What the Catholic Churches 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 second marriages.
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.
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 of divorce.
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
Your former 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 or are simply unable to come to our office, we will mail them a questionnaire.
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 of Milwaukee.
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.)