Dear Michele: Separate, Divorced, but not Annulled

Dear Michele, I have a question. I noticed some profiles are divorced yet they say they can marry in the church. Is this correct? Also, should I date a divorced woman if they are not seeking or they don’t have an annulment? What is the correct teaching?
Signed,
Wondering

Dear Michele,
Why is such site as Catholic Singles allowing people who are currently separated to look for a dates? You would think that people would wait for ink is dry on their divorce paper before they start looking for new relationship! Why is “separated” even an option?
Signed,
What’s Up?

Dear Wondering and What’s Up,
Many Catholics are just as confused about the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce as non-Catholics. One reason is that we sometimes get our information from sources that don’t understand the process. We may rarely hear the specifics from the pulpit, especially if we haven’t been through the process ourselves.

There are a few ways a person may be “divorced” but free to marry. The person she was married to and then divorced may have since (after the divorce) passed away. The woman would not be considered a widow, because they were not married at the time. Since the marriage vow is until “death,” an annulment is not necessary. Of course a person may choose to seek an annulment in such a case. Another option could be that a person married and divorced within the Protestant faith, or another non-Christian faith, but then later converted to Catholicism. In that case, the original marriage would need to be examined for validity. If the marriage was found to be null (not valid at the time she entered into it), then she would be free to marry. I guess a final case would be if the woman was not Catholic, or was not Christian. In that case, a future spouse would need to obtain certain dispensations to order to marry a non-Catholic, and the he would be required to make certain promises to the Church, including raising any children as Catholic. However, the couple could marry within the Church.

If a woman is divorced, and her spouse is still alive, and they married within a valid Christian/Catholic marriage, then in the eyes of the Church, and we believe in the eyes of God, she is still married. A relationship outside of that marriage would be considered adultery. With that said, there are many reasons people may choose not to pursue an annulment. I would suggest deeply searching your heart for what you are wanting from a future relationship. If you would like to marry within the Church, and be able to receive Sacraments together, then be very clear and upfront with both your date and yourself. Be authentic about what you are and are not willing to sacrifice in order to be in a relationship. There is the possibility that a person may choose to pursue an annulment at a later time, but that’s not something to count on.

Now, why would a Catholic dating site have an option to signify that a person is “separated” since we believe he or she is still within a valid marriage and therefore not free to date? This is a twofold answer. One, we encourage fellowship and hope that those going through the divorce or annulment process might find support where applicable. Second, if we didn’t ask the question and allow that answer, people may list themselves as single (married is not an option) and would be able to deceive others. Better to have a person who is separated be honest so others may knowingly choose to be involved, possibly non-romantically, prior to the completion of a divorce or annulment. We do hope that those who are currently separated wait until they are divorced to begin to date. Taking the time to grieve the loss of their marriage is an important process, and sometimes needs to continue even after the paper is signed.

Hope that helps answer some questions. As you can see, Catholics take very seriously Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:6, “What therefore God as joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Michele Fleming, M.A.

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