Catholic News

Catholics and prenuptials; paying back creditors

The Southeast Alaska Catholic
November 2011

QUESTION CORNER By Father Ken Doyle, CNS Columnist

QUESTION: I am 54 years old, divorced and about to enter my second marriage. My first one ended against my will; my husband was unfaithful and wanted out. Catholic faith is very important to me.

My boyfriend (of two-and-a-half years) and I have talked about marrying, and last night he asked me how I felt about signing a prenuptial agreement.

I am not with him because of his assets or his money, and I have mixed feelings about such an agreement. In a way, it seems as though he is “sort of” marrying me (in that it is with certain conditions). I also feel that we would be interposing financial considerations; we should be concerned with the lives and intimacy we will be sharing and not with finances.

Please give me your thoughts, concerns and opinions — or just tell me to get over it. (Des Moines, Iowa)

ANSWER: Since you said that your Catholic faith is very important to you, I am assuming that you have received a church annulment for your first marriage. (I am also assuming that your boyfriend either was never married before or that he also has obtained a church annulment, leaving you both free to marry in the eyes of the Catholic Church.)

Then, to the matter of the prenuptial agreement: The Catholic Church does not have a blanket prohibition of “prenups.” In certain cases, they can be quite valid and helpful.
When a widow marries a widower, for example, and they both have children from their previous marriages, a prenup is a legitimate way of determining what is common property and what is separate as a basis for determining the inheritance rights of each spouse’s children.

In most cases, though, prenups are a bad idea and may even call into question the validity of the marriage itself.

The same misgivings that you express (that your boyfriend would be “sort of” marrying you) are the same concerns that the church has about a prenup. Clearly, the church’s teaching is that marriage is permanent and requires an unconditional commitment.

Accordingly, Canon 1102 of the church’s Code of Canon Law says that “marriage subject to a condition about the future cannot be contracted validly.”

For a prospective spouse to say, for example, “I will marry you, if you agree I’ll get half the assets at a divorce,” strikes at the heart of the church’s view of marriage.

The very contemplation of divorce at the outset of a marriage creates an “escape hatch” and could well imply something less than a total commitment.

QUESTION: I read (in The Catholic Moment) your article on the church’s position regarding bankruptcy filings. The article was interesting. However, it is important to understand that there is a legal risk associated with repaying a debt that has been discharged in bankruptcy.

The risk is that, if you pay off one debt, either partially or in full, that probably would result in all of your debts being resurrected. It would amount to a preference of one creditor over another, and that is not allowed. (Carmel, Ind.)

ANSWER: Thank you for your comment. I said in my column that a person who borrows money incurs a moral obligation as well as a legal one, and so “down the road, if it ever came to be that he had resources beyond what was needed to maintain his family reasonably, he should endeavor to repay the debts which the bankruptcy court discharged legally.”

In fact, the “danger zone” that you caution about occurs before the bankruptcy is approved, not after.

During the 90-day period preceding the court’s declaration of a discharge in bankruptcy, repayment to a single creditor and not to others is viewed by the law as an impermissible preference. But once the court grants the bankruptcy, the governing U.S. Bankruptcy Code allows the person discharged to repay anyone he wants, in whatever amount, and the law views this as a permissible gift.

(Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)

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