(Posting a second time in case the first time runs out)
In a formal nullity trial, you’re looking for a reason that the marriage was not valid. Consequently they’re looking for a problem that existed in advance of your being married. Reasons for nullity can include things like:
-Not being open to having children (sterile couples can marry, but they must be at least open to the possibility of children)
-Permanent, pre-existing inability to have intercourse
-Lack of understanding of the nature of marriage (i.e. that it is for the rest of your life)
-Not intending to be faithful
-Lack of valid consent (e.g. getting married because you were pregnant, because of financial reasons, etc. - in other words, you were somehow “forced” to marry by circumstances)
-(Rare) Killing a previous spouse in order to marry a new spouse (also called conjugicide)
I can speak to how the process worked for my husband (he was married before me; his ex left him after 4 years stating that she felt she was entitled to leave the marriage if she wasn’t happy, plus they only got married because she was pregnant). It may be different in your area.
Step 1: Obtain a preliminary study form. You can get this from your local pastor. They’ll ask questions about your courtship, about the wedding, about the problems in the marriage, when they started, what they were, what caused them, any indications of infidelity (this in and of itself is not a reason for nullity, unless you can prove there was no intent to be faithful), attitude towards having children, etc. The pastor/pastoral assistant has to fill out a paper as well about his assessment of your character and his understanding of your marital problems. You also have to provide contact information for yourself and your former spouse, and the names of three witnesses. You need to provide Baptismal certificates or affidavits of non-Baptism for yourself and your former spouse. You need a copy of your divorce certificate (to ensure that reconciliation is not possible), and, if you were not married in the Church, a certified copy of your marriage registration. You then submit this to your pastor, along with a filing fee. (There is a cost to you for this; it’s usually less than $1000. In our area, it costs about $900 total and they receive about 220 requests a year; as you can see, this is NOT a money-spinner - they have 7 people working in the office. If you honestly can’t afford to pay, something can be worked out - you will NOT be turned away.)
Step 2: The tribunal will determine whether there is enough information to begin a formal inquiry process. They’ll send you a letter back to this effect. They’ll invite you to an interview, either with your pastor or with a member of the tribunal staff. At this point, you’ll be assigned a “case instructor” - someone who acts as a liaison between you and the tribunal staff to guide you through the process.
Step 3: Your former spouse will be given a letter as well, indicating that you’ve begun nullity proceedings and inviting them to participate. They have a right to participate, or not, as they see fit. (DH’s ex chose not to participate. They went ahead without her and it did not affect the outcome.) My understanding is that they will wait for a reply, or, if there is no reply, they try a couple more attempts to contact the person and then wait a set period of time until they decide that the person is not interested. (DH’s ex indicated to our pastor that she did not wish to be involved, so this was not an issue.)
Step 4: Your three witnesses will be contacted and interviewed. You might also be asked for additional information, such as police reports, counselling reports, etc.
Step 5: The tribunal judges will review the case and grant a decree. You’ll get a letter stating that you have a certain number of days in which to come and review the evidence, if you wish. (DH chose not to.) Your ex-spouse will get the same letter.
Step 6: After the decree period has passed, the judges will review the case and then grant a decision. You’ll be notified of the decision by mail.
Step 7: If the decision is affirmative (i.e. marriage not valid) the case will automatically be sent to an appeals tribunal to be reviewed again. If the decision is negative (i.e. marriage valid) you have the right to appeal yourself, if you choose.
Step 8: The appeals tribunal will go over the evidence and decide how to proceed. They may ask for additional information, or they may decide just to go with what they have. They will then return their decision to the primary tribunal, who will notify you. If you don’t agree with the decision, you can appeal to the Roman Rota. If you receive two affirmative decisions (i.e. marriage not valid), you’re free to marry.
The ideal is that the first instance should take no more than one year, and the second no more than 6 months, but this is an ideal, not an absolute deadline. Sadly, it’s unlikely that it would be dealt with in time for a marriage in January. DH’s case took about 17 months. The exact time frame varies depending on the case.