Dating a divorced Catholic

Dear Anthony,

I am dating a good Catholic man who is divorced and has a son. I am a Christian who is becoming Catholic (I’m in RCIA) who was also married before and have a daughter. We were friends through his divorce and starting dating after his divorce was finalized. His ex-wife is hard to deal with for both of us. I love him, but have apprehensions about my ability to deal with this kind of drama. I have believed God brought him into my life, but I am starting to wonder if God has something else in mind. What do you think?

Thank you for sharing your situation. It probably would not surprise you to know that there are many Catholics in similar situations. Divorce is an ugly thing, no matter what angle it is approached. We would like to think there are no victims and no one is at fault, and that the people involved should just be able to peacefully move on, but that is not the reality.

The reality is you are in a drama that probably will never end. Whenever you are involved with someone who has a past of any kind, in this case a past marriage, you are taking on all the people involved as well, and the history. How successfully you deal with it depends on many factors.

But first, it starts with yourself. You must consider all the factors and determine if you can accept them. Just because you are in love with someone does not mean you can (or should) proceed with that person toward marriage. It is false interpretation of true marital love to believe that the feelings of being “in love” are what matters the most, and must discount all other factors, no matter how difficult or questionable.

True love considers the good of the other first. Sometimes, despite what we want and how we feel, the best thing for the other is that the relationship NOT proceed further.

That is my general overview of handling situations like you are in. Now you need to confront the specific factors before you can make an informed and wise decision. I don’t have enough details of your entire situation in order to fully help you, so I will make some assumptions.

I will assume you are a baptised Christian at this time, based on your becoming Catholic. That is a wonderful thing, and should be your primary focus above all things in your situation. I pray that you will not let anything or anyone disrupt your steps toward being received into the Catholic Church. That is certainly what God wants most. Your entering the Catholic Church is the worst thing that can happen to the devil, so what you are going through is likely going to be used to shake your faith and perhaps attempt to get you to not become Catholic. That would be the biggest tragedy of your situation. Please consider that.

I will assume your boyfriend and his ex-wife are both Catholic and were married in the Catholic Church. I know that he is Catholic, but you did not mention that she is. I also do not know if their marriage took place in the Catholic Church. I am just going to assume it did and the marriage was not annulled.

This would be the most important and objective aspect of your situation that I hope will give you clarity and also rest your mind, because it is a very liberating reality. Your boyfriend is still married in the eyes of God. His ex-wife is still married in the eyes of God. And probably (assuming you were married to a non-Catholic Christian and not a Catholic) your marriage was also sacramental, according to Church teaching.

As I’m sure you know, a civil divorce does not dissolve a sacramental marriage. All it does is help settle the legal obligations to each other at the civil level. It most certainly does not do anything to their moral obligations at the spiritual level. Their vows before God cannot be dissolved by a civil court. Only a Church court (i.e., the Diocesan Tribunal) has the authority to investigate a marriage and determine if it was, in fact, a sacramental marriage. If they determine it was not sacramental, then they issue a degree of nullity. The Tribunal has the authority to impose on the individuals whether or not they are free to marry in the Church, even with the decree of nullity.

Until a decree of nullity on your marriage and your boyfriend’s marriage, you are all still married in God’s eyes. Therefore, you are dating a married man, which you are not permitted to do.

God cannot call a person to a vocation when they are already in a vocation. So if you want to do the right thing for your boyfriend, and for yourself (and for the children and all others involved), you will end the dating relationship. This is the right thing to do, and it will make God happy and He will bless you accordingly.

Maybe He does ultimately have it in mind that you will be married to this man in the future, but that is not for you to assume, nor to plan, nor try to manipulate. You need to step back and let God make this happen the right way, if at all. By ending the romantic relationship, you are telling your boyfriend that you love him enough to let him go, and give him to God. And you tell God you love Him above all things, and respect the institution of marriage more than your own desires.

Your boyfriend needs to get his situation straightened out first, and so do you. First things first. I know it will not be easy, but I advise you to tell your boyfriend that you have to step aside and allow him to focus on resolving his own situation without the distraction of the two of you as a couple. Encourage him to approach the Tribunal of the Diocese he belongs to and begin the annulment process. (And once you become Catholic, you need to do the same).

Go back to just being friends, or take a long break from him where you do not see him at all while he sorts this out, with the understanding that you might never see him again. Your being in the picture can only distract him.

I realize that you are in love with this man, but he is not yours. And until he is free to marry, which means he is free to date, he cannot be yours to exchange hearts with. If he proceeds with the annulment process, you can be a friend until it is finalized. However, as long as he is married in the eyes of God, there is still a chance that he will (or should be trying to) reconcile with his ex-wife. That might never be possible or has already been tried, I don’t know. But for your purposes, it is about allowing God to work this out without your influence.

Be a positive influence. End the dating relationship, tell him you will be praying for God’s will whatever that may end up being, and that you find peace and joy in doing God’s will.

Remember what St. Augustine said, “Peace is the tranquility of order.” By stepping back and putting proper order to this situation, you will find the peace you desire and need.

I truly hope this helps. Know that I am praying for you every day, and am here if you have any other questions or concerns.

Yours in Christ,




Is marrying someone from divorced parents a risk?

Dear Anthony,

A book I read discusses the choice of a potential spouse, and a section on childhood talks about whether the person’s parents are divorced. This concerns me because my parents are divorced. The man I’m seeing is reading the same book and I wonder if I should bring up the subject with him.

There are a lot of well-intentioned people out there writing books to try to help people. But unfortunately some advice given does cause some confusion for people, and as in this case, can cause undue concerns about oneself or another person.

Divorce is a tragic reality for so many families, including Catholic families. There are many reasons why two people divorce. Sometimes there is domestic violence and/or abuse, physical or mental. Sometimes it is because of infidelity or pornography or alcoholism, or some other damaging actions of one of the two partners that makes living with the other unbearable or impossible. The many declarations of nullity granted by the Catholic Church proves one very startling reality; namely, that many Catholic persons go into marriage without the intention of making it permanent, or are incapable of living the consent due to some aspect of immaturity.

Some may say that this is an excuse and the Church is handing out annulments too loosely. That’s not for me to judge, but I have studied the annulment process and explored it deeply, and I am convinced that the Church is right on target with annulments. I’m sure there are abuses here and there, but by and large, annulments are granted because there are serious impediments in one or both persons. There is a serious crisis of preparation for marriage, and also with formation of individuals for marriage. It’s not the Church’s fault there are so many people who get married and are incapable of keeping the vows.

But you did not ask me about annulments, so I will stop right there. It was, however, important to spell that out a bit about annulments because there are too many enemies of annulments: those who want to assume the worst of the Church in granting them, and who wish to look at those who have annulments as somehow being less in the eyes of God for having gone through divorce and annulment. The fact is that those with annulments granted by the Church can be sure that in the eyes of God, they never had a marriage take place. Those who granted the annulment will have to answer to God, not those granted the annulment.

Now, having said all that, I will say that there are many, many, many marriages that end in divorce that should NOT have ended in divorce, and the two people involved were completely careless in not doing everything possible, to the point of the very act of the will to change things to make the marriage work.

To get back to your question now, you are concerned about coming from divorce and a book you read stating that a person should beware of, or even stay clear of, a person who has divorce in their background. This kind of advice is based on some very popular scientific studies that end up in a marriage preparation topic that addresses a person’s origin, which primarily means family background. They have found that those who come from divorced parents are likely to have problems in their own marriage.

That may have truth to it, but that cannot be seen as an “absolute”, and it’s certainly not the end of the story. There is so much that must also be considered, and a person should never just simply discount someone for marriage only on the basis of knowing that their parents divorced. Coming from divorced parents does not automatically make someone a risk in marriage. I come from divorce and Bridget seems pretty happy.

Children have a way of adjusting, and once an adult, the key is confronting and dealing with anything that is an issue from the past. But most of all, we must believe in the power of God’s grace above all things. A person living a sacramental and prayerful life, loving God and desiring to follow Him in every way, can receive grace that helps them rise above anything of their past.

It’s a shame your parents divorced, but that does not mean your marriage will end in divorce, nor that you are going to be the cause of problems in your marriage. I assume you have a handle on the divorce of your parents and have long since come to terms with it. I also assume you have a very good understanding of what marriage is and what it means to be married. I also assume you are a sinner and you plan on marrying another sinner, which means you will both be quite capable of hurting each other due to the effects of original sin. And I also assume you are a woman who relies on God’s grace to help you live your life, and not your own power, right?

If there is a marriage of two people with a solid direction (both knowing they are meant for Heaven and that life is about walking that road) and having a firm sense that their life and commitments and decisions have a direct effect on our relationship with God, anything else can be overcome. For Catholics, it also means that we are people who work to follow Christ and His example, and the Church’s teachings, and we grow in grace to give us God’s life and power in us, which will overcome our own weaknesses and issues (if we are open and working to overcome them). If both people know how to forgive and to ask forgiveness, they will have MUCH going for them in their marriage.

There is no marriage out there that is without problems due to issues of each person at some level. You have divorced parents, which means perhaps you have some trust issues.

Marriage will always be between two sinners who cannot make the other person totally happy in this life. It is about two people helping each other through this life on the path to Heaven, along with their children. That requires a sacrifice of self in order to serve the other. These people who fear future marriage because of issues and what have you, as well as these books that tell you to watch out for this and watch out for that, don’t seem to understand that they are doing a disservice by giving people a false impression that they can find someone who will never hurt them.

Just because a person makes a choice in marriage and it does not work out as they had hoped, it does not mean they failed at marriage, nor that there really is no marriage. It just means that their marriage is what it is, and you have to work very hard to do your part, and pray very hard the other will do their part to strengthen the marriage and make it better. That is what love is.

Okay, so some marriages don’t have the blissful feelings of love they once had or that are desired. Does that mean single people should keep putting off marriage because they need to ensure they will always have that? No!

Marriage is a total risk! So if you are not up for the risk, then never marry. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you can avoid a bad marriage because you do all this analysis and inspection.

Don’t listen to the advice that says to avoid a person whose parents are divorced. That’s nonsense. God’s grace does wonders to help any person who is walking the path of God. It is a person who relies on God’s grace that you want to marry, despite their background. Then you have a person who can not only overcome their past, but someone who is really going places, and capable of moving mountains. And certainly a person who will know how to love.

Yes, you have to do some due diligence to see if the person’s issues are unresolved to the point of making them incapable of marriage. But that means it has to be serious, and it will be, obviously. Again, the key to a great marriage is when both people know their own weaknesses, faults, past issues, etc., and that they accept each other’s weaknesses, faults, past issues, etc. Then they can really be an exceptional “helpmate”.

But because people are human beings, and human beings are always growing and changing, no one should enter marriage with the expectation that a person is always going to remain as they are, or (God forbid) make them happy at all times.

So take from the book only what makes sense, and never let anything make you feel uneasy. As far as bringing up the subject of divorce, I don’t see why not. If you want a good “in” to talk about it, just say you were reading the book and noticed that it talks about divorce in one’s background, and ask what he thinks about it and what he thinks about your having divorced parents. He should be sensible enough not to discount you because your parents are divorced. But it is a good conversation to have.