Before a Tribunal can issue a Decree of Nullity, the judges must be satisfied that a marriage had from the start some substantial defect. Therefore, the Tribunal will be particularly concerned to examine the marriage from courtship through to its eventual breakdown. A declaration of nullity doesn't make the children illegitimate.
What the Tribunal Does
The Tribunal procedure is carried out according to the rules set out in the Catholic Church’s law.
The Petitioner (person who asks for the decree of nullity) will be invited to give evidence to the Tribunal. The Petitioner is purporting to overturn the presumption that a valid marriage exists with proof to the contrary. Proof consists of the sworn statements of the Petitioner, Respondent (the other party to the marriage, who may or may not agree with the Petitioner) and witnesses together with whatever expert evidence may be available (doctors, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.)
The Respondent (the other party to the marriage) will be invited to give evidence to the Tribunal so that they have the opportunity to speak about the marriage from their point of view. However, if for some reason the Respondent does not wish to do so, the case will still continue in their absence
The Petitioner will be required to nominate some witnesses to substantiate their claim for nullity. These should be people who knew you, preferably at the time of getting married. If possible, your witnesses should include members of your family and close friends. Choose people who know you and/or the other party well, who will tell the truth as they see it and who had good contact with you, before you married, at the time of marriage and for the first few years after you married. The Respondent may also nominate witnesses. Arrangements will be made for your witnesses to be interviewed in the Tribunal.
At no time is there any court appearance or cross examination as in the civil courts.
Towards the end of the process, both parties have a right to see the evidence that has been gathered. (There are some exceptions to this rule). It is important when nominating witnesses that the parties should inform them of this fact.
The Book of Evidence is then given to the Defender of the Bond, whose role in the nullity process is to defend the bond of marriage and they submit their observations supporting the bond of marriage.
The case is then passed to the three judges assigned to the case. On an appointed day, the judges meet to discuss the case and make their decision.
Both parties will then be informed of the decision and have the right to appeal the decision within a time limit. If the judges had decided in favour of nullity, and no appeal received within the time limit, a Decree of Nullity is issued.