Fr. Chuck Zmudzinski brings up an important subject in an October 3 blog about the current Synod on the Family being held by bishops from around the world at Rome. He writes, that he "would like to approach this topic from the vantage point of the forgotten person in many, but perhaps not all, of these discussions. That person is the spouse who, before an ecclesiastical annulment is obtained, believes that his or her marriage is valid even though a civil divorce has been obtained." The blog can be found at the website of the Fathers of Mercy – a preaching order of Catholic priests that was founded in 1808 to revive the Catholic faith in France following the devastation wrought by the Revolution. See here.
When either party obtains a civil divorce, those which Catholic marriages are still considered married according to the Catholic Church. If either want their marriage ended in the Catholic forum they must petition for a decree of invalidity, which is supposed to only be granted when (for serious reasons) the couple was actually never really married. Their marriage was "null."
Fr. Zmudzinski writes that there is a "de facto" practice amongst tribunals of granting an annulment as a supposed right to any person who wants the Church's blessing on a second marriage while the first spouse is still alive.
If a first marriage is in fact valid, and if a tribunal were to not grant an annulment to someone, because no grounds for nullity of marriage exist, Fr. Zmudzinski explains, "The person is required to return to the conjugal life, even if he or she is civilly married to another, unless a legitimate decree of separation has also been obtained or some other just cause permits this (canons 104, 1151-1155, 1692-1696)."
Those who care about being in good standing in the Church and care about being morally upright, cannot simple remain separated from their true spouse on their own authority for whatever reason they choose.
He concludes, "I do not think the difficulties that are experienced in modern society concerning marriage and the family according to God’s plan will ever be successfully resolved while this de facto situation that so strongly favors the Petitioner who wants to divorce and remarry persists. Instead, I believe that if this situation persists in the Church’s de facto practice, marriage as an institution that actually involves formal and legal rights and obligations will disappear from the face of the earth."
Spero columnist Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.