Catholics and prenuptials

Q. I am 54 years old, divorced and about to enter my second marriage. My first one ended against my will; my husband was unfaithful and wanted out. Catholic faith is very important to me.

My boyfriend (of two-and-a-half years) and I have talked about marrying, and last night he asked me how I felt about signing a prenuptial agreement.

I am not with him because of his assets or his money, and I have mixed feelings about such an agreement. In a way, it seems as though he is "sort of" marrying me (in that it is with certain conditions). I also feel that we would be interposing financial considerations; we should be concerned with the lives and intimacy we will be sharing and not with finances.

Please give me your thoughts, concerns and opinions - or just tell me to get over it. (Des Moines, Iowa)

A. Since you said that your Catholic faith is very important to you, I am assuming that you have received a Church annulment for your first marriage. (I am also assuming that your boyfriend either was never married before or that he also has obtained a Church annulment, leaving you both free to marry in the eyes of the Catholic Church.)

Then, to the matter of the prenuptial agreement: The Catholic Church does not have a blanket prohibition of "prenups." In certain cases, they can be quite valid and helpful. When a widow marries a widower, for example, and they both have children from their previous marriages, a prenup is a legitimate way of determining what is common property and what is separate as a basis for determining the inheritance rights of each spouse's children.

In most cases, though, prenups are a bad idea and may even call into question the validity of the marriage itself.

The same misgivings that you express (that your boyfriend would be "sort of" marrying you) are the same concerns that the Church has about a prenup. Clearly, the Church's teaching is that marriage is permanent and requires an unconditional commitment.

Accordingly, Canon 1102 of the Church's Code of Canon Law says that "marriage subject to a condition about the future cannot be contracted validly."

For a prospective spouse to say, for example, "I will marry you, if you agree I'll get half the assets at a divorce," strikes at the heart of the Church's view of marriage.

The very contemplation of divorce at the outset of a marriage creates an "escape hatch" and could well imply something less than a total commitment.

(Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970