Marriage Tribunal Office
He has told you what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a partnership between a woman and a man which is loving and permanent. It is also intimate, exclusive and equal, and it exists for the good of the spouses and their children. The voluntary and deliberate exchange of consent brings a marriage into being. Every marriage (whether of Catholics or non-Catholics) is presumed valid until proven otherwise.
We believe in the dignity, sacredness, and permanence of marriage. At the same time, we recognize the reality of separation and divorce in our society. The work of the marriage tribunal is one of the many ways the Church ministers to those struggling in marriages which are not functioning.
We understand that only death can dissolve a marriage between two baptized persons when it is consummated.
But, a marriage can be invalid due to one of three problems:
1. A problem with the consent
2. A problem with the form of the ceremony
3. An impediment (prohibition) not dealt with beforehand
These situations are all investigated by the marriage tribunal.
Sometimes, a valid marriage that is not between two baptized persons or not consummated can be dissolved. We have processes to handle such cases.
When Is Marriage Consent Invalid?
A declaration of nullity, sometimes called an annulment, is a decision issued by the marriage tribunal on behalf of the Catholic Church. It declares that a marriage is invalid because something essential was absent at the time of the exchange of consent. It is the tribunal's work to determine whether the marriage was valid or invalid from the very beginning, meaning from the day of the wedding.
Here is a list of the principal reasons (called grounds) for which a marriage can be declared invalid, based on Church law. The tribunal will investigate one or more of these grounds in any given case. The ground, or grounds, can be considered in the history of the petitioner (who is seeking the annulment), the respondent (the divorced spouse), or both. The tribunal's judicial vicar determines the ground in a marriage case, in consultation with the defender of the bond (who keeps a close eye on the sacred dignity of true marriage).
1. Total simulation: at the time of the wedding, someone did not intend to enter marriage at all and mentally excluded all the goods of marriage (eg. marrying for immigration purposes).
2. Partial simulation: someone consciously excluded one or several of the goods of marriage (children, fidelity, permanence, good of the spouse, and/or sacramentality).
3. Deceit: prior to the wedding, one or both of the parties were deceived about an aspect of the other person that was so significant they would not have married that person if they were aware of the fact (eg. hidden addiction issues).
4. Error about the nature of marriage: someone actually did not understand the nature of marriage as a permanent and exclusive union between two people, ending only with death, and ordered for the procreation and raising of children (eg. a man is born in a culture where polygamy is predominant and that is his understanding of marriage).
5. Force or fear: someone was compelled to marry (eg. one partner would commit suicide if the other does not marry her/him).
6. Lack of sufficient use of reason: at the time of the wedding someone lacked the necessary use of reason to consent to marriage. This could be because of a temporary (eg. severe intoxication at the time) or permanent (eg. psychological infirmity) condition.
7. Grave lack of due discretion: someone was not capable of entering into a marriage and its obligations due to temporary or permanent disturbance.
8. Inability to assume the essential obligations of marriage: someone had a psychological infirmity which prevented the assuming of marital obligations.
9. Ignorance about the nature of marriage: someone was ignorant about marriage as a permanent partnership between a man and a woman which is ordered toward the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation (eg. someone with an extremely sheltered upbringing).
10. Error of person: one of the parties thought they were marrying someone else (eg. a twin).
11. Error of quality: At the time of the wedding, one of the parties is principally intending to marry someone for a quality they have. The quality is more important than who the person is (eg. a person thinking they are marrying into the nobility).
12. Conditioned consent: someone placed a condition upon their matrimonial consent and either the condition was not fulfilled or it concerned the future.
How Is a Marriage Investigated for Invalidity?
1. The first step is to contact your local pastor. It is important that you do this yourself and not through another individual. After receiving some basic information, he will give you a form to fill out and return, along with your certificate of divorce. Make sure your application is filled out completely; missing information (eg. contact information of an ex-spouse) will delay your case.
2. After you've completed your application, return it to the person who gave it to you and he will forward it to the tribunal. When we receive this application, a formal petition is prepared for you and sent for your signature.
3. When the tribunal receives your signed petition and the judicial vicar finds sufficient evidence for the case to proceed, the petition is accepted and the ex-spouse and the defender of the bond are contacted to participate. The tribunal will attempt to contact your divorced spouse to inform them of the proceedings, invite them to participate and ask them to name witnesses.
4. After your ex-spouse has responded or been declared absent, the case will be examined by the judicial vicar who will determine the appropriate ground of nullity to be examined in this case. He will keep you informed.
5. You, your ex-spouse (if they participate), and your witnesses will be interviewed at length, under oath, about the relationship.
6. All material will be collected and organized. Now both you and your ex-spouse (if they participated) have the right to review the evidence.
7. After the judicial vicar issues a decree of conclusion your case will be given to the defender of the bond who will make any and all reasonable arguments for the validity of the marriage.
8. The case will be evaluated by a panel of three judges. In view of the information in the case and based on Church law, they make a decision as to the nullity of the marriage. In rare cases, a briefer process may be possible and, then, the bishop is the only judge.
9. You and your ex-spouse will be notified of this decision and given a time period to formally appeal. The defender of the bond also has the right to appeal the decision.
10. If there is an appeal, the case is forwarded to the designated appeal court (either the Sacred Roman Rota or the Canadian Appeals Tribunal). If no party appeals, after fifteen days the decision becomes effective and the parties are informed of the tribunal decision.
For More Information:
If you think you would like to have the tribunal investigate the possible invalidity of your broken marriage, you will need to contact the office of your local parish. They will provide you with the application form and the support and encouragement you may need.
The links below to a letter from the Peterborough Tribunal office and to Frequently Asked Questions may also be of interest. If you need help finding your local parish office, this link to parishes is available.