Is Divorce Ever Okay?

I recently delivered an emotional, first hand appeal to Christian parents and couples to avoid divorce — no matter what.  

Now, I’d like to take a look at divorce from a more objective, theological view.

The big question is this: Is it ever okay for Christians to get a divorce?

Short, safe answer? No, it isn’t. It’s expressly forbidden by Christ in Matthew 19:

…they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

And it is deemed wholly immoral by the Catechism:

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death CC 2384

Long answer? Still no, but it requires some explanation.

Before we can dive any further into this question, we have to understand marriage and divorce from the Church’s perspective.

When God brings a man and woman together in holy matrimony, they form a bond, a covenant, with the Father. Marriage is a way for God’s love to manifest itself between two people, and together they share that love — but God should always be at the center of it.  When we divorce, we’re not just breaking that bond with each other, we attempt to break the bond with God as well.

However, divorce, unlike marriage, is of human construction, and we would be foolish to think that we can do anything to destroy something that God created. Therefore, divorce cannot truly break the marriage bond; it only opens the doorway to adultery.

I say to you,* whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”

No matter what a piece of state-issued paper might say, once two Christians are married, they remain married in the eyes of God forever. That’s how it was meant to be. 

Between the baptized, “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.” CC 2382

But are there ever any exceptions? What about in situations of domestic violence, abuse, or the safety of the children?

In these cases, the Church does allow for civil divorce, which applies solely to the legal and physical separation of spouses. Citing legitimate, safety concerns, this is permissible and not intrinsically sinful.

At the same time, it can happen that one spouse is a victim of divorce as decreed by civil law, meaning that they were abandoned by their husband or wife through no fault of their own. Therefore, there is no sin on the part of the abandoned party.

Neither of these present a contradiction of Church teaching, however, because even if a physical or legal separation is justified, the two are still bound by the marriage bond. Therefore, were either spouse to begin another relationship or marriage, they would still be committing adultery. The only options are to reconcile the marriage, live a chaste life, or for Catholics, seek an annulment.

And despite what you may have heard, an annulment is not a “Catholic loophole” for a divorce.  To believe such is nothing more than simple ignorance of Catholic doctrine. 

An annulment of a marriage is not a divorce. An annulment is a statement by the Church that the marriage was never valid to begin with. 

Marrying outside of the Church, marrying someone who has been married before, marrying because the woman is pregnant, or marrying someone of a different faith (or no faith) are examples where an annulment may be granted. 

The annulment process is a long and excruciating journey, and far more complex than any legal dispute.

The Church must launch a full investigation into the marriage, and this has been know to take years to complete. Those who have been through the process cite it as one of the most emotionally debilitating times of their lives.

Even then, the Church will not always grant an annulment. In situations where the couple are just tired of one another or feel that they have fallen out of love, the Church will find the marriage valid and encourage the two to work together and reconcile with one another. 

Unlike divorce, annulments don’t exist to provide a way out of a failing marriage. They aren’t a back up plan, and the Church doesn’t hand them out too easily or too often. 

The divorce rate in our country is heartbreaking, and it continues to rise. We can find stats, studies, and reports that all try to pinpoint why, but I believe the true reason is the fact that we have simply forgotten about God. We have forgotten about the dignity and sanctity he placed on matrimony. We have forgotten to seek His will before our own. We have taken God out of marriage.

I pray for all those Christians struggling in their relationships, that they will remember God’s place, seek his council, and turn away from the pain and destruction of divorce.  


In Defense of the Family

Divorce is an unnatural occurrence.

At least, it should be.

Unfortunately, we don’t all view marriage through the lens of the Church. We don’t all see marriage as an unbreakable commitment, a Sacrament, or a holy union created by God.

Instead, in these modern times, many of us see it as a contract, an agreement, or a legal partnership — and divorce is viewed as a safety clause in case things just get too difficult.  Even Christians, when “defending” marriage, tend to push the issue aside and focus all their attention on same-sex marriage.

But it shouldn’t be like that. One of the things that drew me to the Roman Catholic Church was its focus on family as the centerpiece to society.  I love the importance, even the burden, the Church rests on the shoulders of a mother and father, and I especially love the theological defenses of the family.

So please, Catholics and Protestant Christians alike, and especially parents, understand this: divorce is THE greatest threat to the structure of the family in our society. It destroys a bond that God himself crafted, but worst of all is the emotional, spiritual, and mental affect it has on your children.

I know this, because four years ago I watched the family I’d known my entire life come crashing down around me.

Growing up, if anyone had asked me if I thought I’d ever find myself part of a broken family, I would have very confidently said “no,” and I would have believed it with every bit of my being.

Yet, at the age of 21, I sat on the couch with my sister, and heard words that should have never been spoken: “We’re getting a divorce.”

That broke something inside of me, something that can’t be repaired, something that keeps that moment fresh on my mind and makes me relive it every. single. day.

I was completely and utterly devastated.

The family that I knew was gone.

My family.

And it’s still gone.

People say time heals all wounds, but not this one. This one remains open and fresh and it can’t be healed because it’s an unnatural wound.

In the time that has passed, I, myself, got married, started my own family and came into the Catholic Church.  And while the pain remains, through God’s grace, I have learned how to deal with it.

I’ve also had plenty of time to pray and think carefully about what I want to say to other parents when it comes to divorce.

As Christians, the fact that God blatantly says, “Do not get a divorce” should be enough: Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

However, many will find a way to tiptoe around that command and justify a divorce on whatever grounds. So to all those married with children: if your life isn’t in immediate physical danger — stay together.

Stay together for the sake of the kids.

Those children give you a reason to stay together.  Those children give you a reason to work it out. Don’t force them to watch their family crumble.  That is a pain in which no descriptive words can do justice.

God didn’t create us with the ability to love and make life so that our children could split their time between two homes. That’s not natural. It’s not right.

Marriage isn’t easy, it isn’t supposed to be. But when you stood on that altar, you made a promise, not just to your spouse, but to God. You made a promise to protect the bond that He created. You acknowledged and accepted God’s place in your marriage.

So, if your marriage gets to the point to where a divorce seems like the only option, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate where God is in your relationship.

Pope John Paul II once said”  “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.”

Your marriage is more than just an expression of love and commitment to your children. It is a witness to the saving grace of Christ. Together, you and your spouse bring the reality of God’s love and salvation into your family.

When my parents divorced, I immediately began to doubt everything I’d ever believed about love, the family, and even God.  A divorce doesn’t just affect your children emotionally; it can shake the very foundation of their spirituality. That thought should be devastating to any parent.

And when I say “stay together,” that doesn’t mean faking it, letting your marriage die, or allowing your house to become a war zone, because that can be just as damaging.

You and your spouse once loved each other.  Your children were created out of that love.

Let that be your motivation.

Let that be your determination.

And in the process, you will show your friends, your family, and especially your children, what it means to keep a promise.