Ecclesiastical Tribunal

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1What is an Ecclesiastical Tribunal?
The Ecclesiastical Tribunal adresses canonical problems. The most frequent requests are causes for nullity of marriage. Through the judicial vicar and his staff. This Tribunal exercises the judicial power which belongs to the diocesan Bishop. Church law requires every diocese to have or participate in a Tribunal.
2What 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 refereed to as an annulment, states that a marriage, as the Church understands it, never existed.
3Do I need a divorce to approach the ecclesiastical 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.
4Does 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.
5If 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.
6What 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.
7Will everything I tell the marriage tribunal remain confidential?
Confidentiality is a paramount concern of the tribunal. 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.
8Can 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.
9What 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.
10Are 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.
11My 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.
12How 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.
13But 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.
14I'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.
15Why 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.
16What 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.
17I already have an annulment from the Orthodox Church. What do I need to do?
The practice of the non-Catholic Eastern Churches is very diverse regarding annulments. While some of these are very similar processes to what is done by the Catholic Church, in most cases these are ecclesiastical divorces. As a result, you still need to approach a Catholic tribunal to have your marriage examined for its status in the Catholic Church. While in some cases your Orthodox decree could be ratified by a Catholic tribunal, in most cases you'll need to undergo the ordinary process.
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