ASK FATHER: My husband abandoned me and our child

From a reader…


It’s been a while since Ive been on WDTPRS but I need help.

I am a convert, and converted after I married. We got some kind of dispensation to be “re” married in the Church, even though my husband is not Catholic. He was raised Mormon, doesn’t practice and occasionally attends Mass with me. Our marriage is sacramental and valid. [?]

He has left me for another woman.

I have been devastated. He told me to file, he will not. I assume it’s a game, but I cannot understand Church teaching.

I’ve prayed a million novenas, thrown myself before Jesus at Adoration and he isn’t coming back that I can see.. should I file for a civil divorce, can I file, should I seek an annulment. My priest said to wait until I had calmed down to make any decisions, it’s been almost 2 months and I’m not calm but my husband has gone, he was the breadwinner, I have no real money etc as he shut down bank accounts and so on.

I do not know what to do as a Catholic what do for Jesus sake and what to do so my son and I are ok. We literally have no way to live for the next few months until I can make money of my own. Not that that matters eternally I know.

Please pray for me and please help me understand better what the Church says. I don’t know what to do.

We have to get marriage right or society will spiral further away from sanity.

The recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the Supreme Court is heralded by those who claim that marriage is purely a private issue. Why should it bother us if two men want to get “married?” Why should anyone else’s marriage affect us? What two consenting adults want to do…yadda, yadda, yadda….

Well, here’s a good picture of why marriage matters, and why marriage is a public issue.

Marriage affects all of us. Marriage is the building block of society. When folks don’t take marriage seriously and do things that undermine the sanctity of marriage, their actions have a negative ripple effect throughout society.

Many people find themselves in the situation of this questioner: people betrayed by a spouse. Infidelity in marriage is a grave sin which destroys lives.

The Church teaches that spousal infidelity gives the betrayed spouse the right to seek a separation, although it urges the betrayed spouse to forgive if that is possible and reasonable (cann. 1151-1159).

Sadly, in our society those who are divorced are generally lumped into one category. This is not a new development. It has been the situation for decades. We don’t make the helpful distinctions between those who are the cause of divorce  (the spouse who violated the wedding vows or separated for no good reason), and the spouse who is the victim of divorce. We need to more to help those who are victims.

We need good, Catholic lawyers (civil and canon) who can assist people who are the victims of spousal abuse and abandonment.  We need Catholic lawyers who know the law well and who are motivated by a concern for the parties’ true well-being along with that of their children, and the defense of the good of matrimony.

If reconciliation is not possible, seek the assistance of the local tribunal to see if pursuing a canonical separation would be possible. Sadly, some dioceses simply refuse to utilize this canonical process for whatever reason… but present your case.  Even if they don’t go in that direction, and considering the need to provide for your son, pursuing a civil divorce – given the background you’ve described – would not be sinful at this point.

Your husband has a natural obligation to provide for your care and that of the son whom he has abandoned.  Using the civil courts to enforce that obligation, if no other remedy is possible, is permissible even if it is unpleasant.

Check with the parish or the diocese.  The St. Vincent de Paul Society has done good work in this area.  See what resources may be available for financial help, at least until a steady income becomes available.

Dear readers, pray for this poor woman and her son.  Pray for all the victims of our divorce culture. Marriage has consequences. So does divorce!

Comment moderation is ON.  I will probably let very few comments through.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. knute says:

    Most states have laws allowing abandoned spouses to seek financial support from the breadwinner spouse under circumstances like these, so there are options other than divorce. The writer should seek legal counsel in her own state though.

  2. Gerard Plourde says:

    What a tragic situation. It is imperative that this woman file a petition for spousal and child support in her local family court. She can do this without being required to make any filing for divorce. It is to be hoped that the husband will recognize the sins he is committing (not just his adultery which is certainly a serious matter, but also his neglect of his obligation to support his family).

    The fact that the husband is a Mormon does raise an issue concerning the validity of the marriage. Although Mormons claim that they are Christians certain aspects of the teachings of their founder, Joseph Smith, and his successor, Brigham Young, ecpecially polytheism and the doctrine of progression to godhood, call this claim into question. Also questions exist whether he could actually have undestood the sacramental nature and lifelong commitment that valid Catholic Matrimony reuires.

  3. NBW says:

    Saying prayers for her and her child.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Being abandoned is a betrayal which demands great healing and prayer. As a woman with a young son to whom this also happened, I know the value of forgiveness and trusting in Divine Providence. Catholics are not very good about helping out the “victims” of divorce. In fact, the woman, like myself many years ago, loses friends who know longer want a “single woman” at dinners or gatherings, and the children suffer from instant poverty, and frequently. long term mourning, and even being ignored by other family members. Only God can heal the results of such abandonment. But, He does. Sadly, our society does not support marriages which need help, and frequently, other Catholic men ignore helping the brother and sister who need help, both psychologically and materially. Many marriages could be saved by communal intervention, but few outside the situation actually care. Centuries ago, the wise men of the community would have reached out to women and children, as well as the man, possibly stopping the separation. Not so today.

    Thankfully, God gave me personally many graces for myself and my very young son. But, I must honestly say that it was God, and not Catholic men or women, who brought comfort. Matrimony is for the community, as well as the couple, and the community must be aware of the great suffering which may even include loss of support from family members, as in my case.

    I shall pray for this woman and her child. God hears the cry of the spiritual widow, as well as the material widow. He hears the cry of the poor, but the suffering is real. If I had had the support from my local parish community so many years ago, I would not have had to move from the country I loved so much. But, so it was. And, even today, I cannot live in the same country as my only child because of divorce. A long term consequence….with is bitterly painful, as is long term poverty. One learns to accept these sufferings over time, as God is in charge, but that does not take away the corporate responsibility of Catholics to respond to real needs of those abandoned. May God give this woman and her child the great graces I received from the merciful Father, Who led us in mysterious paths out of darkness into the light and out of a death of status, financial security, and even relationships, into new life, but not without years of pain. One comes to the deep awareness of the betrayal which Christ Himself experienced from His Own People. One learns to forgive from the cross as Christ did.

    After exactly twenty years of separation, I can honestly say that I still love with God’s love the person who left us and pray for him daily. He is my brother in Christ. There are many reasons for separation and divorce, but the community should never judge what is hidden from most eyes, the reality of losses which are purgatorial, and the humility which comes from suffering.

  5. Liz says:

    Very hard. Prayers for this woman, her child and for her husband (which is a little harder to do, but I will.)

  6. drohan says:

    The woman should call her diocese to ask if there is a Catholic legal aid attorney she can contact. In our diocesan appeal we have such a thing listed as one item for which we raise money. If her diocese does not have anything, try another diocese in her state. If she goes the civil divorce route, she needs a bulldog attorney to get as much alimony and child support as she needs.

    Father is correct. We need good Catholic Lawyers available for situations like this.

  7. clarinetist04 says:

    I might also suggest calling your parish to ask if they have any money allocated for these situations. At a church in my old diocese, they had a fund setup for those who needed help with food, rent, etc. (the necessities). It is a donation from the parish to the individual or family – there’s no obligation to repay unless one finds themselves able to “pass it on” (or pass it back, as it were), but they did have an interview process to explain the situation. Might be worth asking about something like this at the parish or diocesan level. Many local parishes will not have a fund like this but shrines often do, since they often don’t have the same parochial obligations to worry about or fund.

  8. Imrahil says:

    As a slight annotation to what the dear Gerard Plourde said,

    while the status of the Mormons as Christians is doubtful, their status w.r.t. baptism validity is not: they don’t have valid baptism. (So, sacramentality of the marriage seems to depend on whether the husband was really baptized eventually.)

    However, the fact that the marriage may be un-sacramental does not, in itself, make invalidity inevitable (you can usually count on it that the necessary dispensations for disparity-of-religion have been asked for and granted).

    Heartfelt condolences.

  9. ejcmartin says:

    I can empathize fully with this woman and her son for I too have felt the sense of abandonment as both a husband and a son. When I was a teenager my father left for a woman who was closer in age to me than to him. Within a year he moved halfway across the country. Although very hurt I made every effort to continue my relationship with, which thankfully continues to this day decades later. I must add that my father though did provided amply for me financially, effectively having no father nearby during my teenage years sent me into some troubling times. The “gurus” out there often tell us that children are resilient and divorce is no big deal children move on. My personal experience and a lot what I have witnessed working with youth would tell me nothing could be further from the truth. Later in life after only a few years of marriage and one child, my wife left me simply because she found someone else (although I was aware of it she for a long time claimed she was leaving because she needed to “find herself”). The problem with the way the system of no fault divorce is set up is there is absolutely no recourse. If one of the couple wants to move on there is nothing the other person can really do. I have often mentioned in discussions, especially around admitting the divorced and remarried to communion, your comments that we really need to make some distinctions between the person who caused the divorce who is the victim. The Church really needs to step up to defend true marriage rather than settling for the world’s view of an easily broken apart legal arrangement that is more concerned about property rights, including children, than providing a backbone for civilization.

  10. Supertradmum says:

    I got no alimony, ever, and had to go to a second court date to get any child maintenance later, an amount which was very, very small and way beneath the norm. Both lawyers and judges do not side, necessarily, on the pleas of the woman with a child. Feminism has taken away the rights of mothers, not the other way around. I had a Catholic lawyer, but his hands were tied by the previous rulings and by precedence. The society here is against marriage, women and children, period. The media likes to play up stories of men getting milked by greedy women in a divorce, but the truth is that single moms in poverty make up 41.5 % of the total people in poverty; yes, some are unwed moms, but many are divorced moms who simply cannot make a go with what has been allotted to them.

    The only advantage of poverty for myself and my child is that we learned to live simply and not have the ordinary American expectations of the “good life”. This acceptance of poverty led to a real spiritual growth in both son and me. In fact, I look back and see this as a great blessing and part of the reason why he could respond to God’s call to be a priest. He learned to die to self early on. Success and consumerism has interfered with some boys responding to the call of God to follow Him–just like the rich young man in the Gospel. Poverty, although extremely difficult, as one goes without needs, (less than satisfactory housing, child had no braces on teeth, no vacations, few new clothes-mostly second-hand store clothes, bad feet from wearing shoes which no longer fit, less food, having to go to food banks, and so on), gives one a chance to be humble before God and man. I also think one has a more grateful heart for things given, as nothing is expected.

    Having said this, I would not want any child or single mom to be in poverty. No one should be.When Christ said the poor are always with us, He meant that it is our duty to care for them, not the state. Most Catholics have forgotten this….changing a heart of charity to a heart of socialism.

    I have been trying to six months to get enough money for a new cassock for my son without success, and also a really decent bicycle for his year of parish placement, as we cannot afford a car for him to go to the hospital, school, church, etc. In a collection at the local church, only 55. usd was collected for these causes-fifty-five dollars. And, two donors from Europe helped with a black suit and money towards the bike, while a priest shared some black shirts which I sent. He still needs a new, fitting cassock, as one which was generously given second -hand is too short. Thankfully, because he was raised in poverty, he will wear something that is not quiet right, but that still does not take care of more formal liturgies.

    I do not think Catholics understand poverty anymore, or they do not want to think about it. Many have romanticized poverty, but if they see a seminarian or priest with less than perfect clothes, they will criticize, not realizing it is up to the priest or sem and his family to provide.

  11. MWindsor says:

    To the woman & her child – I’ve been there – I was the child. My father took off when I was six months old. Rest assured of my/our prayers, but I want to write with one particular point – It gets better. It takes time, but it gets better.

    And having been the kid – and this is especially true for an only child, I think – try to get your son/daughter into sports or music as soon as they’re old enough. The camaraderie of a band or a soccer team can really help in their teens. I had soccer and it helped me avoid being a fiery mess in my 20’s. (Soccer is generally cheaper for the parent than football or baseball.)

    Give it time. It will be the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning for a long, long time – until one day it isn’t the first thing anymore.

  12. iepuras says:

    If he was still a practicing Mormon, she could have some options in contacting local LDS church leadership. Alas, he is not so she does not really have any recourse there either. Not that LDS church leaders are always supportive of abandoned wives, especially if she is not LDS, but there would still be a chance if there was good local leadership. The fact that polygamy is still official doctrine of the LDS church (see Doctrine & Covenants Section 132) even though it is technically not practiced in a any practical way could impact the validity of her marriage.

    She needs a very good bull dog attorney whom she should listen to whether she files for divorce or not. I hope her family is able to help her during this extremely difficult time. Prayers for this woman and her son.

  13. aegsemje says:

    This happened to me as a young mother of two daughters… of which was only 3 weeks old. I spoke with my priest and the tribunal for my diocese and was told it would not be sinful to file for divorce for the purpose of obtaining child support. I did so after I was certain there would be no reconciliation. Don’t be so sure your marriage is sacramental and valid. For me, I found out that my ex-husband had told several people before the wedding that he did not want to go through with it and that if it didn’t work out he could just get a divorce. I did go through the annulment process and am now happily married to a real Catholic and have 8 kids.

  14. LarryW2LJ says:

    Excellent suggestion regarding the St. Vincent DePaul Society or whatever local parishes offer – in our case it’s called the Social Concerns Committee. Many of these local organizations do God’s work by offering food, supermarket and store gift cards, assistance with paying utilities, etc. Some will even do their best to try and locate affordable housing for those who need it.

    The key is, these people are out there – ready, willing and able to help you. But they can’t read your mind – you need to ask. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask for the assistance – that’s what we’re here for! And someday, after your situation clears up and things settle down – consider joining one of these organizations yourself in order to help the next person in need. Not only will you be helping people who need it, but in joining, it’s a sure bet you’re going to become good friends with a lot of really good people.

    Prayers coming your way!

  15. Sonshine135 says:

    My first reaction to this is utter sadness. Indeed we say divorce is between a husband and wife, but it isn’t. I am sorrowful for the ramifications for this lady and her child. I am angry that a man, who has entered a covenant with his wife would abandon that covenant. This indeed impacts their circle of friends, their familial relationships, and as we see here, it leaves this woman in the situation where she has to consider some very painful options. In short, marriage impacts the Body of Christ.

    I pray that this family receives the needed legal and wise church counseling. I pray that God protect them and watch over them. I pray, most of all, that they find peace and receive love from their Pastor and their Parish.

  16. Kristyn says:

    Fr. Z, I am in a similar situation, after almost 18 years of marriage and 6 kids. Without the civil divorce and the intervention of the Friend of the Court, I would have received no child support. I went a year without it, and even with it things are very difficult at times. I work part time when my kids are sleeping so they still have a mom around. The hardest part is the emotional damage done to my kids through all this. I was granted an annulment earlier this year, which helped me personally to come to terms with all of this. I don’t know if my kids will ever heal, and that is the thing I will never be okay with.

  17. JesusFreak84 says:

    Then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s CDF ruled that LDS “baptisms” are invalid, so if that’s the ONLY one the woman’s husband ever received, maybe the “Pauline” dispensation applies here?

  18. The Masked Chicken says:

    This a very sad and very dangerous situation, especially spiritually, as Supertradmum points out. The resentment against the deserting spouse can be insidious and can influence the victim’s views on many thing. Grieving is natural and good in this situation, but one must be very careful that the grief does not turn inward, leading to a type of inertia or a feeling of unworthiness. One must be careful not to accept society’s judgments, either but, rather, see that Christ, who was infinitely worthy, was also the Lamb of Sacrifice [“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” – Rev 5.22]. Worth and suffering are two different things.

    Unlike in the early Church, where this situation would be dealt with with extreme compassion for the abandoned spouse (and a united attempt at conversion of heart towards the one who left the marriage), many people in the modern Church live such insular lives that they no longer understand that they are their brother’s keeper. It is the responsibility, in charity, of those close enough to the situation (meaning fellow parishioners) to see to the temporal needs of the abandoned spouse until he or she can live on their own. In fact, it encompasses the first four Corporal Works of Mercy:

    To feed the hungry.
    To give drink to the thirsty.
    To clothe the naked.
    To Shelter the Homeless

    We like to give to faceless charitable organizations, when the faces in need of charity are, often, sitting right next to us in the pew. We could argue somewhere else about the society-at-large missteps that allow these unfortunate situations to occur, but the Christian society is not supposed to be like secular society. There has to be something that distinguishes us from them and it is our capacity for selfless mercy that should be the distinguishing factor. There is much need for mercy in this situation: forgiveness of the abandoning spouse (which does not preclude seeking just remedies for the abandonment); mercy for the abandoned spouse, especially by the Church, their true brothers and sisters; mercy for the innocent children (who must, of needs, live in a broken home).

    I think it is also a requirement, in charity, of those reading or hearing about these situations to pray for all parties concerned. I cannot give financial comfort to the mother and her child, but I can and must give spiritual comfort. I will have a Mass said and have other people praying for her. So many people have no one to pray for them. If I can do nothing else, I can do that.

    Perhaps Dr. Peters has some ideas he can recommend from his experiences. I suspect that a lawyer will have to get involved at some point (ideally, someone who will work Pro Bono or is a parishioner). Certainly, this should be a cautionary tale for RCIA directors and Pre-Cana counselors – put the fear of Hell into people who think Christian marriage is nothing more than a legal contract, because if you don’t put the fear of hell into them now, there may be Hell to pay, later.

    The Chicken

  19. Priam1184 says:

    Supertradmum spoke of the intervention of the wise men of the community intervening to save a marriage like this. But there is another kind of intervention from Catholic men that I would like to speak about: husbands who are on the road to infidelity are usually more free with their indiscreet glances or their flirtatious behavior toward women who are not their wives when they around other men. When we, as Catholic men, see this we need to intervene immediately with a glare, or a “what are you doing buddy?” if we see things like that, and not just look the other way. Maybe it won’t save everybody but it might knock some sense into some men who are on the road to perdition.

  20. Elizabeth D says:

    Sacramental marriage by definition is a marriage between two baptized Christians. Sacramental Matrimony is marriage IN CHRIST. Since Mormonism, a polytheistic religion that views the Trinity as three gods rather than one God in three divine Persons, is NOT Christianity and the Catholic Church does NOT regard Mormon baptism as valid Christian baptism, a marriage between a Mormon (who has never received Christian baptism) and a Catholic cannot be sacramental. However, marriages between a Christian and non Christian can still be valid natural marriages recognized as such by the Catholic Church.

  21. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Imrahil,

    Thanks for the added information that Mormon batism is invalid. Judging from we’ve been told there are serious questions as to the validity of this marriage. It was contracted before the wife converted (husband has not converted). More information is needed to know what she means by a dispensation being granted so they could be “remarried” in the Church.

    The final thought I have is that his current behavior appears to rebut any presumption that the marriage was contracted validly initially and calls into question whether the blessing of the marriage actually remediated any existing defect.

  22. ctln says:

    Please know that I am praying for you, your son and your husband. I echo the suggestions of others to discuss with your priest if there is a good Catholic lawyer in the parish with whom you can speak should you determine that filing is your only option, but if not contact the diocese. Each diocese has a legal team which could *hopefully* suggest to you a Catholic lawyer willing to give some pro bono advice. If all else fails see if there is a Christian Legal Aid chapter in your area. I volunteered there while I was in law school, and they are quite used to dealing with family matters.

  23. jacobi says:

    Father, you raise again an issue mentioned before, the situation of the innocent victim.

    So much of the attention at present in the Church, on the part of liberals/Relativists is about being “nice” or as they put it, “merciful”, to adulterers and allowing them to receive Holy Communion in an un-resolved state of mortal sin, regardless.

    So little attention has been paid to the innocent victim, which this lady appears to be, not to mention the vast majority of married Catholics who continue with their marriage in spite of the many varied inevitable difficulties.

    She does not actually raise the issue of Holy Communion, but of course she can continue to receive and find consolation.

    It is high time the Church came out into the open and exposed, clearly and unambiguously, this false “mercy” argument supporting guilty parties, which is the favourite move of the liberal/Relativists, and which in my opinion is but an indirect attack on the Sacrament and on the Real Presence.

  24. johnnys says:

    ” When we, as Catholic men, see this we need to intervene immediately with a glare, or a “what are you doing buddy?” if we see things like that, and not just look the other way. Maybe it won’t save everybody but it might knock some sense into some men who are on the road to perdition.”

    Of course it could also mean that you will take a beating for not minding your own business lol. You better be darn sure of your judgment.

    And to those who seem to be blaming fellow Catholics for the state you are in what exactly do you propose? That these things be posted in the bulletin?

    I am reminded of the whole being more ‘welcoming’ to homosexuals issue. I find it curious when I hear or read of Catholics lecturing other Catholics on how we should be more welcoming to homosexuals. It’s not like people are entering the narthex wearing sin tags or say hi I’m an adulterer.

  25. JoAnna says:

    OP, perhaps you should consider setting up a GoFundMe appeal so members of the Body of Christ can contribute to you in your plight.

    You’ve received excellent advice above, and please know that I am praying for you.

  26. yatzer says:

    Sad, and all too common. What I have noticed is that it is usually the most innocent party that gets it in the ear. It has happened to one of my children and several of my cousins. I agree that women most often bear the brunt, but a son and a couple of cousins were nearly destroyed financially by women who knew how the play the system and the guys are too embarrassed to make a public fuss about it. I also know a man who committed suicide because of impossible court demands he could not ever fulfill. Then I know another instance where a man making a high six figure income managed to avoid much of anything. He knew his way around the family court system. The whole marriage thing is a smelly mess.

  27. Joshua08 says:

    I would strongly urge talking to a canon lawyer. Her husband was not a Christian. Unless he had converted, or before being Mormon was baptised, then the marriage, even if valid, was not sacramental. Any valid marriage between two baptised persons is sacramental. Valid marriages not between two baptised persons are not. (It is a disputed question whether it is for the baptised party in disparity of cult, but canonically that issue is settled)

    In anycase, even if there is no grounds for a declaration of nullity there is still the possibility of real divorce. The state merely pretends to divorce “a vinculis” But the Church can really dissolve a marriage, if not sacramental or not consummated. In this case, she marriage with a dispensation from disparity of cult. Hence she could appeal to the Petrine privilege.

    It is like the Pauline, but a bit more difficult to obtain…

    Basically, if it is ascertained that one party (the husband) is not baptized, a petition can be made to the Holy Father to dissolve the marriage in favor of the Faith of the Catholic spouse. Canon law says he may do so for a “just cause” abandonment of spouse, refusing to reconcile, being aided by the possibility of a husband that will care for the family, etc certainly is a candidate there

  28. Justalurkingfool says:

    Is it not possible to remain faithful to marriage any longer, especially for the good of the children of that marriage?

    Certainly it is just to seek monetary support for an abandnoned spouse and child. But it is very telling, how easily ways out are investigated yet ways involving fidelity …….. they seem to be another story nowadays.

    We are in very deep denial of pursuing what is good.


  29. JabbaPapa says:

    What a sad case !!! :-(

    Your husband has a natural obligation to provide for your care and that of the son whom he has abandoned. Using the civil courts to enforce that obligation, if no other remedy is possible, is permissible even if it is unpleasant.

    Can I suggest that it might be feasible to sue for financial support without suing for divorce ?

    Otherwise I cannot pretend to be any sort of expert in matters of annulment, but no matter how difficult and painful these two months have been, it still sounds like it’s too short a time to seek such a solution — it’s the solution of last resort IMO, not the go-to means to get a “catholic divorce”.

  30. JabbaPapa says:

    JesusFreak84 :

    Then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s CDF ruled that LDS “baptisms” are invalid, so if that’s the ONLY one the woman’s husband ever received, maybe the “Pauline” dispensation applies here?

    It is true that if that is the only “baptism” he received, then the husband was incapable of receiving any other Sacrament, and the “marriage” is therefore religiously null.

    Nevertheless, the civil marriage exists.

    I must say — it is extremely cowardly of this man to expect his wife to initiate civil proceedings.

  31. David Zampino says:


  32. Giuseppe says:

    The church has given us all the process of annulment. You should look into this. It is possible that this was not a marriage, and you need not suffer in this way if the church declares that there is no marriage. There may have been a defect of will on his part. You owe it to your child to explore this option. Then you can pursue divorce from a marriage which did not exist.

Comments are closed.