WHAT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACHES:
Marriage is a covenant by which a man and a
woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of
life, which is by its nature ordered toward the good of the
spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this
covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the
Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.
Jesus Christ taught us that true marriage is
indissoluble. The Catholic Church does not recognize divorce or
DECLARATION OF NULLITY
A declaration of nullity within the Catholic Church is a
decision that a given marriage lacked one of the essential elements
listed above from the beginning and was, therefore, not a
sacramental marriage. It is a judgment that one or both of the
parties did not give proper consent to marriage. This judgment
is reached through a full and careful inquiry into the history
of the individuals and the marriage. A marriage is presumed to
be valid unless proven otherwise.
A declaration of nullity within the Catholic
Church has no effects whatsoever in civil law. It does not
affect, in any manner, the legitimacy of children.
PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION FORM
The annulment process is most often initiated by meeting with
the local parish priest or pastoral associate who will assist
you in completed a preliminary investigation form. (A
preliminary investigation form can also be requested directly
from the Tribunal Office.) The completed form is then sent to
the Tribunal Office, and the priest who is the Presiding Judge
will contact you within a couple weeks to inform you if your case has been
accepted or if further information is
required. If the case is accepted, you will be informed of the
grounds on which the case is being tried.
here if you would like to download the Preliminary Form, print
it, and complete it by hand.)
here if you would like to download the Preliminary Form and
complete it on the computer.)
We are required to collect the following civil
and ecclesiastical documents in order to process a possible
marriage nullity case. All of them will be returned to you
at the conclusion of the process.
- A recent certificate of baptism (if you
are Catholic). A baptism certificate can be obtained
at the Church of baptism.
- The civil certificate of your former
marriage (not a church record). This can be obtained
from the Register of Deeds in the county of marriage.
- The signed Judgment of Divorce.
This can be obtained from the Clerk of Court in the county
You will be asked to come to our office for a personal interview
with a member of the staff. The interview takes approximately
two hours. Its purpose is to obtain information on which to base
a decision regarding the possible nullity of your marriage. The
interview will focus on your life history, that of your former
spouse, your courtship, decision to marry, marriage, divorce, and
current circumstances. Although it may be unpleasant to relive
this difficult period of your life, be assured we understand
this and will assist you as best we can. You will meet with
only one person for your interview. Your careful preparation by reviewing major factors of your life history
and marriage with attention to dates will enable you to utilize
the interview constructively. Look at the interview as your
opportunity to present your understanding of yourself, your
partner, your marriage and divorce.
NOTIFICATION OF FORMER SPOUSE
spouse must be notified that you have filed a petition and will
be offered an opportunity to testify. It is most helpful if
both parties provide testimony. However, if he or she chooses
not to be involved in the process, this will not ordinarily
jeopardize the final decision. If at all possible, you will be
expected to provide the name and address of your former spouse.
If that is not possible, you will be asked to provide the most
current information you have regarding his or her whereabouts,
and an attempt will be made to locate him or her.
It is necessary that a former spouse be
contacted in all cases, if possible. Otherwise, any
decision made by the Matrimonial Tribunal would be invalid
according to Canon Law.
Supporting witnesses are required. Two are, usually, sufficient.
Witnesses are very important and should be selected with care.
As far as possible, select witnesses who have knowledge of you,
your former spouse, and your marriage by their personal observation.
The best choice for witnesses are individuals who have known you
before the wedding and
during the early years of your marriage. We discourage
naming individuals as witnesses who only observed the end of the marriage. It is also important that the witnesses
be willing to share
the information they have openly, and it is important that they
be able to express themselves clearly about what they saw, heard
and know. Friends and relatives are acceptable
witnesses, but children of a marriage are not. If
possible, we would like to see witnesses on the same
day we see you. If witnesses live some distance away
simply unable to come to our office, we will mail them a
A decision in the Court of First Instance (the Diocese of La
Crosse) will be rendered as
soon as possible. You will be informed of the decision and offered the opportunity to review
it, if you
wish, at the Office of the Tribunal. If the decision is
affirmative (IE: that the "annulment" should be
granted), Canon Law states that all cases must be sent to an appellate
court. For us, the ordinary court of appeals is the Archdiocese
LENGTH OF TIME REQUIRED TO COMPLETE A CASE
Ordinarily a case is completed approximately nine months from
the date it is accepted by the Tribunal Office and six months
from the date of the interview.
The standard fee for processing a formal marriage case is $400,
which is less than half of what it costs the Diocese of La
Crosse to process a case.
The fee is partial reimbursement for the cost of paying salaries
and operating the office. The average case requires 24 to 40
hours of our time. We ask that one fourth of the fee be paid at the time of
your interview and that the fee be paid in full before the case
if finalized. (If you are experiencing financial difficulties,
the fee can be reduced and/or arrangements can be made to pay it in
small monthly payments as necessary. No one is ever denied
the right to petition for a possible declaration of nullity
based on an inability to pay.)