On September 8, 2015, Pope Francis announced a number of changes in the annulment process. These changes became effective on December 8, 2015, in conjunction with the celebration of the Holy Year of Mercy.
These changes had their origin in the First Extraordinary Synod on the Family that was held in 2014. In preparation for this event, the Holy Father inaugurated a world-wide consultation with the members of the Church, including bishops, priests, educators, canon lawyers, and married couples. The results were summarized, and became the agenda for the First Synod on the Family.
At the end of the Synod, the bishops and invited observers issued a number of recommendations that they felt should be given further consideration at the Second Synod on the Family to be held in October 2015. One of those recommendations is especially relevant here:
A great number of Synod Fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming. They proposed, among others, the dispensation of the requirement of Second Instance for confirming sentences; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop; and a simple process to be used in cases where nullity is clearly evident.
The changes instituted by the Holy Father simply made effective the recommendations made by the world-wide consultation and the Synod of Bishops.