National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Prayer Beats Prenup

A reader wants to know the Church’s thinking on prenuptial agreements. Tom and Caroline McDonald have the answer.

BY Tom & Caroline McDonald

May 27- June 2, 2007 Issue | Posted 5/22/07 at 10:00 AM


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. Why not?

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 withholding.

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 Mobile, Alabama.