the children are legitimate. 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?
Unless your former spouse is cited or legitimately declared absent, your case cannot 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 a paramount concern of the tribunal and all tribunal ministers sign oaths of secrecy. However, both parties (i.e. both former spouses or their advocates) have the right to view any acts which are not known to them. This means your former spouse can read your testimony and the testimony of your witnesses, although they are under no obligation to do so.
Can family members act as witnesses?
Yes, absolutely. The judges will assess the credibility and objectivity of any witness testimony according to the norm of canon law.
What happens if there are no witnesses?
If there are no witnesses it will be very difficult for a case to proceed as the judges will not have the required evidence to achieve certitude. This is sometimes the case with very old cases. If there are no witnesses some form of strong documentary evidence would be required.
What if someone doesn't speak English?
The Archdiocese of Toronto is one of the most diverse dioceses in the Catholic Church. Our tribunal staff include those who speak many different languages and other interpreters are hired when necessary.
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. However, in some civil law countries (especially in South America and Europe), an agreement called a concordat may have civil law implications for tribunal decisions.
My ex-spouse committed adultery. Isn't that grounds for nullity?
The Church recognizes the pain and suffering that occurs in marital breakdown, especially in cases of adultery. However a declaration of nullity is not a divorce nor is it a reward for good behaviour or a punishment for immoral behaviour. It is a statement that there was a fundamental problem in the marital relationship. In some cases, adultery may be indicative of a fundamental immaturity or an attitude against fidelity. In other cases, it may be something which develops some time into a marriage that was entered into freely, prudently, and with the requisite intentions.
How long will the process take?
This question is common and truly depends on the nature of the case. Major delays can occur when witnesses are not cooperative or forthcoming. A brevore case of manifest nullity or a curial case may take a few months while an ordinary tribunal case may take a year or more.
If a case is appealed to a higher tribunal, either by the parties or the defender of the bond, it will ordinarily go to the Canadian Appeals Tribunal in Ottawa. This also adds to the length of the case. When these cases, however, are appealed to the Sacred Roman Rota they can experience significant delays of several years.
How can I make sure I get one of those new "Pope Francis" annulments that are done in two months?
The new processus brevior has certain requirements. First, it must be manifestly a case of invalidity. An extreme example is someone forced to marry at gunpoint. Second, your ex-spouse has to either participate or at least agree to the petition. If he/she is not locatable, refuse to contact us, or disagree with the petition it is impossible to use this process. Finally, the tribunal staff must find the proofs for invalidity readily available. If the archbishop is not able to achieve moral certitude in these cases they will be processed using the ordinary process.
But I already booked a hall, can't you expedite my case?
Church law is very strict that all cases must be adjudicated in the order in which they were submitted. The only circumstances where priority can be given to a case is in situations 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 encouraged offer a donation towards tribunal operations. This is currently suggested at 25% of the tribunal cost, in installments, and will be discussed during case instruction. However, no members of the faithful will be turned away due to lack of funds. The tribunal is a registered charity with CRA.
I've never been married, and my fiancé was but isn't Catholic. Do we need to do anything?
Marriage is a natural reality and, as such, marriages between non-Catholics are presumed valid by the Church, even if they are not sacramental marriages. The Church, as such, investigates those cases when necessary.
Why would a person want a declaration of nullity?
While generally people approach the tribunal when they wish to get married in the Church and are prohibited due to a prior bond, some members of the faithful seek the ministry of the tribunal to offer a sense of closure on their former marriage.
What if a prohibitive clause (monitum or vetitum) has been placed on my remarriage?
In certain circumstances the tribunal may place a warning or prohibition on one or both of the parties from marrying in the Church. This may happen, for example, when a marriage was invalid due to a psychological issue. In these circumstances the priest will contact the tribunal to find out what issue requires pastoral attention, often in consultation with Catholic Family Services.
What other services are available to those in broken marriages?
Catholic Family Services offers many opportunities for those suffering from divorce.