Disaster from Misusing Words: “Civil Effects of Marriage”
- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On October 11, 2018
by: Bai Macfarlane
Have you ever heard diocesan personnel say there has to be a civil divorce before the tribunal will accept a petition for an annulment? Do they say that divorce courts decide the civil effects of marriage, and the Church decides about the Sacramental Bond?
The average reader doesn’t use phrases like “civil effects of marriage,” however misunderstandings surrounding these words have led Catholics, I’m afraid, to ignorantly allow an unconstitutional, immoral, power grab by the relativist government authorities. Disastrous effects include children being taken away from Catholics who have done nothing grave justifying separation of spouses, and the same parents are being virtually robbed by divorce lawyers, no-fault divorce court-ordered property divisions, and support orders.
Here is some language from one diocese’ website:
The Church recognizes the State’s authority over the civil effects of marriage: the need to protect one’s civil rights, and the need to provide adequately for children in a legal forum. One must have obtained a civil divorce prior to applying for an ecclesiastical marriage case.
The Church does not recognize any authority on the part of the State over the Sacramental Bond of Matrimony. (source)
For Catholics, every civil divorce is a case of separation of spouses being decided in the civil forum.
When parties exchange promises in a Catholic ceremony, more rights and correlating obligations come into existence besides only the right to have one’s partner NOT enter a marriage with someone else:
- jointly sharing marital property in the common marital home (c. 1055, 1917 CIC c. 1013)
- receiving support (material/labor/financial) from the other (cc. 226 §2, 1136)
- authority to make medical and educational decisions for one’s children
- living with, and having everyday interaction with one’s children
- living with one’s spouse (maintain the common conjugal life, c. 1151, 104)
- exclusivity, such that one’s partner shall NOT enter marriage with someone else
None of those above obligations are the “merely civil effects” of marriage. Perhaps filing a joint tax return could be considered a “merely civil effect” of marriage. If parties to a Catholic marriage did not want the above listed obligations, they would not want a Catholic marriage ceremony. When someone reneges on those obligations, he/she should be obligated to repair long-term harm, not be rewarded by the outcomes from no-fault divorce. If abandonment was not rewarded in no-fault divorce court, some number of Plaintiffs would choose to improve their marriage and cooperate with reconciliation experts.
When the drafters of the Code of Canon Law discussed the relevance of the merely civil effects of marriage, they used an example of a person who had a morally legitimate reason to be separated based on Church law and a church judgement for their case of separation of spouses; if the “merely civil effects of marriage” were not addressed in the civil forum, the person risked being found guilty of the crime of abandonment in the civil forum [note 1]. No such civil laws are implemented in the U.S.. On the contrary, abandoners are empowered in the civil forum to be relieved of all most all of their marital obligations, and are routinely rewarded with property, support, and custody.
Canon law on separation of spouses shows that only after obtaining permission from party’s bishop could a diocesan tribunal judge try to encourage a spouse to have the civil forum decide a case of separation of spouses–and only if the party is seeking from the civil judge a decision about the “merely civil effects of marriage” (c. 1692 §3)
The civil norms that govern child support, property, and visitation rights are virtually always contrary to divine law because of no-fault divorce. The civil forum has no respect for the promises made by contracting parties when the civil forum issues orders:
- splitting marital property
- ordering someone to pay support to the other
- giving someone authority to make medical and educational decisions for children
- establishing a parenting schedule under which children are ordered to go back and forth
- waiving the obligation to maintain the common conjugal life
- freeing both to civilly marry someone else
According to the Catholic marriage contract, the Church, not the state, has competence to decide all these issues, and they should be decided based on Catholic principles for judging parties’ obligations.
Mary’s Advocates publicizes constitutional principles that could be invoked to ensure that separations (a.k.a. civil divorce) are in accord with promises the parties made when contracting marriage. Canon law shows the ecclesiastic authority, not the government, have competence to issue decrees/sentences (i.e. arbitration decisions) that decide issues in separation of spouses, even for those with putative marriage.
- Can. 1611: The sentence must: 2/ determine what obligations have arisen for the parties from the trial and how they must be fulfilled; 4/ determine the expenses of the litigation.
- Can. 49: A singular precept is a decree which directly and legitimately enjoins a specific person or persons to do or omit something, especially in order to urge the observance of law.
- Motu Proprio c. Can. 1691 § 1: In the sentence the parties are to be reminded of the moral and even civil obligations binding them toward one another and toward their children to furnish support and education.
At the time of separation, let’s not abdicate the Church’s responsibility over our own marriages simply because we’re confused about the meaning of “merely civil effects of marriage.”
note 1: (see 19 April 1971, Under 1, De Competentia ad huiusmodi causas iudicandas … “Consequenter adest periculum fastidii et iacturae temporis et pecuniae pro partibus et possibilitas duarum decisionum quae sint sibi invicem contrariae et praeterea executio sententiae canonicae potest haberi ut delictum in foro civili, v.g. ob desertionem domicilii coniugalis et ita porro.“).