According to the precepts of the Church, is a Catholic lawyer permitted to participate in a civil divorce? e.g. Counseling one of the parties through the divorce, dividing the assets, litigating in court over the issue. Basically, can he participate in everything that a divorce entails, legally speaking? Thank you, and God Bless.
The answer is simple: yes and no
Blessed Pope John Paul II had this to say about Catholic legal professionals and divorce:
For grave and proportionate motives [judges] may therefore act in accord with the traditional principles of material cooperation. But they too must seek effective means to encourage marital unions, especially through a wisely handled work of reconciliation.
Lawyers, as independent professionals, should always decline the use of their profession for an end that is contrary to justice, as is divorce. They can only cooperate in this kind of activity when, in the intention of the client, it is not directed to the break-up of the marriage, but to the securing of other legitimate effects that can only be obtained through such a judicial process in the established legal order (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2383). In this way, with their work of assisting and reconciling persons who are going through a marital crises, lawyers truly serve the rights of the person and avoid becoming mere technicians at the service of any interest whatever.
Judges and lawyers may only “cooperate” in a divorce proceeding if their cooperation is material and not formal. Formal cooperation would be to encourage divorce as an end in itself or support divorce as good. Material cooperation, on the other hand, is when someone is engaged in a morally good or neutral action that only incidentally enables the bad action of another.
Catholic divorce lawyers must never cooperate in a divorce if the proceedings result in injustice. However if the relationship between the two spouses is in such terrible shape that only civil remedies (including divorce) will protect an individual’s rights, safety, or mental health then Catholic lawyers may cooperate in order to further justice in such circumstances.
Each divorce must be handled on a case by case basis. Catholic lawyers must ask themselves if the case before them is in the interest of justice and the natural law or if it will result in an injustice to both natural law and the rights of persons. Catholic lawyers do not need to do an indepth analysis of each client and their motives but should examine their own conscience as to whether the legal action is something they would feel comfortable cooperating with and standing before God.