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The Process for a Formal Nullity Case

Preliminary Steps

A civil divorce must first be finalized before this process can begin.

All material relative to the nullity process is treated confidentially as required by the Church’s law. All information, including civil and/or church documents, gathered during this process is the exclusive and permanent property of The Interdiocesan Tribunal of Edmonton. Only those who have a right to the information (the parties, their Advocates and the Tribunal officials) are permitted to review it for the purposes expressly stated in canon law. All are bound by oath to keep all information confidential, and to use it only for the express purpose of resolving the case.

The one who initiates the study of the marriage is the Petitioner; the other party is referred to as the Respondent.

The initial step for the Petitioner is to complete an application, also referred to as a Preliminary Study Form. This form is available at all parishes in Alberta and in the Northwest Territories. All questions should be carefully answered. An incomplete application can delay the process. It is very important to supply current contact information for the Respondent.  

The application is submitted to the Tribunal office (via the Parish) along with the necessary civil and church documents. These requirements are outlined in the application form.

The information provided in the Preliminary Study Form allows Tribunal personnel to determine which nullity process is appropriate for the specific circumstances of each case. Whenever possible, the most abbreviated process is chosen and the Petitioner is advised at that time. 

closeup of a divorce decree document with pen

Gathering of Information

After it has been determined that a formal Declaration of Nullity is required, and the case is accepted, the Tribunal begins to gather its information by first completing a personal interview with the Petitioner. The interview is conducted by trained Tribunal personnel (Auditors) on a one-on-one basis.

The main goal of the interview is to have the Petitioner tell the story of their relationship with the Respondent from beginning to end; to tell their own life story, and to tell what they know of the Respondent’s family history. Through this process, Tribunal personnel gain a better understanding of the two people who entered the marriage being studied: their families, early life experiences, when and how the relationship began to develop, the factors that determined their decision to marry, how each spouse lived out the marital commitment, and the factors that caused the breakdown of the union.

The Tribunal is required to let the Respondent know that we have undertaken a study of the marriage. The Respondent is contacted by the Tribunal and offered an opportunity to participate in this process. Their participation would include a personal interview based on the same questions which were asked of the Petitioner, and an opportunity to submit the names of witnesses. Both the Petitioner and Respondent had rights in the marriage, and both parties have rights in the nullity process. It is left up to the Respondent as to whether or not they participate. The non-participation of the Respondent usually does not hinder the progress of the case. However, the cooperation of the Respondent may be helpful to the process.

The next step is to interview the witnesses named by the Petitioner and Respondent. Unlike a witness in a civil trial who often testifies for one person against another, the witnesses in a marriage nullity case are asked to describe the marriage as they saw it. Since the Tribunal focuses on the time of consent, the best witnesses are family members or others knowledgeable about the courtship, engagement, and the early years of married life. 

In some cases, the Petitioner and/or Respondent may be asked to sign a release form allowing the Tribunal to request reports from medical doctors, psychologists or counsellors.

Judgement and Appeal

Once all of the information has been gathered, the Petitioner and Respondent are notified. At this point they have the right to read the information collected. This is referred to as the Publication of the Acts. It gives each party an opportunity to decide if they wish to add anything else prior to the case being put forward. Once this has been done, the case is referred to any Advocate appointed to assist the Petitioner and/or Respondent in the process; and to the Defender of the Bond, who offers all reasonable arguments in favor of legally presumed validity of the marriage. 

The case is then sent to the Judge(s). After weighing the information  and considering the observations of all concerned, the Judge(s) issue a decision by means of a written Sentence setting forth both the conclusions, and the basis for, the decision in the law and facts of the case.

“The parties whose marriage has been declared null may contract a new marriage.” (c. 1682.1)

It must be noted that both the Petitioner and Respondent, the Defender of the Bond, or the Promoter of Justice can appeal the decision if they consider it appropriate.

If there is no appeal, the Sentence takes effect after fifteen (15) days.