Adultery, and when a family splits

Here is a question, plus a hypothetical situation which happens (sadly) too often.

Tom and Charlotte got married, and had a boy named George. They were married for 8 years, until, Charlotte found Tom to be committing adultery with another woman. This woman knew all too well that Tom was already married, and had a son, yet she continued the relationship.

The marriage breaks up, and George lives with Charlotte while Tom moves in with the woman he was having the affair with.

Charlotte went to her priest about receiving an annulment, and eventually one is granted to her and Tom.

George goes to his father’s house every other weekend, where he lives in sin with the woman.

QUESTION: In a situation like this, who is to blame for the breaking of the marriage? Tom, or the woman with whom he committed adultery with? Or are they both liable?

Thank you, and God Bless :signofcross::byzsoc:

Well, ‘Tom’ broke the marriage if he never repented from straying. The fact that he is still with the woman he committed adultery with would indicate that he takes the blame in this case. It’s hard for a marriage to work when there were so many people sharing the ‘marital bed’.

The woman he had the affair with obviously didn’t care whether he was married or not, and still doesn’t care whether he marries her or not since she is already living with him.

Hope the mom has been able to move forward. It’s not a fun place to be stuck.

The marriage was found invalid because there was something indispensable lacking since the start. That would be the first choice for why the attempt did not go on longer than it did. If Tom were unknowingly incapable of fidelity or an understanding of the nature of fidelity, this could be the reason the marriage broke up, without Tom necessarily being culpable. It could be that he was doing the best he could with the machinery he had. We can’t know without more information in a particular case. It certainly is not the same answer in all cases.

As for who was culpable for the adultery, anyone who understood it was wrong and without being compelled chose to do it anyway is culpable. That could be both Tom and the other woman, and that could be neither. Having said that, the attempt at marriage might have failed even if Tom was* fully capable of fidelity and fully* willing to be faithful. If that were true, his paramour would not have been able to seduce him.

They both committed adultery, and they are both liable.

Actually Tom is guilty of Adultery, The other woman is guilty of coveting, and They are both guilty of sex outside of Marriage. Tom is ultimately responsible for the Marriage breakup. The other woman never took vows to keep the Marriage pure. However, it is all irrelevant. Unless these two stop living in sin, and repent, they will most likely burn in hell.

Sometimes the primary cause behind both the break-up of the marriage and the temptation to adultery are the same thing. IOW, the marriage might have been doomed with or without the adultery. That doesn’t make adultery OK, but sometimes it is some other kind of fatal break in the marriage that makes one partner or both particularly vulnerable to temptation to adultery. People outside the marriage can’t assume that a marriage that suffers from infidelity wouldn’t have broken up without it.

I believe the assumption is that this would have been a valid marriage, with all parties involved fully culpable until the church says otherwise. Not the other way around


My view – and from personal experience as it was my ex-wife – Both (Tom and the other woman) are responsible for the ruin of the marriage. Tom chose to break his vows and turn from God, and the other woman also chose to be the cause of his sin. I heard on Priest state this in his Homely once and it is so profound in such a simple way. “To sin is against God is such a grave act, but to cause another to sin against God is much worse.” The devil is always trying to turn us away from God, and at times he uses others to accomplish that goal.

Remain strong in faith and always trust in God.


Ah, but there was not a valid marriage. The wife was granted a decree of nullity, so the attempt at marriage was never valid from the beginning. That is an important piece of information in this very sketchy scenario.

Infidelity within a perfectly valid marriage is not cause for a decree of nullity. Therefore, the one thing we must recognize is that the marriage was invalid prior to the infidelity. Perhaps it was not known (or not fully known) to one or both spouses at the time, but now we know it was not valid.

Infidelity after the fact alone, in contrast, is just cause under canon law for the wronged spouse to take a separation with the bond remaining, and it can be a just cause for a civil divorce,** but sin after the fact does not invalidate a valid marriage**. If it did, a decree of nullity would simply be a Catholic divorce.

The decree of nullity indicates that either Tom’s infidelity was due to a lack of maturity or intent to remain faithful on his part (in other words, it is possible that all responsibility lies with him), or else the marriage suffered from some other fatal defect from the beginning. IOW, Tom may be entirely responsible, but he may not be. The defect in the marriage that rendered it invalid may have even had nothing to do with him. Perhaps he and Charlotte didn’t bother to marry in the Church, or perhaps Charlotte was never open to children, or…well, the marriage could have been invalid for many reasons, and those reasons might or might not have had anything at all to do with Tom’s decision to commit a mortal sin by having sex with a woman he was not married to.

A woman you meet after you are validly married can play a part in ruining your marriage, but she does not have the power to render your marriage invalid, either. In that case, the adultery would still be a mortal sin, and adultery rather than fornication, as long as Tom was bound to presume that his marriage was valid because it hadn’t proven otherwise. Let us face it, though: saying that Tom was guilty of fornication and breaking of faith with someone who was living with him in sin because Tom knew they were only pretending marriage and saying that Tom was guilty of adultery is totally splitting hairs. His offense against God and against Charlotte was an egregious violation of her trust and the chaste behavior owed to God in either case, as was the violation of his paramour against both Charlotte and God. He and his paramour also sinned against each other, just as any couple engaging in sex outside of marriage does. That is the only label that behavior needs.

Your right. I Didn’t see that they had received an annulment. But I still say that the soul of Tom and the other woman are in danger. If for no other reason for having sex outside of marriage. Unless, of course, they marry in the church and confess. But ignorance is not an excuse on judgement day.

My thoughts as well. It may very well be all three adults in the situation have a part in the breakup of the marriage.

Tom is living with a woman he’s not married to, and there is no reason to believe that he is unaware that this is a serious violation of moral law. We cannot judge what level of moral observance Tom is capable of–his name may be more apropos than we know, alas!–so exactly what mercy he can hope for if he dies having persisted in this behavior is only known to God, who alone can judge. His actions, however, are objectively serious enough to be mortal sins, and there is no reason to believe he is unaware of the severity of his situation. He can hardly be ignorant of the commandment, but the fact that Charlotte received a decree of nullity indicates that perhaps there is a lack of capacity on his part. One would hope Heaven can find mercy for all of us, but none of us should lull ourselves into presumption and mistake that hardheartedness for hope.

IOW: When it is not your sin and you have done what you can to admonish the sinner, hope for mercy when they seem not to turn from it. When it is your sin, though, don’t presume! Repent!

EasterJoy stated “Infidelity within a perfectly valid marriage is not cause for a decree of nullity”

No offence and I know that some may disagree with me on this but:

God’s law: Thou shall not Commit Adultery - is just that a Law and no one should be allowed to diminish God’s laws, any of them.

Jesus reinforced all of God’s laws – explaining that the 2 greatest of the commandments were to Love God and each other as ourselves. To Forgive also, but that does not mean we should over look God’s Laws. As in Matthew 19.9 “that if a man divorces his wife, except for adultery, and marries another he himself commits adultery.”

I view it that “man” can be substituted for “spouse”.


He also made the rule that what the Apostles held bound on earth would be held bound in Heaven, too. Having said that, in a case such as described, yes, it is quite possible that the infidelity and the invalidity sprang from the same root. In any case, a decree of nullity often (but not always) leaves those who attempted the marriage free to attempt marriage again with someone else. The important point is that a marriage that began as a valid marriage remains a valid marriage, even if there is infidelity after the fact.

Although a tribunal can find that infidelity after the fact was evidence of bad faith or incapacity at the time of the vows, that is by no means automatic. Canon law list the rights of a spouse wronged by infidelity under Separation with the Bond Remaining, not under impediments to marriage:

*Art. 2.


Can. 1151 Spouses have the duty and right to preserve conjugal living unless a legitimate cause excuses them.

Can. 1152 §1. Although it is earnestly recommended that a spouse, moved by Christian charity and concerned for the good of the family, not refuse forgiveness to an adulterous partner and not disrupt conjugal life, nevertheless, if the spouse did not condone the fault of the other expressly or tacitly, the spouse has the right to sever conjugal living unless the spouse consented to the adultery, gave cause for it, or also committed adultery.

§2. Tacit condonation exists if the innocent spouse has had marital relations voluntarily with the other spouse after having become certain of the adultery. It is presumed, moreover, if the spouse observed conjugal living for six months and did not make recourse to the ecclesiastical or civil authority.

§3. If the innocent spouse has severed conjugal living voluntarily, the spouse is to introduce a cause for separation within six months to the competent ecclesiastical authority which, after having investigated all the circumstances, is to consider carefully whether the innocent spouse can be moved to forgive the fault and not to prolong the separation permanently.

Can. 1153 §1. If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.

§2. In all cases, when the cause for the separation ceases, conjugal living must be restored unless ecclesiastical authority has established otherwise.

Can. 1154 After the separation of the spouses has taken place, the adequate support and education of the children must always be suitably provided.

Can. 1155 The innocent spouse laudably can readmit the other spouse to conjugal life; in this case the innocent spouse renounces the right to separate.*

In the theoretical case that is the topic of this thread, however, the marriage was in fact invalid. It is not the business of the General Public of the Faithful to be told why, so we can’t know unless one of the parties involved chooses to disclose that. What we do know is that a valid marriage is not made invalid by the sin of one of the spouses. Their sin can make the common conjugal life impossible (and therefore not morally required), and in that sense of course the sin can “ruin” a marriage, but that sin does not dissolve a valid marriage after the fact.

What happened to that Charlotte happened to me. Also our “George” lived with me and my “Tom” went to live in that woman’s house with her kids, just after her husband was booted out (had to make room)… George visits his Dad there. :frowning: Not what I would ever want but not all things are in our control and things don’t always turn out like you plan. Its a sinful world we live in.

As to your question, as far as the Church is concerned, its just as has been explained by previous posters in this thread. But emotionally, the affair I blame on character deficits of both adulterers, pretty equally. It takes two. They both engaged in the affair while married. They were both the spoiled, “served” party of their marriages. I know her husband was real nice; we talked quite a bit from our trenches.

Also, I got to read the entire, whole affair in the emails I stumbled upon – I was not looking for any such thing, as I was VERY trusting in spite of evidence to contrary; it was part of my idealism to be trusting of my husband. I was shocked. But stumbling on those emails I attribute to my Guardian Angel, as, knowing the whole truth was the only way to keep me from positive-thinking it into something untrue but nicer, which is what I would have done with partial knowledge of the truth – and my ex would used have my willingness to do that to his advantage. Also from reading those emails I gained allot of insight and I’d say they used each other and I surmise that they must now stay together to save face; to show the world they destroyed their families for good reason. And also they need to stay together for dire economical reason. Her kids are going to college and did you know you save a BUNDLE if you have a man paying your bills in your house you are not married to? Yes, the government rewards that one! So they are making the best of it!

Maybe, but maybe NOT.

Please be aware that there is this ugly but common belief that it takes two to divorce, and that* both *spouses usually bear some of the blame for the divorce.

I know its an ugly belief because I once believed this. I had a bad marriage but*** I*** would NEVER divorce because*** I*** made a vow, and ***I would keep it no matter what and because I loved God and He hates divorce and I would not displease him. So a part of me was convinced the reason I wasn’t divorced and others were was because they didn’t try as hard as I ***did.

But the fact is, ONE spouse can make a unilateral decision to not help the marraige work, and to end a marriage, and the other spouse can do nothing about it.

And just imagine facing the above attitude in others after dedicating your entire life to holding your marraige together no matter the cost and you are facing the shock and the cost of this misplaced idealism. Its like a punch in the stomach when you are down.

*That’s *how you learn how ugly that common but untrue belief is.

The truth sets you free.

Judge not, lest you be judged…the freedom from thinking you know when you don’t is the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. Hard to learn, but well worth learning. I have to think, though, that anyone who had to learn the way you did must surely have less Purgatory in store, because that is a hard kind of purging to have to go through.

I’m sorry that your attempt at marriage was invalid, but I’m glad you are not still trying to make something work that was doomed from the start. I hope you have some peace knowing that you did your best. May you never have to go through anything remotely like that again!

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