If spouse is missing and presumed dead, when is remarriage possible?

I am reading a Thomas Hardy book where the seafaring husband is lost at sea. There is no body, and there is an outside chance that he just wanted to go live in another port, but the word the wife got was that his ship went down. She’s glad to be rid of him in any case, so doesn’t investigate further, and starts wearing black.

How does the Church treat such disappearances? When is one free to marry following the disappearance of a spouse?

I have no idea what the official Church teaching is, but there are laws regarding this for civil purposes. So I suppose if the civil authorities declare the husband dead for the purposes of settling his estate, the widow can go to her priest/bishop and ask if she is free to remarry.

I love Thomas Hardy too!

Canon Law:


Can. 1707 §1. Whenever the death of a spouse cannot be proven by an authentic ecclesiastical or civil document, the other spouse is not considered free from the bond of marriage until after the diocesan bishop has issued a declaration of presumed death.

§2. The diocesan bishop is able to issue the declaration mentioned in §1 only if, after having carried out appropriate investigations, he attains moral certitude of the death of the spouse from the depositions of witnesses, from rumor, or from evidence. The absence of a spouse alone, even for a long time, is not sufficient.

§3. The bishop is to consult the Apostolic See in uncertain and complicated cases.

Thanks! I didn’t remember ever seeing anything about this in canon law before. So the next question is obviously, what is the status of say Tom Hanks’s marriage in the movie Castaway? Or his wife’s new marriage?



They were engaged but not married when he was stranded on the island.

I didn’t remember that. Clever move by the writers.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.