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What is an Annulment or Declaration of Nullity?

“Annulment” is the commonly used term for a decision of a Catholic marriage tribunal which finds that an apparent sacramental marriage was null from its beginning. The Church does not “annul” a valid marriage. Therefore, the correct term for the Tribunal’s decision is Declaration of Nullity. This is the term that is used through this website.

How does marriage as a Sacrament differ from marriage as a legal contract?

The validity of a marriage contract, in civil terms, is based on the observance of provincial law. A Decree of Civil Divorce ends the civil recognition of the union. In short, civil authorities have come to understand that marriage can be cancelled. A divorce declares that the contract has been terminated as of a certain date.

The Church, on the other hand, regards marriage as a sacred covenant of life and love. The fidelity and permanence of marriage is a symbol of the fidelity and permanence of God’s love for all people. The freely given consent of a man and a woman establishes a marriage covenant. This consent is an act of the whole human person and it involves psychological, physical, and spiritual dynamics. A wedding always has the potential to establish a true marriage covenant, but unfortunately not all do.

Null and Void, Validity and Invalidity: what does it all mean?

Declaration of Nullity affirms the fact that the sacred bond of marriage was not validly established at the wedding, according to Church teaching and Church law. A civil union existed, but the sacred bond of marriage was not validly established. In order for a marriage to be properly established, there must be certain requirements present in the individual who consents to marriage at the time of the wedding. If any of these requirements are absent or seriously distorted, the Tribunal judges can declare that the act of consenting to marriage was made in an invalid way, therein indicating that no marriage bond exists. Church law determines what these requirements are. 

In summary, a Declaration of Nullity does not break the marriage bond. A Declaration of Nullity declares that the marriage bond was never validly established at the time of consent according to Church teaching and Church law.

Does a Declaration of Nullity establish that a former marriage never existed?

No. Obviously the couple was wed according to civil law and lived together, and possibly had children. They have a history from being together. It is presumed that both parties entered the marriage with good intentions. No one can deny that a relationship existed in some fashion, at least for a time, with its own joys and sorrows, its own hopes and disappointments. Good and bad memories will always remain. In almost all cases, a civilly recognized union was at least certainly present.

What is the status of a divorced Catholic in the Church?

Catholics who are divorced, but have not entered into another civil union are encouraged to practice their faith fully, including participating in the sacramental life of the Church.  Merely being separated or divorced does not change one’s status in the Church. Divorced Catholics are full members of the Church with all of the same rights as any other member.

Catholics who have divorced and remarried, without a declaration of nullity, are not free to receive the sacraments, but are still encouraged to practice the other aspects of their faith, pending a decision by a Tribunal regarding their previous marriage.

How does the Catholic Church regard the marriages of non-Catholics?

The Church considers the marriage bond between non-Catholics to be as equally binding as those of Catholics. Like marriages in the Catholic Church, whenever there has been a public exchange of consent, the validity of these marriages is presumed until the contrary is proven. 

Therefore, the marriage of two non-baptized people; the marriage of two baptized non- Catholics; or the marriage of a baptized non-Catholic and a non-baptized person, are all presumed to be valid, whether they are celebrated before a civil official or a non-Catholic minister.

If a marriage is intended to be a permanent union, how can a Church Tribunal declare some people free to remarry while their former spouse is still alive?

The Catholic Church is committed to the teachings of Jesus Christ concerning marriage. It is also committed to manifesting the compassion of Jesus to those people whose marriages have failed. So the Catholic Church and its ministers are committed to be both “prophetic” (to teach what Jesus taught) and to be “pastoral” (to minister to those people whose marriages have ended in a civil divorce). Marriage courts are established to respond to requests that are made by those who have received a divorce to investigate whether or not their marriage was validly established according to the Catholic understanding of sacramental marriage.

The people who work in the Marriage Tribunal look upon their effort as a healing ministry, an expression of the Church’s compassion and concern for those whose marriages have ended. The Church has a system of courts to handle marriage nullity cases. Those who believe that their marriage was not validly established, have the right to petition a tribunal to look into their claim. The work of the Marriage Tribunal, for the most part, involves a process of reviewing and discerning the basis of such petitions.

Any person (i.e., Christian or non-Christian, Catholic or Protestant) who wishes to enter marriage in the Catholic Church, and who has a former spouse who is living, needs to look at the possibility of a Declaration of Nullity in order to determine that they are free to marry in the Catholic Church. The fact that a couple was married before a Catholic priest and two witnesses does not necessarily guarantee that all the requirements were present to establish a valid marriage. As part of its fundamental teaching on marriage, the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce as ending the bond established in marriage, believing that marriage is binding until death. While the presumption always exists that a marriage is valid, either of the spouses has the right to ask the Church to examine this presumption after common life has ceased, there is no hope of reconciliation, and a civil divorce has been obtained.

What documentation will I have to provide to the Tribunal?

In order to expedite your case, marriage and divorce documents should accompany your preliminary application. 

For marriages celebrated in a Catholic Church in Canada, please obtain:

  1. A copy of the Divorce Decree Absolute (the Certificate of divorce only, not the entire judgement.)

For marriages celebrated in a Catholic Church outside of Canada, please obtain:

  1. A copy of the Marriage Certificate issued by the parish;
  2. A copy of the Divorce Decree Absolute (the Certificate of divorce only, not the entire judgement.)

For civil or non-Catholic marriages, please obtain:

  1. A certified copy of the Marriage Registration (available from a Registries Office/Vital Statistics Office in the Province or place of marriage);
  2. A copy of the Divorce Decree Absolute (the Certificate of divorce only, not the entire judgement);
  3. A copy of the Certificate of Baptism, or an Affidavit of Non-Baptism, for both parties. 

Ordering Certificates/Documents

Vital Statistics maintains a registration record of all births, deaths, and marriages that occur. Application for a Copy of Registration of Marriage can be made through a Registry office.

A Copy of Registration of Marriage contains all the information appearing on the original Registration of Marriage. It is the only document that shows where a ceremony took place, and by whom.  We do not accept the small or large marriage certificates because it does not show the full information we require, including the name and location of marriage, as well as who officiated.

Vital Statistics does not record divorces. Contact the court house in the town or city where the divorce was granted. When unsure of where in Canada the divorce took place, contact:

Central Divorce Registry
P.O. Box 2730, Station D
Ottawa, ON     K1P 1W7
Phone: 613-957-4519

What is the length of the process?

Each case is unique. It is difficult to predict even the approximate time to process a case due to a number of factors. 

An average case takes approximately 12 months or more from the time the Petitioner is interviewed.  A case can be processed more efficiently if all documents are presented as requested, and if the parties and witnesses reply in a timely and informative manner.

The Case Instructor assigned will guide you through the process, and advise you as the case progresses. 

Please do not make any plans for marriage in the Catholic Church until you have received a Declaration of Nullity.

Is there a fee?

As the Church desires to extend Christ’s Mercy for the salvation of the Faithful and God’s people, the Interdiocesan Tribunal of Edmonton does not collect a fee to offset the cost of a Declaration of Nullity

However, as one may well appreciate, fixed costs remain as a part of the process; therefore, a donation is always most welcome and received with deep gratitude.

Please speak to your Case Instructor if you are interested in making a donation. 

May future marriage plans be made?

Permission to remarry or validate a civil marriage in the Catholic Church cannot be guaranteed by anyone before this process is completed.  Sometimes, as a condition of remarriage, counseling will be required and a report provided to the parish minister preparing a couple for the new marriage.  

No plans for a future marriage, not even a tentative date, may be made with the priest or deacon until such time as a Declaration of Nullity is given and any conditions are satisfied. 

The Tribunal bears no responsibility for any promises or guarantees made for any wedding date that is scheduled before the completion of a case.