The Office of the Ottawa-Cornwall Marriage Tribunal is designed to help those who have been previously married to possibly enter a new marriage in the Catholic Church.
Role of the Marriage Tribunal
The Marriage Tribunal is designed to help:
- the divorced and remarried (outside the Catholic Church) person.
- the divorced person seeking to marry in the Catholic Church.
- the divorced Catholic seeking clarification of his or her standing in the Church.
Married persons have a right to have their marriage reviewed by the Tribunal after obtaining a decree of civil divorce.
The declaration of nullity process normally includes the following steps:
- completion of a preliminary questionnaire;
- submission of a petition based on the information provided by the petitioner;
- once the petition is accepted, evidence is gathered, most often, by way of testimonies of the parties and the witnesses;
- the evidence is reviewed by a judge with an eventual decision as to the validity of the marriage in question;
- an appeal when necessary.
There is no fee for this service, however, parties are asked to make a donation to help defray the costs of the Tribunal’s work.
The Value of Marriage
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a divorce and a declaration of nullity?
A divorce is a statement issued by the civil authority (and some non-Catholic Churches) which states that a marriage, which occurred, has irreparably broken down. A declaration of nullity, often referred to as an annulment, states that 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.
Why would a person want a declaration of nullity?
While 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.
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 the 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 in this process?
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. However, both parties (i.e., both former spouses and 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 difficult for a case to proceed as the judges will not have the required evidence to achieve certitude. This is sometimes the case with old cases. If there are no witnesses some form of strong documentary evidence would be required.
My ex-spouse committed adultery. Isn't that a ground 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 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 or there are appeals. However, most cases take 12 to 18 months on average.
I already booked a hall to marry, can't you expedite my case?
Church law is strict in 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 are in situations of a terminal illness. No dates should be set for 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 to donate towards tribunal operations. Twenty-five percent of the tribunal cost is suggested, in installments, and will be discussed during case instruction. However, no members of the faithful will be turned away due to a lack of funds.
I have never been married, but my fiancé was. He is not 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.