Marriage is an enduring and exclusive partnership between one man and one woman for the mutual exchange of love and for the procreation and education of children.
Between those who have been baptized, a valid marriage is a sacrament. Every valid, sacramental marriage that has been consummated is indissoluble. This is the law of God according to the evidence found in the Old Testament, the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, the writings of St. Paul, and Christian tradition.
Because marriage is a sacred covenant, there must be a free exchange of consent if it is to be valid. Each party must be able to fulfill the conditions for marriage. If one of the necessary qualities was, indeed, lacking when the exchange of consent took place, the marriage could be declared null; then the parties would be free to marry.
Although not every marriage is a sacrament, each and every marriage (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, etc.) is presumed to be a valid marriage binding unto death. The good of all concerned demands this presumption. Inasmuch as the Church recognizes as valid those marriages between non-Catholics that take place before a non-Catholic minister or a civil official, the Church believes that civil divorces or civil annulments among non-Catholics as well as Catholics have no spiritual effects.
A declaration of nullity differs from a divorce in that a divorce breaks the civil effects of a marriage bond, whereas a declaration of nullity declares there never was a true bond. An ecclesiastical declaration of nullity in no way affects the laws and statutes of civil law. The provisions established by the courts in the issuance of a divorce certificate stand as decreed. There are absolutely no civil effects of a Church declaration of nullity in the United States. It does not affect in any manner the legitimacy of children, property rights, inheritance rights, or names. A Church declaration of nullity is a declaration by the Catholic Church that a particular union, presumably begun in good faith and regarded by all as a marriage, was, in fact, not a marriage.
Any Catholic or non-Catholic may approach the Metropolitan Tribunal for the clarification of his/her status in the Church. This application must be made to a Tribunal that has proper jurisdiction. An Advocate is a person who acts as a liaison between the Tribunal and the persons involved in case. The Advocate’s role is to assist the party in gathering the necessary information.