What if Husband Wants Divorce


So, I have a question in a situation that is not completely fictional. But, it's not completely truth either.

What if I husband leaves his wife (God has at least not put kids into this situation) and then asks for a divorce. The wife as two options, fight the divorce (not sure whether a husband can divorce someone without their consent legally) or to love that person enough to know that the marriage is hurting them and let them go. Of course, wife, being Catholic would never remarry because they may be separated legally, but not spiritually. And always pray for her husband to return both to her and to God.

What is the right thing to do?


First off, it is a false dichotomy to say "either fight for the marriage or love your husband and look out for his best interest." Divorces hurt people, and far too many that happen never had to happen. I've had a divorced man tell me this himself. If he had only taken the time to look at what was wrong with his first marriage, he wouldn't be half-way into the same problem in his second marriage before he learned how to address the problem. He could have had one lifelong marriage, one family. He loved his second wife, he loved both families, and yet he still always regreted that failure in judgement. So this isn't high principles talking. This comes from people who wish they'd done it differently.

Any doctor will tell you that you don't treat pain with drastic measures until you've first taken the time to diagnose where the pain is coming from. In the case of Dr. Phil, he feels very firmly that a person who wants a divorce needs to "earn" their way out by a) investigating what happened and b) establishing a relationship with their ex-to-be that will result in a harmonious post-marriage relationship afterward, for the sake of both themselves and for everyone who loves them both, but particularly their children, whom they must still parent together. If nothing else, and even if this first marriage is invalid, an honest evaluation before divorce will keep the spouses from unwittingly jumping right back into another unsuccessful attempt at marriage after their divorce and annulment. One invalid marriage is one too many for anyone, and yet "second verse, same song" is all too common.

I mean, you tell your spouse: "If we get counselling, we may still divorce, but at least we are far less likely to divorce two different people for the same reason. People who have been through this recommend doing the work to get out, even when they still divorced in the end. I think we should take their advice."

IOW, I don't think you "fight" a divorce. I think you have to acknowledge that your spouse has nothing else other than his or her perception of things. You have to give some respect to how different their perception is than yours. Then you have the delicate job of convincing them that you need to find out together where objective reality lies.

If this is you, or if it is someone you know, either the husband or the wife, encourage them to get a professional counsellor to talk to them about their perceptions of their marriage, whether or not their spouse agrees to come. If you have a wound that looks like it might be mortal, you don't just wring your hands and hope that God will stop the bleeding. You don't heal it by telling yourself to "tough it out". As for amputations, only a fool would do his own. If help is at all available, you enlist the help of someone with some experience and competence in the healing art that you need.


Easter Joy -

Thank you for your response. The situation I am talking about is a post-counseling situation. Say that the couple has already been to counseling and no matter what else happens, the husband says (for example) that he just can no longer be in love with his wife any more.

What are the church’s teachings in this situation? The wife loves her husband enough to want happiness for him even if it is not her that he loves any more. But, the wife also loves God and knows that there is no “divorce” in God’s eyes.


The Church’s teaching is that a person may separate from his/her spouse under two conditions. First, to do so needs to be necessary for the physical, mental or financial wellbeing of the innocent spouse. Second, permission from the ordinary (Bishop) is to be requested.

If the husband is leaving because he wants an emotional “in love” state, that’s not a legitimate reason. The wife shouldn’t be cooperating with that separation unless it is necessary for her own physical, mental or financial well-being. The husband’s desire to be “in love” or “happy” is not a legitimate factor. Her desire for his happiness does not mean that she should assist him to sin.

Divorce is not always a sin. However, civil divorce without legitimate reason, is a sin even if neither party remarries.


From the Catechism (vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm– boldface mine, of course)


2382 The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.173 He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law.174

Between the baptized, "a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death."175

2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.176

**If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense. **

2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:

*If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another’s husband to herself.177 *

2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.

2386 It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage.178

If a Catholic’s spouse is determined to separate and/or divorce, the Catholic doesn’t need to resort to false heroism that might undermine what relationship is left. A civil divorce is even permissible between validly-married Catholics, when the reasons are grave, as a means of, for instance, providing safety or of dividing the marital assets in justice (CCC 2383). Short of that, a legal separation is allowed if necessary for the spouses to live in peace. It is preferable to avoid civil divorce, if it is not needed to achieve justice and peace between the spouses, but there is no sin in the divorce if it proves to be necessary. (Sometimes, for instance, it is a choice to sin that destroyed the marital relationship; once there is no peace in sight between the spouses, a divorce might be morally tolerable.) I would say that this the kind of question which always calls for pastoral guidance.* IMHO*, it would be rash for a couple to make this judgment without obtaining guidance from their pastor(s) or the equivalent.

A Catholic is not bound to make legal pretenses in order to maintain the appearance of being the victim of a divorce. If the divorce cannot be stopped, then the Catholic does not have to make a show in court of trying to stop it. What is necessary is that those things that might have saved the marriage were tried.

If a person is validly married to you, it isn’t an act of mercy to give him or her a divorce. When divorce can be avoided without violating justice or putting someone in danger, it is a grave sin to be complicit. When divorce is morally permitted, it is for the sake of justice, not for the sake of sparing the person the emotional pain of sticking out through better or worse. After all, it is false love that would give permission to commit a grave sin that happens to be less immediately painful than virtue.

It may be the most civilized not to wage a war that will only result in further harm, though. If the sin is going to be committed no matter what you do, you don’t have to make everyone involved miserable in order to make a show of your refusal to be complicit. It is enough to have taken steps that would have some reasonable chance of changing your spouse’s determined course.

Obviously, none of this is a black-and-white thing to decide. It is more like deciding what treatment to take for your cancer! There gets to be a point where palliative care can rightly replace aggressive treatment aimed at a cure. You’d want to consult with your pastor, with a priest whose judgement you find sound, someone your pastor recommends, or the like. In some places, the shortage of priests is severe or the available priests have less training than some local Catholic lay counsellors do. IOW, this isn’t guidance that has to come from a priest, but it should come from someone that your pastor or chancery office is satisfied will give you advice in keeping with the teaching of the Church.

I really, really hope that all this turns out to be a theoretical consideration for you, though.


Easter Joy -

Again, thank you for your response. CCC 2386 is more the situation that I'm currently concerned about here. The wife has tried and tried to the best of her ability to make things right (no history of physical or mental abuse), but husband insists that nothing can be done to make him love her anymore. Husband is Christian, but not Catholic, by the way. Wife is concerned that because the husband wants a divorce, she will be held accountable for it. So, from what I read in CCC 2386 she would be the innocent party. There's no need to make everyone else around her miserable by trying to "force" him to stay married. And, I definitely agree with you that she should speak with a priest or someone else from her parish. Going through this is not going to be easy, and I hope that wife has someone that she can lean on in the process. And, as I have said, I thank God that these two have not had any children.


You fight for the marriage and act at all times out of love for your husband, is right they go together. Allowing him to imperil is immortal soul by divorce and remarriage is not loving. It is however quite easy for anyone to obtain a unilateral divorce in most states, and not much legally one can do to defend against it, except to take action to protect ones rights and those of any children involved. It is not a sin to allow that legal course of action if fighting it would exhaust your resources and be fruitless in the end. Only if you feel the marriage was invalid from its inception would you then pursue annulment, because as you accurately state, you are married for life regardless of any state decree.


This question may be fictional, but it’s pretty close to my personal situation.

My husband wants a divorce. The reason he gives is basically I don’t make enough money to suit him. He also says we have “nothing in common anymore” which isn’t true since we 1) have a child and 2) still share about 75% of the same hobbies and interests. I didn’t put up much of a fight with the separation though. In the past years, he’s cheated on me on several occasions and I did “force” the marriage counseling route. He stopped going. At the point where he left, mainly wanted the legal separation to protect myself financially. Two weeks before he told me he was leaving, he took it upon himself to drain all of our savings and put it in his name only (I did get almost half back, but not all of it). I also found out he had secret credit cards that he used for his “affairs” that I was technically liable for since it was “marital debit” (if that isn’t a kick in the gut). Separation allows me to collect child support and frees me from his debits (and the way we worded it, his current debits as well).

The separation paves the way for a no-fault divorce though. All he has to do is file after a certain amount of time. There isn’t much I can do (I suppose fight it legally, but I am stuck with the mortgage and all of our old bills. And even though I get child support, it’s not enough for me and my daughter to live the way we used to so I’ve made deep cuts in the household budget). My point is, legally fighting it and paying for lawyers won’t happen because I can’t pay them.

I should clarify in my posts, he’s not “all bad.” It’s hard because my point of view is a bit emotionally clouded because he did very bad by me in all this. He still takes an interest in our daughter and tries to be a loving father for her. He wants to still be involved in her life and I still think on some level he cares for me. He also was never abusive. He’s just self-centered and always puts himself first and him leaving me is in his best interest now. I think he might have that Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but that’s only my uneducated guess.

I really struggled with it and felt tremendous guilt. But I talked to my parish priest and he reassured me. He didn’t say it in so many words, but I can’t “control” my husband and I have an obligation to protect my daughter and myself. He also suggested, based on what I told him of the marriage and the nature of my husband’s infidelities, that I should seek an annulment (one of his affairs happened before we were married and continued after we were married).

My priest assured me I was not living in a state of sin and that I can still receive Communion, etc. I am NOT free to remarry, even if a civil divorce goes though. I am fine with that, but I will seek and annulment, but mainly to just give me peace of mind. I don’t think I even want to be married again and set myself up for emotional (and financial) betrayal again. I realize most men are good people and end up being loving husbands… I’d just be afraid I’d get the “wrong one” again.


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