The most common formal controversy in the modern Church is that which arises when one party to a Christian marriage challenges the validity of the union and requests a declaration of nullity before a marriage tribunal. The intention behind the plaintiff's suit is that the same Church authority which pronounced the couple man and wife on the day of their exchange of wedding vows will now permit the plaintiff to present evidence which questions the validity of the union.
Since the first century Christians have submitted their disputes to the adjudication of the local Bishop as leader of the believing community. A system of ecclesiastical courts or Church Tribunals gradually evolved to deal with cases touching on the rights, obligations and concerns of members of the Church. The substantive law and procedure to be used in ecclesiastical cases in our modern era is set out in the Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983.
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