What is the Roman Catholic Church’s Position on Prenuptial Agreements?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Q. Sometimes when couples marry they sign a prenuptial agreement. What is the Catholic Church’s official position on prenuptial agreements?

W.M., via e-mail
I am interested in what you think the answer is first--then you can take a look.

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Posted December 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

If marriage is a sacrament that is indissoluble, then a pre-nuptial agreement is moot. That is about what I expected the answer to be.

December 19, 3:21 pm | [comment link]
2. Dan Crawford wrote:

Many years ago, I heard something from a relatively “liberal”
Episcopal priest that has formed the basis of my thinking about such agreements. He told me that he would refuse to witness the marriage of a couple who had made a pre-nup since they assumed there would ultimately be a divorce and there was no commitment to remain in the marriage. Several years later, an infamous real-estate billionaire scuttled his marriage because if he remained married his pre-nup would have meant that his then-wife would actually get some of his money. I haven’t had to face the problem yet in my ministry, but my attitude would be negative.

December 19, 3:26 pm | [comment link]
3. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Well, honestly, I don’t know why clergy would be involved in such an agreement. That’s something lawyers concoct. I imagine most clergy have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Pre-nuptial agreements.

December 19, 3:30 pm | [comment link]
4. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

I would note that if a pre-nup is a prima facie case for annulment, everyone would have one.

December 19, 3:31 pm | [comment link]
5. jay 33 wrote:

I would offer that all but one pre-nup I have ever drawn or worked on involved late in life marriages.  Pre-nups are quite necessary if one is widowed, monied, has children, and wants to get married for the companionship.  In most states getting married means one has certain rights to the estate of a spouse that cannot be drafted away in a will.  It can only be done by mutual agreement.  It would be a terrible choice to have no pre nups so that a widow would have to choose between staying loyal her children or getting remarried.  They also assure that people in their advanced age perhaps get remarried for the right reasons by making sure that gold digging is not the reason for a marriage.
    Lastly, pre-nups do one very important thing that every marriage certificate should require.  Both parties have to sign complete sworn financial statements disclosing all assets and debts.  If that is not done the pre-nups are unenforceable by the Court.  I would guess that many divorces would never happen if this were required for every marriage applicant,  if only because many couples would not be married if they saw what a mess their partner’s finances truly were.

December 19, 4:46 pm | [comment link]
6. Ralph wrote:

#5 adds an interesting perspective. Of course, we’re talking about the difference between Christian marriage and secular marriage.

The more recent question about the need for priests has an interesting answer that ends, “Incidentally, ask your friend to tell you where the Bible teaches that the Church’s practices and faith have to be proved from the Bible. The Bible makes no such statement.” I suspect Calvin and the other western reformers would smile discreetly, nod their heads, and take a deep breath.

December 19, 7:02 pm | [comment link]
7. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Oh, certainly the Reformers made no bones about marriage not being a sacrament. In fact, Luther argues quite clearly in his treatise on marriage that marriage is nothing more than a civic agreement for two people to live together. He makes a strong argument there, but he never quite satisfies (in my mind at least) why the Bible says that God hates divorce. If its just a civic agreement like any other legal contract, what would God care?

December 19, 7:20 pm | [comment link]
8. Terry Tee wrote:

One of the first weddings that I conducted as a priest, the groom was drunk and little short of obnoxious.  I thought to myself:  ‘This marriage cannot last.’  It did.  The couple passed through a vale of suffering, and instead of destroying their marriage, it strengthened them.  They are still together.  It taught me, quite simply, that on wedding day you never can tell.  Over the years I have noted that time and again.  Sometimes marriages that seem made in heaven fall apart.  Sometimes marriages that seem doomed from the start go on, after a faltering beginning, to flourish.  Literally, only God knows.

December 19, 9:55 pm | [comment link]
9. Catholic Mom wrote:

Ralph, Re: ““Incidentally, ask your friend to tell you where the Bible teaches that the Church’s practices and faith have to be proved from the Bible. The Bible makes no such statement.”  Yes, I thought that statement was the bomb.—“let’s just lay it on the line here and let the Protestants fall where they may.” smile

The pre-nup answer was not particularly interesting.  Yes, the Church teaches that marriage is indissoluable—and actually acts like it means it.  That’s still a surprise to a lot of people.

December 19, 10:29 pm | [comment link]
10. Ian+ wrote:

That a pre-nup necessarily casts doubt on the durability of the marriage is only one part of the answer. The other part, which precludes the Church from celebrating such a marriage is that the desire for a pre-nup is a clear demonstration that one partner is unwilling to plight his/her troth to the other. Total self-donation of either to other (in Christ, of course) is the foundation of the marriage bond.

December 19, 11:10 pm | [comment link]
11. off2 wrote:

I would imagine that a prenup that does not conflict with canon law would be just fine.

December 20, 12:24 am | [comment link]
12. Militaris Artifex wrote:

The Catholic Church’s position, as I understand it, is that the very existence of a pre-nuptial agreement calls into question the commitment of one or both parties to an unreserved giving of self to the union. I would think that the only sort of pre-nuptial agreement that might pass muster would be one dealing with a specified portion of the property of one party to the marriage who has child(ren) by a prior marriage, which child(ren) are not to be deprived of an intended inheritance, and in which the issue hinges on the death of the parent, and not upon a possible future divorce of the couple being married in the Church. But, that latter exception is an educated guess.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

December 20, 1:50 pm | [comment link]
13. Charles52 wrote:

From the RC perspective, a valid marriage requires three commitments:

To fidelity
To permanence
To an openness to children.

Pre-nups affect the second factor, of course, except as noted in the case of December romance.  In fact, we are currently processing my mother’s estate after a second marriage. They didn’t have a formal pre-nup, but there were agreements we are all honoring (of course!). In the case of second, senior marriages, I don’t see that permanence is really violated by a pre-nup, any more than Mother keeping her first married name legally to avoid messing up the annuity and insurance Dad left her.

December 20, 4:21 pm | [comment link]
14. MichaelA wrote:

“Oh, certainly the Reformers made no bones about marriage not being a sacrament. In fact, Luther argues quite clearly in his treatise on marriage that marriage is nothing more than a civic agreement for two people to live together.”

????? Where do people get these things from?

Luther argues quite clearly in his treatises that all marriage is “a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore.”  Those who break or hinder it invite God’s judgment on themselves.

December 20, 7:06 pm | [comment link]
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