Civil Divorce

Does the Catholic Church recognize the competence of civil authorities to dissolve a natural marriage?


While it recognizes that, beyond those imposed by the Court, the divorced couple have no further legal obligations to each other, it still considers the couple to be validly married until such time as their marriage is either proven invalid or dissolved by the Pauline or Petrine privilege.


To the OP…I’m curious what you mean by “natural marriage”. Do you mean the “civil aspects” of the marriage?


I just assumed he was using ‘natural marriage’ in the Catholic sense (natural as opposed to sacramental), so I based my answer on that. Obviously, if he meant something different, my answer may be waaaay off-base.

The Catholic Church recognizes that no authority on earth, can dissolve a Valid natural marriage. She does claim the authority, given by Christ, to judge whether or not a marriage is valid (unlawful in the sense Jesus used in his teaching on marriage). She further teaches this truth, that no authority on earth is competent to change the meaning of natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman for life, as it has existed since the creation of humanity. The exceptions, Pauline privilege and Petrine privilege are exercised in rare circumstances for the protection of the faith of the Catholic party involved and where the marriage has already crumbled. A civil divorce does not end a valid marriage.

Where one or both are unbaptized.

The church has a process for ‘separation for bed and table’ for case of adultery, if the other party refuses to reconcile. The strict conditions mean that the no fault divorce is not recognized by the church, the parties have their marital obligations toward each other without the declared separation. The strict requirement of the action by the competent Ecclesiastical authority, means that to church not recognizes any rights of the state regarding marriages.


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.

Ah - Well I’m no expert but that is not what i would have presumed you meant. Perhaps others can address this more clearly.


That is what the Church defines as a natural marriage. Catholics married to non-baptized are in natural marriages. Two Jews or two Hindus are in natural marriages. The Court may say that the two are no longer legally married to each other but the Catholic Church still considers them married until such time as their marriage is found invalid or dissolved by privilege as described above.

No, the Church does not recognize the competence of civil authorities to dissolve any valid marriage (natural or Sacramental). The role of civil authorities with regard to marriage is strictly to legalize the financial and legal rights and obligations. As such, the civil authority can change or remove those obligations but this has no effect on the marriage bond.

Given the very general nature of the OP’s question, it sounds as though the Church does recognize the competance of the civil courts to deal with the civil aspects of a the marriage contract as defined in civil law.
The Church does NOT recognize that competance as extending in any way into the sacremental nature of marriage (whether explicit or implicit) under God’s Law.

In a sense this recognition of the two bodies explains why, at least ni the US, annulment proceedings cannot be initiated until after a civil divorce has been granted.


a natural marriage is one between two unbaptized persons or one baptized and one unbaptized person. It is valid if they are otherwise free to marry and there are no natural law impediments (incest for example). A sacramental marriage is a valid marriage between two baptized persons. OP is using the commonly accepted definition of natural marriage as it applies to Church law. No civil law or authority can dissolve a valid marriage. The Catholic Church recognizes a valid natural marriage unless or until it has irretrievably broken down (often civil divorce is the step that makes this a fact) and has been proven after due investigation to be invalid from its inception. The question has been answered in all its ramifications. Has OP anything else to discuss?

So if two unbaptized persons contract marriage and then divorce civilly, the Catholic Church assumes the contract still to be in force in spite of the decision of the civil authority?

Yes, the marriage contract would still be in force spiritually even if the legal obligations of one party to the other have been changed by a civil authority.

Based on the divorces I’ve seen, there’s nothing ‘civil’ about them. :smiley:

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