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Catholics and prenuptial agreements

Q. These days, people are entering into marriage at a later age. Many bring with them considerable financial assets and, seeking ways to protect those assets, are drawing up prenuptial agreements by which they attempt to exclude their spouse's claim on this wealth should a divorce occur.


I have always understood that this type of agreement is an impediment to a Catholic marriage. It calls into question the total commitment required for a marriage, since the agreement is predicated on the marriage's dissolution.


Recently, a relative of mine and her fiance who are in a similar situation met with their parish priest, who never brought up this issue in their pre-Cana counseling. So, my questions are these: Is this type of prenuptial agreement, in fact, an impediment? If so, are priests as part of their premarital counseling instructed to bring this issue up? If not, should they be? (Slingerlands, N.Y.)


A. The church does not have a blanket prohibition against prenuptial agreements, and so such an agreement does not in itself constitute an impediment to a Catholic marriage. In certain specific circumstances, a "prenup" can be warranted.


Let's say, for example, that a widow marries a widower and they both have children from their previous marriages; a prenup is a legitimate way of clarifying 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, the mention of a prenup should raise concerns in a priest's mind. The clear teaching of the Catholic Church is that marriage is permanent and requires an unconditional commitment.


In a wedding ceremony, before they take the vows, I ask the couple, "Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?"


Apart from the sort of situation I indicated above, it would make me nervous for a couple to raise the issue of a prenup, and I would always question them about their understanding of indissolubility and their pledge to permanence. I certainly would not marry a couple if I thought they were simply trying to create an "escape hatch."


Editor’s Note: According to Father Robert J. Rippy, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Arlington, “There is no impediment regarding prenuptial agreements. The priest preparing the couple needs to investigate the reasons for wanting one and as long as it doesn’t contradict any of the basic elements of our teaching on the goods of marriage, it can be permitted.”  


Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, N.Y. 12203.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019