Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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A reader wants to know the Church’s thinking on prenuptial agreements. Tom and Caroline McDonald have the answer.
BY Tom & Caroline McDonald
My sister’s fiancé wants her to sign a
prenuptial agreement. He says he’s just being prudent and that it’s routine,
but the very idea makes her uneasy. What advice can I give to my sister?
These days you hear of the rich and
famous signing “prenups” all the time, so what’s the big deal? This question
needs to be addressed from two different perspectives: canonical and pastoral.
First, the canonical perspective.
Neither of us is a canon lawyer (although Caroline’s mother is!), but it is our
understanding that, while marriage tribunals do take prenuptial agreements into
evidence, canon law has no provision prohibiting the use of a prenuptial
agreement. In other words, a prenup does not in itself invalidate a marriage.
We can think of at least one case
where a prenup seems sensible: If two widowed adults with grown children plan
on getting married, they may wish to legally spell out the specifics of how
their respective children will inherit their belongings. This could help avoid
confusion and tension at the time of death.
However, that kind of case is the
exception rather than the rule. What then is usually behind the desire to get a
prenup? Some level of distrust of one’s fiancé.
Marriage is intended to be an act of
total self-donation. God’s total, perfect love for us is the model for spouses.
We are no longer our own, but all that we are and all that we have now belongs
to our spouses as the two become one. Part of the act of self-donation is to
place your spouse ahead of yourself, to love him or her as Christ does. The
prenuptial agreement violates this because it is a deliberate act of
One of the marks of sacramental
marriage is that it is indissoluble. Nothing outside of death can break the
valid marriage bond. In our opinion, the use of a prenuptial agreement degrades
and distrusts the permanence, or indissolubility, of marriage. It indicates
that at least one of the spouses does not wholeheartedly trust the other to live
up to the permanence of the vows. If that is the case, why an earth would you
marry that person?
We would encourage your sister to
spend some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying for wisdom and
discernment, and then to have a heart-to-heart discussion with her fiancé to
discover what is at the root of his insistence on the prenup. And we’d
encourage you to keep praying for your sister, too.
The McDonalds are family-life coordinators for the Archdiocese of
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