Frequently Asked Questions


What is an Annulment?

"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.

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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.

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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.

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Null and Void, Validity and Invalidity, What does it all mean?

A 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • A certified copy of the Civil Registration of Marriage is required. If the marriage was celebrated in a Catholic Church in any country other than Canada, a copy of the marriage certificate issued by the parish is required.  Also submit a copy of the Divorce Decree Absolute.
  • For other marriages, either civil or non-Catholic, a certified copy of the Marriage Registration is required.  This document is available from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the Province of the place of marriage.
  • These cases also require a copy of the Divorce Decree Absolute and a Certificate of Baptism, or affidavit of non-Baptism, for both parties.  

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How long does it take?

Each case is unique. It is impossible to predict even the approximate time that it takes to process a case because of a number of variable factors. Normally a case in the first instance should be adjudicated within 12 – 18 months; the appeal or Second Instance process is to be completed within six months, if at all possible. However, though the Tribunals strive to meet these expectations of the law: the number of cases to be examined, the availability of Tribunal personnel and possible obstacles peculiar to a given case can prolong the process. The preliminary stage of the process does not have a timetable. A case can move along rapidly if all documents are presented as requested and if the parties and witnesses reply in a timely and informative fashion.

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What are the costs?

The Victoria Marriage Tribunal is no longer assessing charges for the processing of annulment cases. However, please note that if the Victoria Tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case and if the case must be assigned to a different Tribunal because all of the witnesses reside there, there may be costs involved and the Plaintiff may be assessed costs by that Tribunal. If the Victoria Tribunal accepts to hear the case, donations are always welcome and tax receipts can be offered. Please be aware that the usual costs involved with a nullity decision are $1000.

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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 Final 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.

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Last Updated

Apr 3, 2017

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