1. A civil divorce is necessary to begin the process since there can be no hope of reconciliation for the Church to investigate the validity of a marriage. A person seeking a Declaration of Nullity (Petitioner) is asked by the Tribunal to complete a preliminary questionnaire and supply essential documents.
A) A Recently Issued Baptismal Certificate for yourself if you are Catholic.
B) A recently issued Baptismal Certificate for your former spouse (if he/she is Catholic). If you do not know where your former spouse was Baptized, the Catholic Church where you were married can tell you but cannot issue a certificate.
C) A Recently Issued Church Marriage Certificate (if the marriage occurred in a Catholic Church).
D) A certified civil marriage license.
E) A Certified decree of civil divorce.
F) If neither party is Catholic none of the first three items is needed.
2. The Tribunal must then decide if it has jurisdiction or the legal ability to hear the case and if there is a basis to accept the petition.
3. In Philadelphia, the Petitioner may provide testimony at the Tribunal in the Archdiocesan Office Center, or in his or her local area, with the assistance of a trained priest Auditor.
4. The other party of the marriage (Respondent) must then be formally notified that the case is in process and the basis for the case. The Respondent must be given the opportunity to participate.
5. The Petitioner must supply witnesses for the case. Witnesses are persons who knew the parties before and during the marriage and can speak about the facts of the case. Testimony may include documents, eyewitness and second hand testimony.
6. When the testimony is assembled, the parties may inspect the testimony in the case pertinent to the grounds. The Petitioner may also be required to undergo an independent assessment by a court appointed expert, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist.
7. After all testimony has been compiled, the case is presented to the Defender of the Bond whose task is to point out the proofs for the validity of the marriage.
8. The case then goes on to a three judge panel. The judges then formulate a decision based on Church Marriage Law, the teachings of the Catholic Church and the jurisprudence of the Catholic Church.
9. The parties are next notified of the First Instance Decision (that is the decision of the Tribunal of Philadelphia). A formal appeal of that decision may now be made by either party to the Appeal Court or the Roman Rota.
10. If no formal appeal is made, the case is sent on to ratification. Church law requires the appointed court of appeals to review a case and the sentence to ensure the law is properly applied and the rights of all parties are respected. Cases decided in Philadelphia are sent to the Archdiocese of Baltimore for ratification. The parties are then notified of the Definitive Sentence. If it seems that the invalidating factor may be present in any future marriage the Judges may restrict a person from marrying in the Church again until there is evidence that the problem has been treated.