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 Victoria Marriage Tribunal. 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, sometimes referred to as a Preliminary Application Form. This form is available at all parishes in the Diocese of Victoria. All questions should be carefully answered. An incomplete application can delay the process. It is very important to supply a current address for contacting the former spouse.
The application is submitted to the tribunal office along with the necessary civil and church documents. These requirements are outlined in the application form.
At this point there may be different possible ways to proceed. The information provided in the Preliminary Application 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. The information in the application also allows Tribunal personnel to ensure that the Victoria Marriage Tribunal is competent to hear the case.
For the Victoria Marriage Tribunal to accept a case, one or more of the following must be true:
The marriage took place in the territory of the Victoria Marriage Tribunal
The Petitioner and Respondent (former spouse) have a domicile or quasi domicile in the territory of Victoria Marriage Tribunal
Most of the proofs to be collected are in the territory of the Victoria Marriage Tribunal
After it has been determined that a formal declaration of nullity is required, and the case is accepted, the Tribunal begins to gather its evidence by first completing a personal interview with the Petitioner.
The main goal of the interview is to have the person tell the story of their relationship with their former spouse from beginning to end; to tell their own life story, and to tell what they know of their former spouse’s family history. Through this process, Tribunal personnel gain a better understanding of the two people who entered the marriage being studied: the 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 Respondent in the case, or former spouse, is also 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.
The Tribunal is required to let the other party know that we have undertaken a study of the marriage. Both parties had rights in the marriage, and both parties now have rights in the nullity process. It is left up to that person as to whether or not they actually participate. The non-participation of the former spouse usually does not hinder the progress of the case. However, the cooperation of the former spouse is invariably helpful to the process.
The next step is to interview the witnesses named by the parties. 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 those people, family members or others, who are knowledgeable about the courtship, engagement, the early years of married life. In some cases, a person may be asked to sign a release form allowing the Tribunal to request reports from medical doctors, psychologists or counsellors. If counselling was undertaken as a couple, both parties are required to sign the release form.
Once all of the proofs being used to adjudicate the case have been collected the parties are notified. At this point they have the right to read the evidence collected. This step 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 Advocates appointed to assistthe parties in the process, and to the Defender Bond, who offers all reasonable arguments in favor of legally presumed validity of the marriage. The case is then sent to the Judges.
After weighing the evidence and considering the observations of all concerned, the Judges issue a decision by means of a written sentence, setting forth both the conclusions and the basis for the decision in the law and the facts of the case. The sentence is subject to review by the parties, if they so desire.
In formal nullity trials, where there is an affirmative decision the declaration of Nullity becomes effective 15 days after the Petitioner and Respondent have received notification of the sentence. If a negative decision is reached, the Petitioner is entitled to appeal the sentence to the Canadian Appeal Tribunal in Ottawa.