Is it okay to stay in a bad marriage or wrong?


For example, lets say a woman is married to a cheating alcoholic abusing loser who treats her like garbage. There is no chance for annulment because he was fine at the beginning of the marriage and there was no indication of this behavior. Does the church say that the woman has to stay in the marriage even if she’s all black and blue from her husband and he doesn’t treat her right, or should the woman leave him (and hopefully stay chaste since they are still married in God’s eyes) in order to keep away from harm. I’ve always struggled with this because if a marriage goes south do I have to stick it out even if it puts my health in danger?


It it is valid it is for life. CIC Canon law has this:

**ARTICLE 2: SEPARATION WHILE THE BOND REMAINS ** Canon 1151 Spouses have the obligation and the right to maintain their common conjugal life, unless a lawful reason excuses them.
Canon 1152.1 It is earnestly recommended that a spouse, motivated by christian charity and solicitous for the good of the family, should not refuse to pardon an adulterous partner and should not sunder the conjugal life. Nevertheless, if that spouse has not either expressly or tacitly condoned the other’s fault, he or she has the right to sever the common conjugal life, provided he or she has not consented to the adultery, nor been the cause of it, nor also committed adultery.
Canon 1152.2 Tacit condonation occurs if the innocent spouse, after becoming aware of the adultery, has willingly engaged in a marital relationship with the other spouse; it is presumed, however, if the innocent spouse has maintained the common conjugal life for six months, and has not had recourse to ecclesiastical or to civil authority.
Canon 1152.3 Within six months of having spontaneously terminated the common conjugal life, the innocent spouse is to bring a case for separation to the competent ecclesiastical authority. Having examined all the circumstances, this authority is to consider whether the innocent spouse can be brought to condone the fault and not prolong the separation permanently.
Canon 1153.1 A spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local Ordinary or, if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority.
Canon 1153.2 In all cases, when the reason for separation ceases, the common conjugal life is to be restored, unless otherwise provided by ecclesiastical authority.
Canon 1154 When a separation of spouses has taken place, provision is always, and in good time, to be made for the due maintenance and upbringing of the children.
Canon 1155 The innocent spouse may laudably readmit the other spouse to the conjugal life, in which case he or she renounces the right to separation .


The Church does not require you to stay in a dangerous, abusive relationship; you have the right to live in peace and safety, especially if children are involved. Don’t assume a marriage can or cannot be annulled, that is entirely up to the Marriage Tribunal.


If the marriage is indeed valid with no chance of annulment, her one choice could be civil divorce (or separation). In fact, it would probably be recommended that she leave this situation if her life and health were in jeopardy. The sticking point that often gets overlooked has to do with remarriage. In fact, even if she went through a civil divorce, she would still be able to receive Holy Communion provided she did not “remarry” while still in a sacramental marriage with her first husband.


This is an excellent point.


So then let’s say it was just the cheating. There is no physical harm done to the woman, but she knows the husband’s been unfaithful and doesn’t care to be faithful. Then does she have to stick it out? Also, I understand it’s up to the marriage tribunal, but I was always told in my Catholic high school that basically some sort of fault had to exist at the time of marriage to make it invalid (such as the husband cheating while they were dating and before marriage, or had a drinking problem that was overlooked etc). From what it sounded like basically if both people entered it willingly and there were no problems at the time of the wedding then there was no chance for annulment.


In the case of sexual infidelity, I’d argue that in this day and age that too would put the health and well-being of the innocent spouse at risk and thus would also be just cause for separation or civil divorce. Lots of scary diseases out there.

Should the infidelity be emotional in nature, once again that potentially puts the well-being of the innocent spouse at risk. Emotional infidelity is a psychological assault. In this case, however, there can be many variables and degrees of offense at work so IMHO whether the situation warrants separation or civil divorce can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The best option is, of course, to try to save the marriage. If it cannot be saved, however, other options exist. The injured party does not have to resign themselves to a lifetime of continued injury when the offenses committed against him or her present a danger to health and/or well-being.

The probability of annulment is a separate issue.


The canons quoted above make it clear that if your spouse cheats you don’t have to stay in the marriage. You can get an official separation from the Church. But that separation is only granted if you haven’t sex with the spouse after you’ve become aware of the cheating.

That separation is not a divorce, but a Church permission to not live as a couple. You are still married.

Your understanding of annulments is right. Not every marriage that goes wrong is invalid. If at the time of the marriage both intended to be faithful, to be married until the death of the other and to be open to children, there remains only a few things that could invalidate the marriage. One has to consent freely with full knowledge of what is known at the time.

If you knew you were sterile and didn’t inform your potential spouse that could invalidate the marriage if the spouse would have not married you had he/she known; keeping the information from the spouse didn’t allow for free consent.

If you were gay and didn’t inform that could also prove to be grounds for an annulment. I know a man who told me that the day he got married he stood in the synagogue (after converting to Judaism and all that that involves for an adult male) and thought “I should not be doing this, I should have told her the truth,” but he thought he could make it work. He couldn’t. That marriage was most likely invalid because the wife didn’t have an opportunity to say “OK, I know he’s gay, but I’m going to marry him anyway.” Her consent wasn’t given freely.


People generally consider living together and having sex as marriage. It is not. It is much much more than that and those first two things aren’t required to exist at all times. What I mean is she can leave, civilly divorce to protect her kids and money (or legal separate), and start a new life without him.

All while being faithful to her marriage vows.


Something that is considered by the tribunal is actions during marriage that reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of marriage that must have existed from the beginning.

Ex: this husband has no problem with an open marriage or with cheating or with the idea of till death do we part. Those are all red flags that something was wrong from the start and needs more scrutiny.


Actually that is technically incorrect. A Tribunal doesn’t “annul” a marriage. It merely determines whether the marriage was null from the outset. So techically, it is “entirely up to the facts”. The tribunal merely tries to find what those facts are.

The very term “annulment” is misleading which is why I try to avoid it and instead use the the term “granting a decree of nullity”. The Church does not “annul” a marriage i.e. “make it void” in a nullity proceeding. A determination of nullity is not a “Catholic divorce” which disolves a union. The union either existed or it didn’t. The tribunal has no power to dissolve a valid union.


However the tribunal is not infallible and the second instance court can disagree with the first instance court etc. The tribunal itself will tell you they do not consider their decisions infallible. Perhaps it’s the best system we have but it is far from perfect.



True, but I am not sure what that has to do with what I said.


Yes the tribunal can get it wrong. But they have the authority of Christ through his church. They can bind and lose. They can settle disputes between brothers and sisters over whether they are really married.

And we are to listen to the church.

As such there is no sin of adultery if the tribunal erred in its determination and canon law was followed.


A marriage needs to be evaluated by the Tribunal. You can post canon law but interpreting that in the context of a marriage and its validity is the responsibility of a tribunal.

That’s why many of our posters say contact your priest and don’t seek advice based on one post of anyone here thinks your marriage is valid or not. They don’t have the authority of the tribunal.




Just for the record, this isn’t about nullity. The canon at issue is about seperation while the bond continues to exist.




Also true, but 1. this isn’t about validity, its about a right to seperate and 2. As advocates we are instructed by the tribunals to advise our assigned parties if we find no valid basis for a decree of nullity and inform them that in our opinion, a decree is unlikely and they may not want to waste their time going forward. So while it is true that only a tribunal can issue a decree of nullity, often parties never proceed to that stage based on the advocate’s initial evaluation. We of course always error on the side of going forward if there is any colorable ground to proceed.


Yes but the canon does not exist in a vacuum. Anyone seeking advice about whether or not they should separate has better options that just reading canon law posted here. I
might suggest contacting their priest first.

I don’t think it’s prudent to base a decision of such magnitude that effects many people including children based on a posted canon law on a message board.


The person your lecturing is a deacon and has such authority.

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