What is marriage and how is a declaration of nullity possible?
Marriage is, by God’s plan, an enduring and exclusive partnership between a man and a woman for the giving and receiving of love, and for the procreation and education of children. For all baptized persons, a valid marriage is also a sacrament; it is perpetually binding and cannot be dissolved. However, a declaration of nullity may be granted if evidence shows that from the beginning of a marriage – at the time of the consent – it suffered a basic and profound defect and was, therefore, invalid. The Catholic Church presumes that every marriage, or at least every initial marriage, including a marriage between two non-Catholics, is valid. A declaration of nullity does not deny that a real relationship existed, nor does it imply that the parties entered the relationship with ill will or moral fault. The Church is simply saying that the relationship fell short of at least one element essential for a binding, lifelong union.

How do I request a declaration of nullity?
All petitions for a declaration of invalidity for a prior marriage must be submitted to the Tribunal through your local parish. A final decree of civil divorce must be obtained before a case can be submitted since all the issues regarding custody of the children must have been resolved. Usually, a pastor, administrator, deacon or someone else appointed in the parish as a case assistant works with Petitioners who want to present their cases to the Tribunal.

Most marriage review cases require a preliminary questionnaire, formal statement, and witness list. However, you can meet with your case assistant at the parish to obtain these forms (especially if you are unsure of which forms you need) or print them directly from
here. You are encouraged to make copies for your own records of the documents you will submit to your case assistant before you leave the information with them for mailing.

Catholics who did not marry in the Catholic Church, did not receive a dispensation, and did not convalidate, will need to complete the Lack of Form Questionnaire.

What about my former spouse?
The Tribunal must contact your former spouse, known as the Respondent; therefore, the Tribunal needs an accurate, current address of your former spouse. The Respondent will also be asked to participate in the process. Hearing from the Respondent is very helpful to the study of your marriage case. If there is sufficient evidence, we may give a decision even when the Respondent chooses not to participate in the process.

What about witnesses?
Every case requires witnesses. Key witnesses are those who knew the couple before the wedding and at the time they married.

How long will it take?
There are several different types of cases and even for each type of case each one is individual and unique. Generally speaking, the most common type of case we process is called a formal case. Many factors such as the involvement of the parties, the cooperation of the witnesses, the quality of testimonies, and the mandatory review by the Appellate Court will affect the length of time of each formal case. At the present time, it takes between twelve to fourteen months to complete a formal case.

Is there a fee for the process?
A non-refundable introductory fee of $40 should be attached to your preliminary questionnaire. Then, the cost of the process will be based upon your income. Arrangements can be made with the Diocese to put you on an agreed upon payment plan. No one is refused the process because of lack of funds.

Does a declaration of nullity affect the legitimacy of children?
No. The legitimacy of children is determined by the laws of the states. Some people think that a declaration of nullity makes the children illegitimate because they think the declaration means the marriage never existed. Both of these views are incorrect. Just as divorce does not make the children illegitimate, neither does a declaration of nullity granted by the Church. A declaration of nullity has no effect on the status of children. They are regarded as having the same dignity as any person, since all are created in the image and likeness of God.

But I am not Catholic, so why do I need a declaration of nullity from the Catholic Church?
The Catholic Church presumes that every marriage – whether it involves a Catholic or not – is valid until the contrary is proven. The Catholic Church considers any exchange of marital consent as binding the person to marriage, regardless of where that consent was exchanged. It is for this reason that the Church must examine the former marriage of a non-Catholic person who wants to marry a Catholic or wants to join the Catholic Church to see if the consent can be considered invalid.

What about confidentiality?
In view of the nature of the information, we promise a limited degree of confidentiality. Only the officers of the Tribunal have the right to view all the information provided in order to properly adjudicate the case. The Petitioner and the Respondent have the right to view the information provided by the other party and the witnesses so that they can defend themselves.

Tribunal Glossary:
  • Petitioner: the one seeking the nullity
  • Respondent: the other party
  • Competency: a court must have jurisdiction in order to hear a case. There are four ways in which a tribunal can have competency: the place of domicile of the Respondent, the place of domicile of the Petitioner, the place where the contract was rendered, or the place where most proofs will be collected.
  • Grounds: reasons in canon law under which your marriage case can be heard.
Steps to a Declaration of Nullity:
  • Preliminary Questionnaire, Formal Statement and Witness List: the preliminary questionnaire and formal statement cover the facts of the marriage and in depth questions to find grounds for your case. The witness list will provide us the names and addresses for the witnesses that will testify through correspondence.
  • Funding, Petition, Mandate, and Acceptance: the Tribunal will send you a payment agreement, a formal petition for this Tribunal to hear your case, and a Mandate to designate your Advocate. Once competence (jurisdiction to hear case in this Tribunal) has been established, we will accept your case.
  • Citation of the Respondent: the Respondent will be contacted and asked to offer testimony and witnesses.
  • Joinder of Issues: will tell you what grounds the case is being heard under.
  • Citation of the Witnesses: witnesses will be contacted and asked to answer a questionnaire.
  • Publication of the Acts: Petitioner and Respondent will be offered the possibility to view the acts of the case (meaning all the testimony).
  • Conclusion of the Case: no more testimony or changes in the case will be accepted.
  • Hearing Process: case will be reviewed by Advocates, Defender of the Bond, and then the Judge will make his decision and the sentence will be available to the Parties.
  • Second Instance: case goes to the Court of Appeals for a confirmation of the decision.
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