- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On March 21, 2019
Have you ever read a publication from a Catholic source that said “The Church recognizes the State’s authority over the civil effects of marriage”? This gives readers the impression that everything judged in the civil divorce courts is fair game for the government to oversee. However, this is incorrect.
Prior to anyone with a Catholic marriage approaching the civil court for a civil separation or civil divorce, the ecclesiastic authority must consider if the civil forum is going to be judging only the merely civil effects of marriage. If the civil forum is judging anything besides the merely civil effects of marriage, then that is a reason for the Plaintiff/Petitioner to be restricted by the Church from filing for civil divorce or civil separation.
Every time the no-fault divorce court purports to relieve a Catholic spouse of his obligation to maintain an intact home for his spouse and children, the divorce judge is interfering with effects of marriage that are NOT the merely civil effects of marriage. Prior to the sexual revolution in the U.S., the Church leadership publicized the merely civil effects of marriage that could be decided in the civil forum. If a first marriage was judged to be invalid by the Church and one of the parties was about to enter a second marriage (valid), the party had to have the first invalid marriage dissolved in the civil forum to avoid criminal bigamy (See Kelly, page 219). Authors showed that when the civil court issued a divorce for parties that were already judged by the Church to have an invalid marriage, that was an example of the government judging the merely civil effects of marriage.
Below is my quickly thrown together list of the effects of marriage categorized as canon law categorizes them. Theologians and canonists could add to my list and perhaps rearrange a few items, but readers can understand the point. According to Catholic principles, the government rules can control the effects of marriage that are purely temporal (merely civil effects). Moreover, the Church has exclusive jurisdiction over the purely supernatural effects of marriage and the mixed effects.
So, the next time you find anyone asserting that Catholic teaching allows for the civil divorce courts to judge the civil effects of marriage, make sure a yellow flag goes up in your mind. With the onset of no-fault divorce in the United States, in virtually every divorce case, the civil forum is wrongly deciding the mixed effects of marriage about which they have no legitimate competence. Divorce courts do not acknowledge the spouses’ obligation to maintain the common marital home and the spouses’ right to benefit from the other’s contribution to the common home where their children reside.
Purely Temporal Effects of Marriage (can be decided by civil forum)
rules of intestate succession
spousal privilege in the law of evidence
birth and death certificates
campaign finance restrictions
criminal abandonment in civil forum
Purely Supernatural Effects of Marriage (can NOT be decided by civil forum)
obligation to assist the other spouse to gain heaven
power in binding prayers regarding the demonic
Mixed Effects of Marriage (can NOT be decided by civil forum)
control of children’s education
child visitation rules
inheritance and property rights
medical decision-making authority
the rights and benefits of survivors
workers’ compensation benefits
right/obligation to live in same home
protection by separation from adulterers and dangerous abusers