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Seeing and saying what divorce is and does

Divorce, which has more than doubled for people over 50 since 1990, is a plague on society that must be acknowledged and addressed.

(us.fotolia.com/aytuncoylum)

I met recently with a friend who is going through a divorce the other day for a few beers at the riverfront. He is not a Christian, nor is his wife, but he is a good friend. It’s a typical story: his wife was not “happy” and sought happiness in the arms of someone else, probably as a sabotage “out”. The divorce proceedings are typical as well: mediation, division of assets, custody arrangement, and so forth.

He was blindsighted and gutted at first, but is now accepting, trying to get his finances in order, and find a place to live. And, yes, he also is dating. I had given him a copy of my friend Leila Miller’s Impossible Marriages Redeemed, about people who have been through similar circumstances, but with the help of grace stood on their vows.

As I expected, it didn’t make a difference in the end. Most people who decide to end their marriages have their minds made up and won’t reconsider.

As Christians, we should love what the Lord loves, and hate what He hates. And God hates divorce.

“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with violence,” says the Lord of armies. “So be careful about your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” (Mal 2:16)

Divorce is emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually violent. It may not seem like it in an apparently “amicable” parting of ways. But you can’t tear asunder what God has joined together (cf Mt 19:6) without harming and destroying relationships and lives. This is why the Catechism is so blunt in stating:

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. (par 2385)

Jesus tells the Jews, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt 19:8). His disciples were taken aback, and replied, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (Mt 19:10).

Which is exactly what many people, including many Christians, are doing today.

The U.S. divorce rate has dropped eighteen percent from 2008 to 2016, but one reason is because Millennials are cohabitating rather than tying the knot. The stark fact is that the rate of divorce has more than doubled for people over 50 since 1990. These are people who should be entering the “golden years” of their lives and growing old together, but instead are abandoning their vows, and inducing a surge in the rate of so-called “gray divorce.”

One might think it admirable that divorcing after the kids a grown is a merciful act of love for children, but as Leila Miller details in her previous book Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, it’s anything but. Adult children are as much, if not more, blindsided and affected by this betrayal. The pain and adverse effects are very real, but often pushed down and suppressed. It’s “supposed” to be okay; it’s supposed to be normal.

But it’s not. What’s normal is making vows, staying true to them until death, and working through the challenges that life throws at you together. That’s what vows are for—otherwise they are meaningless. There may be circumstances in which staying together may not be possible, but in many situations divorce, like contraception and abortion, is the tempting “out” based on convenience, not threats to life or well-being.

There are the spiritual elements of divorce—especially when one chooses to remarry and enter into an adulterous relationship. But marriage is not a wholly spiritual affair. There are pragmatic considerations in getting married, and pragmatic considerations in getting divorced.

One of those considerations is financial, which should not be underestimated. In these so-called “gray divorces,” wealth drops by around 50%, and the standard of living for women plunges 45%. U.S. women 63 and older who go through a gray divorce have a poverty rate of 27%, more than any other group at that age, including widows, and nine times the rate of couples who stay married (3%). And then there are the effects on health, the rise of depression, and the increased risk of suicide.

Divorce is short-sighted, because, like suicide, we only see the pain and hardships we are in at a certain moment. When presented with an “out” such as taking one’s life or ending one’s marriage, many people will take it if convinced it will alleviate short-term pain and feelings of being trapped. Suffering is never easy, of course, but our society often goes to dangerous extremes to avoid suffering. Maybe we should not hand someone a metaphorical gun when they say they are feeling hopeless.

No-fault divorce is such a gun. It has severely damaged families and society. It does not inspire virtue, does not teach delayed gratification, does not inspire selflessness or endurance. Like drugs, it is presented as a way to alleviate one’s pain. But it only presents more problems, further unhappiness, and a greater sense of loss in the end. “Let marriage,” writes the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “be held in honor among all.” And one of the most important ways of honoring marriage it to stay married.


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About Rob Marco 6 Articles
Rob Marco is a married father of three. He holds a MA in Theology from Villanova University. He has appeared on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” and his writing has been featured at One Peter Five, Catholic Stand, Catholic Education Resource Center, SpiritualDirection.com, Beauty So Ancient, and other Catholic publications. His upcoming book Wisdom and Folly: Essays on Faith, Life, and Everything in Between will be released in January 2024 from Cruachan Hill Press. He blogs at Pater Familias.

27 Comments

  1. My Father who was Irish and Catholic asked my mother not to divorce him but accepted a separation. I could never understand why she divorced him, she never remarried. I remain sad about that.

  2. I knew about the drop in divorce rates overall & the connection to the drop in marriages but hadn’t heard about the divorce increase in the over 50 population. That’s very sad indeed. Thank you for sharing this article.

    I’m a widow & used to join others like me for an evening of fellowship at church. We’d have speakers, slide shows, art classes, potluck suppers. But it gradually turned into a dating group for over 40 Catholics, many of whom were divorced. I guess the data you’ve shared may explain the change.

  3. I was visiting my friend. While browsing the pictures on the wall, I exclaimed, “That sure looks like a Catholic Church!”. My friend said, “Oh yes, my brother got all his four marriages annulled and she got all her three marriages annulled, and they got married in the Catholic Church. Though, My brother was pretty upset with the Church, because it took a year or so to get the Catholic annulments. Mom didn’t like them living together before marriage, so he wanted to do it for mom. It isn’t like my brother goes to Church or anything.”

    Once I read an article in a Catholic Magazine. A wife of twenty years, raising her five Catholic children, had written in desperately begging for help. Her marriage was under attack! A friend of hers had told her that her husband had filed for an annulment. Her Archdiocese refused to talk to her about it. They told her it was none of her business. Her husband of twenty years had decided to go live with his, twenty years younger, secretary. The wife had been praying that God guide her prodigal husband back home to their family. The priest, whom I had always liked, replied to her, “That is correct, it was none of her business.” I was overwhelmingly shocked!

    It is the Church destroying God’s Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the family unit, through Catholic annulments; not secular court divorces. If a spouse marries in the Catholic Church, and only divorces and remarries in the secular court, then they are still married to their original spouse in God’s eyes, and thus adulterers against their original spouse, in God’s eyes.

    Wisdom 14:22
    Then it was not enough for them to err in their knowledge of God; but even though they lived in a great war of ignorance, they called such evils peace. For while they celebrate either childslaying sacrifices or clandestine mysteries, or frenzied carousals in unheard of rites, They no longer safeguard either lives or pure wedlock; but each either waylays and kills his neighbor, or aggrieves him by adultery. And all is confusion– blood and murder, theft and guile, corruption, faithlessness, turmoil, perjury,…

    • YOUR COMMENT “It is the Church destroying God’s Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the family unit, through Catholic annulments” SHOWS A RATHER SHALLOW UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN BEINGS—THE MAN AND WOMAN WHO MARRY, DIVORCE AND SEEK ANNULMENT ARE THE INSTRUMENTS WHO DESTROY THE SACRAMENT. THE CHURCH PROVIDES RELIEF FROM WHAT MAY HAVE BEEN AN ILLICIT UNION FROM THE START.

      • Hello LJ,
        To obey God is how we love God and fellow man. To remain married is to love God, spouse and family. Jesus did not change God’s marriage Law, or lower the standards on marriage, in order to somehow be ‘more loving’, by allowing unrepentant adulterers into heaven. People who, divorce and remarry in secular courts, can repent by no longer having sex with their divorce and remarried partner, and receive Jesus’ absolution of their mortal sins in the Confessional, but Jesus does not change God’s Law on divorce to make attaining eternal life easier. Are you thinking Jesus was uncompassionate and unloving to do so?

        Is the Church granting an annulment to everyone who asks for an annulment, ‘licit’? You said, “WHAT MAY HAVE BEEN AN ILLICIT UNION FROM THE START”. How does the Church granting annulments to everyone who asks for one, protect married people from being attacked by the evil of divorce? The reason God wrote the law on marriage, and the reason Jesus teaches us not to divorce or we risk eternal damnation, is to protect married partners and children, from being attacked and harmed by divorce.

        The bible tells us that a couple must not separate, but if they do separate, they are not to remarry.

        Malachi 2:16
        For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, And covering one’s garment with injustice, says the LORD of hosts; You must then safeguard life that is your own, and not break faith.

        1 Corinthians 7:10
        To those now married, however, I give this command (though it is not mine; it is the Lord’s): a wife must not separate from her husband. If she does separate, she must either remain single or become reconciled to him again. Similarly, a husband must not divorce his wife.

        Matthew 19:3 The Question of Divorce.
        Some Pharisees came up to him and said, to test him, “May a man divorce his wife for any reason whatever?” He replied, “Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and declared, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one’? Thus they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command divorce and the promulgation of a divorce decree?” “Because of your stubbornness Moses let you divorce your wives,” he replied; “but at the beginning it was not that way. I now say to you, whoever divorces his wife (lewd conduct is a separate case) and marries another commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

        Matthew 19:16
        “Teacher, what good must I do to possess everlasting life?” He answered, “Why do you question me about what is good? There is One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not kill’; ‘You shall not commit adultery’…”

    • In his book “Calming the Storm”, Fr. Gerald Murray tells his experience, as a newly minted canon lawyer, about being put on the diocese tribunal. He wasn’t willing to rubber stamp every annulment application. He lasted six months before being reassigned.

  4. My son and his wife are divorced because he is now locked up for “at least” 15 years due to his sex offenses with minors. He blew his marriage and life completely apart. I fully support my daughter-in-law with her efforts to create a new supportive relationship and marriage. The court says that she is also a victim and he cannot contact her. What else is she left to do?

    • Just based on what you said, it seems to me that a Declaration of Nullity would be appropriate. And maybe the Church needs to reform Her process so that in order to obtain one, one party must have committed a criminal offense (felony or some such).
      .
      I would assume the author is talking about the “no-fault” type of divorce where at least one party in the marriage got bored with life/the marriage and wants to go elsewhere

    • I’m so very sorry to hear this but you probably already know that annulments are based upon a couple’s condition at the time of marriage. If one spouse had preexisting impediments that’s one thing. But if they developed criminal behaviors following marriage, that’s something else.
      That said, I have no particular knowledge about the situation you describe & it sounds deeply tragic for everyone. Again, I’m so sorry this happened to your son & his family. God bless!

  5. I remember people leaving the Church when the annulment rules were relaxed.

    Don’t forget what He said about what divorcing your spouse causes the other party to commit. We live much longer than the people in biblical times so the urge to have another relationship is there that much longer.

    No fault divorce is a definite contributor to much dismal family life in our throw away society.

    • I have wondered about the length of our lives as well. The children are raised and monstly gone and we are retired, but will likely live another 25 to 30 years (more??) Hmm. Not sure we planned our social retirement very well.
      .
      And baby sitting grandchildren is by no means a certainty

      • Hello Kathryn!
        If you have the time & a vehicle there’s a huge amount of volunteer work needing to be done. Carrying cancer patients to their chemo appts, picking up their groceries, bringing them Communion & a church bulletin, etc.
        I have an older friend out of state who’s in very fragile health & her son is terminally ill. They just barely get by & really only survive due to the kindness of neighbors who take a little time out of their day to help out.
        Meals on Wheels-there are lonely, isolated elderly folk out there who appreciate a face-to-face visit even more than the hot meal.
        Prison ministries desperately need help. Inmates are still in need of Christian outreach following Covid when all in person visits were stopped.
        Pregnancy help centers & women’s homeless shelters- one of our local restaurants sent their chef over to the shelter for expectant homeless mothers to give them cooking classes. Many are in need of GED coaching & help to navigate the court system because they have addictions & criminal histories to sort out.
        If you have a calling or skills for any of those there’s a need. God bless!
        🙂

        • We had planned to do such things, but then #vaccinemandate became a thing, and honestly I’ve been afraid too approach any 501c3
          .
          Ironically, our (former) friends who all vaccinated when we didn’t, have continued to ask for help on occasion. They are in poor health.
          .
          This week we were able to volunteer at a RTL booth and help park cars for a local (non-Catholic) church that is paid by a large venue to do such work. That church has a large Pro-life unvax’d contingent

          • Good morning!
            I hadn’t considered the Covid issue in this except for visiting inmates, sorry. Where we live it’s not been much of an obstacle for people getting together but I realize that varies from one part of the country to the next.
            God bless you for what you do for RTL.
            🙂

        • Good afternoon to you, LOL
          .
          There are people to whom it is safe to “come out” and those who are not. You learn quickly. We interact in both camps. One particular fellow said back in December ’21 “I don’t trust those unvaccinated people!” and I just bit my tongue and smiled. He assumed we were vaccinated because all those in our demographic are vaccinated, rather obviously.

  6. Good words from the Holy Father on dealing with divisions – to be open to receive the Peace from The Lord , His forgiveness and mercy and Love in the Holy Spirit to allow for unity –

    https://sites.google.com/view/popefrancishomilies/disunity

    The Precious Blood prayers , to help remove the debts that could have come in through idolatry of carnality , contraception , recieving Sacraments with unrepentant sin leading to hardening of hearts – to plead with The Lord to break the effects of such areas where in the fallen powers have been invited to claim ownership , to drive them out by becoming members such as of confraternities that help to augment and multiply the prayers –
    http://confraternitypb.org/

    May the article help many to be of help and support to prevent such occasions , all that leads to such , trusting that any heart ache allowed is also an invitation to The Truth that each of us is loved Infinitely by an Infinite God , that marriage and family life is to help each other to grow in same , that looking for same from finite creatures from the habitual pattern of glorification of carnal seductive ways may be at the root of issues to be handed over to The Mother , to help all to be filled with the Holy Spirit Love .

    Blessings !

  7. Finally, someone is speaking against divorce on a website that identifies as Catholic.

    Based on my reading, it appears to me that if one goes back far enough (early 20th century) what the Church called “divorce” was what is now termed “separation.” More specifically it was termed a divorce from bed and board. This meant that technically the two spouses were still married – they just didn’t have to live together.

    The reasons that divorce (i.e. adultery with one who one has “remarried”) has become possible (Despite the clarity of Holy Scripture on this matter.) has been the increasingly weak influence of the Catholic Church on politics – especially with regards to just censorship (i.e. censorship of the promotion of divorce) – the Protestant Revolution (i.e. which contributed to the rise of the dominance of the state), and elected legislators.

    The latter tends to promote divorce because it is “axiomatic” (AFAIK) that children “can’t” vote and it is – debatably – more likely that children would be against divorce than their parents. However, it wouldn’t be infeasible for young children to be given the ability to vote. In fact, it is likely that a 10-year-old – or perhaps even slightly younger – could vote. The Catholic Church recognizes the age of reason to be 7. What ignorance that might stand in the way of voting – e.g. possibly literacy – could be remedied.

    “Divorce is emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually violent. It may not seem like it in an apparently “amicable” parting of ways.”

    One could substitute unjust termination or an unjust forced resignation for the word “divorce” here, and it would be very accurate. However, with regards to employment it can – in rare cases – turn physically violent. Morally, it would be possible for a person to refuse to leave a business that has unjustly ended their business relationship. For two times when I have been unjustly terminated security was somehow involved.

    In fact, employment discharge is almost exactly like a no-fault divorce except that an – allegedly impartial – judge doesn’t need to enter the picture (Why hasn’t this been pointed out as a major problem?). It is true that a divorce is more complex than an employment termination, but that fact is that the relationship between a superior (husband/employer) and inferior (wife/employee) has been juridically broken – at least nowadays supposedly beyond repair.

    Also, research bears out the Catholic Church’s position on divorce. There is a book called “The Case Against Divorce.” The book concludes that divorce is only appropriate in the most severe of situations. And it is highly likely that if it was studied that a separation would be found superior to a “divorce.” Granted, this empirical question is irrelevant to the morality of “remarriage” before the death of one’s spouse.

  8. We read: “The U.S. divorce rate has dropped eighteen percent from 2008 to 2016, but one reason is because Millennials are cohabiting rather than tying the knot.” What! Have we not been updated that cohabiting is simply an “irregular” situation (Amoris Laetitia, 2013)? And, so, such double-speak from clerics is guaranteed to accelerate the reported trends, all in the name of “mercy.”

    In valid marriage, by their own words, the two parties literally create a new and indissoluble reality of unity…We are reminded of the unity of God (the Triune Oneness versus Arianism), the unity of Christ as elevating human nature into his divine life (as fully human and fully divine, both, in the unity of the Second Person), of the unity of Christ with his Bride the Church, of the unity of Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos versus Nestorianism), of the unity of soul and body in the human person (versus Descartes’ separable “ghost in the machine”), and even of the unity of married sexuality (as binary/complementary rather than fragmented/arbitrary).

    But, now we have Synodal relator-general Cardinal Hollerich evading and pronouncing in a videoed interview (aired on EWTN 08-11-22) that, regarding homosexual activity, airbrushed as now a favored option: “sexuality should not be separated from love.” Meaning, actually, that the naturally unitive and procreative dimensions CAN be sliced and diced and separated. That the baked-in natural law is only a cultural construct subject to “paradigm shifts”…

    So, clericalist ambiguity toward divorce and irregular situations serves as a litmus test indicating, once again and more broadly, that the Church is infiltrated by those of double lives. We are not to judge Hollerich, surely, but we can simply ask that if he were of limited moral grounding and limited wit, he would be saying much the same?

    If the perennial Church were not about unity through and through, in the 12th century it would have gone with the Muslim Averroes and the Islamic “double-truth,” rather than with Aquinas and the unified coherence of faith and reason. Now, instead, Hollerich’s synodality is grooming us away from the unity affirmed in Veritatis Splendor and even from ourselves.

    To simplify, from the lay perspective, would we want this man in our living room explaining the sacramental and moral life, sexuality and marriage, to our teenage sons or daughters?

  9. – Leila Miller’s book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, is relevant here.
    – I believe Ronald Reagan later said that bringing in no-fault divorce was the biggest mistake of his presidency.
    – Fr. Murray’s truncated annulment tribunal career should be an eye-opener.

  10. Sadly, divorce may be a necessary civil action in a separation in order to protect a spouse’s assets &/or custody rights. Civil divorce does not nullify sacramental marriage. Temporary separation is usually a better option because it leaves the door more easily open for reconciliation but in extreme cases a civil decree of divorce establishes legal protection for property & custody that might otherwise be jeopardized.
    Of course, children are the ones most harmed by all this no matter what type of separation or legal remedy occurs.

  11. I think it is also worth noting that Catholics seeking an annulment are trying to rectify their situation because their faith is important to them, i.e., they’re trying to do the right thing, so that they have the possibility of remarriage in the Church in the future. If they didn’t give a hoot about their faith, why would they bother to go through the process? They would just obtain a civil divorce and remarry outside the Church, and renounce their faith.

    • But you know Mary, it was explained to me by someone involved in the process that few people seek annulments unless they already have a partner to remarry in mind. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule.

  12. El hombre no separe lo que Dios ha unido, dijo el Señor. Cierto. Pero hay uniones que el Señor no pudo haber creado. Las de los que se casaron por interés, por pasión, por la coacción social, PERO NO POR AMOR.Ahí es donde poner la atención.Los divorcios de uniones nulas por falta de un verdadero amor de los contrayentes, no son tales, son simplemente declarativos de un matrimonio inexistente. La preocupación nuestra como cristianos es en predicar sobre lo que en verdad es el amor que genere una unión válida en cuyo caso es imndisoluble. Que el divorcio genere problemas de toda clase es conocido y no puede ser negado por sus mismos adeptos; por ende, si se quieren evitar divorcios, hay que aumentar elnúmero de matrimonios bien constituidos y cimentados en elamor.

    • Angel, I read your comments in my very broken Spanish & then double checked through a translation site. Part of what you say is correct that marriages which are nullified were not sacramental in the first place. But that’s not determined upon the amount or quality of “amor.” It’s based upon things like whether both parties had full consent, the existence of impediments such as previous marriages, whether deception was used, etc. at the time of marriage. Most engaged couples believe they’re in love, but a sacramental marriage requires more than that.
      Dios bendiga.

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