What Catholics should know about divorce


There are so many lessons that someone going through a divorce needs to learn, but three of the most powerful (and difficult) lessons I’ve learned are these.

The label “divorced” does not define a person.

It’s an event that happened—terrible as it is—but it in no way is the sum total of who a person is.

You may feel like you’re walking around with a big “scarlet ‘D’” on your forehead for all to judge you by, but what you need to focus on is how God sees you.

He sees you as his beloved with all the gifts, talents and potential he gave you, especially the specific purpose in life you have to fulfill.

It’s the love of God that will carry you through this difficult time.

Another extremely important lesson is that forgiving those who have hurt you is essential if you want to heal from divorce.

There are no shortcuts, no half-measures when it comes to this.

It can seem impossible to forgive someone for causing such devastation; however, you’ll never move forward if you don’t find a way to forgive.

You will always be a victim.

The key is to ask God for the grace to forgive because we cannot do it on our own.

Last but definitely not least, the cross of divorce can change a person for the better.

This cross is an immense opportunity to grow emotionally and spiritually and to become a stronger, wiser person in the end.

The label “divorced” does not define a person. It’s an event that happened but it in no way is the sum total of who a person is.

How do you explain the difference between divorce and annulment to people?

A civil divorce decree and a declaration of invalidity (annulment) are apples and oranges, to be certain.

A civil divorce decree means the government has terminated your marriage contract, which applies purely on a legal basis.

The annulment process, however, does not terminate, dissolve or invalidate anything contrary to what many people believe.

It determines whether or not a valid marriage was brought into being on the day of the wedding.

If it is determined there was not a valid marriage, the tribunal issues a decree of invalidity stating such.

What are some common misunderstandings Catholics have about divorce and annulment?

One misunderstanding I’d like to address right up front is the myth that receiving a decree of invalidity means your marriage never existed and your children are considered illegitimate.

If you want to get someone angry, tell him or her exactly that, but I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.

Receiving a decree of invalidity does not mean your marriage relationship never existed. The church recognizes that you lived in society under the assumption that your marriage was valid.

The technical term for this in Canon Law is “putative” (from the Latin for “supposed”) marriage.

You had a real relationship that was witnessed by society, and nothing can make that untrue.

The decree of invalidity declares that the bond was not valid, meaning that, although you lived together as husband and wife, your marriage was not an unbreakable covenant between you, your spouse and God.

The list of misunderstandings goes on, such as an annulment is just a “get-out-of-jail-free” card, or it’s just a money maker for the church.

Many people believe the process places undue burdens on witnesses and that it takes years and years to get through.

I tackle all these and more in my book. But the important thing for anyone to remember is the annulment process is a tool.

It’s a valid tool whose purpose is to determine the truth and set healing in motion. Continue reading

  • Lisa Duffy is a Catholic lay writer and speaker with 24 years of personal and professional experience in healing from divorce. Ms. Duffy suffered through the pain of an unwanted divorce in the early 1990s. Her newest book is Mending the Heart: A Catholic Annulment Companion.
  • Image: Amazon
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