As a practicing Catholic, it can be difficult to know how to marry [no pun intended] the needs of a society in which a prenuptial agreement is a wise course of action with the doctrine and needs of the church. Below, we look at some of the Catholic viewpoints on the prenuptial agreement.
Does the Catholic Church unilaterally ban divorce?
Firstly, it is a fallacy [though an often represented one] that the Catholic Church is in total opposition to divorce. There are circumstances under which the church will support a movement to divorce, particularly where it effects “certain legal rights, the care of children or the protection of inheritance” [CCC 2383] and/or the “departure of the other spouse” [Canons 1143-1146]. You are not banned from participation in the sacraments as a divorcee- even as the initiating party in a divorce. Those sacramental consequence fall upon divorced persons who later remarry, not every divorced person. Therefore, the prenuptial agreement is not necessarily a violation of church doctrine- it is the terms and circumstances of said prenuptial agreement that must be examined, not its mere existence.However prenuptial agreement is different in different states.
The general reasoning here can be seen as follows: within the doctrines of Catholicism, divorce is a civil mechanism of ‘necessary evil’ to provide an out for those Catholics who undertake marriage under false or impeding circumstances and later wish to escape that marriage and correct their deviation from the path of their spirituality.
So, does Catholicism support the idea of a prenuptial agreement in general?
There is a certain argument to be made for the vows of honour, love etc now included in the modern Catholic wedding ceremony to be seen as a pre-nuptial agreement of sorts- the only actual requirement to become married under the eyes of canonical law is the exchange of intention and consent [“I take you as my husband”/”I take you as my wife”] the rest of the promises made during the wedding ceremony are, as it were, the icing on the cake. The breaking of that ‘icing’ does not void the marriage as it does not void the consent exchanged- it merely voids the promises of love that were made. You certainly can make the argument that the agreement required among marrying Catholics to raise their children as Catholic [only recently dispensed with] was a pre-nuptial agreement. A pre-nuptial agreement, at its most simple, is merely a contract, and such contracts exist under canonical law.
So, as a kind of a contract, a pre-nuptial agreement is not inherently un-Catholic?
Does this mean, then, that the morality of a pre-nuptial agreement, especially within the confines of the church, can be seen as the important thing- not what you label it? Many believe that to be so. Therefore, it’s not impossible to see that the pre-nuptial agreement itself is not the problem or in any violation of church law. Contracts between consenting parties that honour the laws of the church are not forbidden in Catholicism. It is the clauses contained within such contracts that may violate the teachings of the Church.
There is a more prosaic argument here too- an unwilling party cannot prevent a divorce. It is not impossible to imagine a pre-nuptial agreement undertaken and designed to protect against a violation of the teaching of Christ on such matters that would, in fact, serve as a discouragement to civil divorce and an encouragement in the marriage of two serving, devoted Catholics.
So, what should I do as a devoted Catholic?
In the end, it is best to remember the following facts:
- That the matter of opposition to divorce and the Catholic Church is not a black and white issue.
- That contracts and situations that can be re-defined as ‘prenuptial agreements’ are not foreign to or against the teachings of the church per se.
- That, as with any contract under church law, it is the morality of a contract that is more important than the label applied to it.
With these points in mind, the creation of a prenuptial agreement honouring both your faith and protecting your presence in the civil space is not impossible, if undertaken with reference to church, morality and personal intention.