From a reader…
Is it OK to get a divorce if you do not intend to get remarried? Although I admit to all my faults and know I am far from perfect, my wife has been an alcoholic for many years and the marriage is very painful. Prayers and daily rosaries (not at all, believe me, do I mention this in pride) for over two years has made no impact whatsoever. I do not even want a divorce, but my life with hers is dysfunctional.
This is a scenario in which the Church’s procedure for separation while the bond remains can be useful. Sadly, it’s not well-implemented in many dioceses. Not all canonists are familiar with it.
While the canons themselves indicated that it is not obligatory, the process allows a Catholic to approach the local bishop and ask for permission to separate “from bed and board”, for the sake of health and safety.
Some might wonder about why the Church has these canons at all. Isn’t this the business of that couple and no one else? Who does the Church think she is, telling people they should seek permission to separate. As it turns out, it’s a little more flexible than that.
The family is the cornerstone of society, including the society of the Church. Just as all institutions of the Church need regulation, the Church provides gentle and commonsense regulation for the foundational need for a family: stay together, be stable. She doesn’t tell us who has to mow the law or change the diapers. But, in her long years of experience, she knows that spouses, who have the duty to help each other get to heaven, generally do that better by being together. So, the Church offers laws which can at times and in certain cases strengthen people’s resolve to make changes for the sake of the greater good.
Back to it.
Canon Law obliges spouses to live together unless there is a grave enough reason not to.
Can. 104 Spouses are to have a common domicile or quasi-domicile. By reason of lawful separation or for some other just reason, each may have his or her own domicile or quasi-domicile.
Can. 1151 Spouses have the duty and right to preserve conjugal living unless a legitimate cause excuses them.
Again, if there is a grave reason, there can be a separation:
1153 §1. If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too diYcult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.
§2. In all cases, when the cause for the separation ceases, conjugal living must be restored unless ecclesiastical authority has established otherwise.
So, even without the bishop’s permission, if there is danger – the canon doesn’t specify what sort or how severe that danger must be – one of the spouses can initiate a separation on his or her own.
There are undeniably times when living with another person causes significant emotional and mental damage and a separation is warranted.
You, questioner, should have a good conversation with a trusted priest. Share with him your concerns, your fears, and the realities with which you are dealing. Perhaps counseling might be warranted. Separation might be the bucket of cold water your wife needs to wake her up to the severity of the situation. Or, on the other hand – I have to add this because I really don’t know your situation in full – perhaps staying together and seeking counseling together would be better.
Either way, I am sorry for your troubles. Life is messy. For some, it seems their lot in life to have many challenges. Remember that the first duty of a person in a marriage is to love God above any creature, even your spouse. After that, your duty is to help your spouse get to Heaven. That might mean dramatic sacrifices, putting aside your own will for the sake of the TRUE GOOD of the other. This is what Christ modelled on the Cross for His spouse the Church.
For the sake of completeness, let’s see the other canons on “Separation with the Bond Remaining: 1151- 1155.
1154 After the separation of the spouses has taken place, the adequate support and education of the children must always be suitably provided.
1155 The innocent spouse laudably can readmit the other spouse to conjugal life; in this case the innocent spouse renounces the right to separate.
So, just because there is a separation of “bed and board”, you can’t be a dead beat. Also, if the main problems are resolved, get back together. That might mean embracing true humility and a lot of self-sacrifice. This is why a) you have to love God more than your spouse and b) the Church makes you publicly make vows. Vows, not meandering fancies.