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A prenuptial agreement typically outlines what happens in the event a marriage ends in divorce or some other dissolution of the marriage. This at first appears to be at odds with the idea of a Catholic marriage being two people vowing to be married "till death do us part" (i.e. they are still married even if they are civilly divorced).

Is a prenuptial agreement permitted for a Catholic marriage? I'm particularly wondering if a prenuptial agreement would be used as grounds for annulment, since it might suggest that they weren't serious about their marriage vows.

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    For what it's worth, the relevant Wikipedia article is poorly sourced and the points are weak. If people are willing to do the legwork in their answers, that part could be improved. May 5, 2019 at 4:39
  • Both of the provided answers reject prenuptial agreements on the grounds that they subject consent to marriage on a future condition, but, in my opinion, they do not. Prenuptial agreements protect assets in case of divorce. They do not hinge consent at the time of vows upon anything. They could be an occasion for nullity if they imply an incorrect understanding of the indissolubility of marriage, but they don't have to. The problems with prenups are accidental, no substantial.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 1, 2023 at 14:26
  • The thing about a prenup is that it just recognizes that I can't predict what my spouse will do in the future. I may believe at the moment of marriage that we are making lifelong commitments, and she may as well, but she could decide in 30 years that she's no longer even a Christian! A prenup agreement doesn't presuppose that I or she will leave. It merely provides legal protections in the even one of us does (I should clarify my wife and I don't actually have a prenup; I'm speaking hypotheitcally).
    – jaredad7
    Aug 1, 2023 at 14:34

2 Answers 2

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Is a prenuptial agreement permitted for a Catholic marriage?

Generally speaking prenuptial agreements are frowned on. They may be permitted under certain circumstances and only with the permission of the local ordinary (bishop).

Can. 1102 §1. A marriage subject to a condition about the future cannot be contracted validly.

§2. A marriage entered into subject to a condition about the past or the present is valid or not insofar as that which is subject to the condition exists or not.

§3. The condition mentioned in §2, however, cannot be placed licitly without the written permission of the local ordinary.

Fr. Ken Doyle writes along similar lines in the Catholic Times:

Then, to the matter of the prenuptial agreement: The Catholic Church does not have a blanket prohibition of “prenups.” In certain cases, they can be quite valid and helpful

When a widow marries a widower, for example, and they both have children from their previous marriages, a prenup is a legitimate way of determining what is common property and what is separate as a basis for determining the inheritance rights of each spouse’s children.

In most cases, though, prenups are a bad idea and may even call into question the validity of the marriage itself. … Clearly, the church’s teaching is that marriage is permanent and requires an unconditional commitment. Accordingly, Canon 1102 of the church’s Code of Canon Law says that “marriage subject to a condition about the future cannot be contracted validly.” For a prospective spouse to say, for example, “I will marry you, if you agree I’ll get half the assets at a divorce,” strikes at the heart of the church’s view of marriage.

The very contemplation of divorce at the outset of a marriage creates an “escape hatch” and could well imply something less than a total commitment. (Full article here)

In other words, prenups may be warranted in very specific circumstances, such as the case cited where there are pre-existing children with inheritance rights from their deceased parent. In such a case, the prenup applies irrespective of whether the couple later divorce as it is often about specifying what rightly belongs to the widowed spouse (and therefore able to be shared with the new spouse) and what belongs to the children but is perhaps held in trust.

For most couples, prenups are considered to contradict the essence of Catholic marriage as a total, permanent and unconditional commitment as they presuppose the dissolution of the marriage. As such, the presence of a prenup calls into question the validity of the marriage.

In another sense the marriage of a Catholic to a non-Catholic is a prenuptial agreement in itself:

The Catholic rite of marriage is actually a pre-nuptial agreement in itself. When one party says “I take you as my husband/wife” and the other party does the same, that nugget within the wedding ceremony is actually the contract. All the rest, Dr. Peters notes–the promise to cherish “in good times and in bad” and recitals of love and exchange of rings–those things are lovely mutual promises but are so much window dressing on the actual statement of contract contained within the ceremony. And the promise, still common today, by a non-Catholic spouse to permit any children from the marriage to be raised in the Catholic faith is another “pre-nuptial agreement.” - Can a Catholic Sign a Prenuptial Agreement?

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    I think the second part is correct. But why do you claim a prenuptial agreement needs the permission of the local ordinary? The allowed agreements are no condition on the marriage.
    – K-HB
    May 12, 2019 at 7:14
  • @K-HB It is in Canon Law: Can. 1102 §3: The condition mentioned in §2, however, cannot be placed licitly without the written permission of the local ordinary.
    – Ken Graham
    May 12, 2019 at 11:13
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    What is the condition about the past or the present in a prenup agreement?
    – K-HB
    May 12, 2019 at 13:29
  • "For most couples, prenups are considered to contradict the essence of Catholic marriage as a total, permanent and unconditional commitment as they presuppose the dissolution of the marriage." If this were true, then prenups would never permit a valid marriage. In fact, prenups generally do not presuppose the dissolution of the marraige. They provide for asset protection in case of legal divorce. The Church even permits civil divorce as a means to protect oneself from an abusive spouse, even when a marriage is Sacrmanetally valid. Remarriage is just not allowed.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 1, 2023 at 14:31
  • @jaredad7 I think the answer gives a better example than yours: a pre-nup being used to ensure inheritances for children of first marriages. Although it is true that the church can allow legal separation and even legal divorce to protect a spouse from abuse by the other, it would probably be an impediment to the marriage to plan for such an event. Planning for your death, however, would not seem quite so unreasonable.
    – workerjoe
    Aug 1, 2023 at 18:46
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No.

From the perspective of God and the Church, a validly contracted marriage is indissoluble, "till death do us part."

An attempted marriage with conditions attached to the marriage contract (conditional marriages) render the marriage invalid:

Can. 1102 §1. A marriage subject to a condition about the future cannot be contracted validly.

§2. A marriage entered into subject to a condition about the past or the present is valid or not insofar as that which is subject to the condition exists or not.

§3. The condition mentioned in §2, however, cannot be placed licitly without the written permission of the local ordinary.

§1 thus forbids contracts like: "I marry you provided we cease having children 1 decade from now." etc.

The 1917 Code can. 1092, which permitted future conditions, explicitly specified that a contract "against the substance of marriage" (such as divorce) "renders [marriage] invalid."

cf.
commentary on 1983 can. 1102 / Dom Augustine's commentary on 1917 can. 1092
Chapter 9 on pre-marital agreements of Ford, S.J.'s Validity of Virginal Marriage

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    Can you clarify why a prenupital agreement (in the event we separate, this is what happens to our stuff...) is considered a conditional marriage (we agree to be married so long as...)? They sound to me like two separate things not necessarily related. May 7, 2019 at 15:53
  • @Thunderforge Isn't a prenup marriage a conditional marriage: "we agree to marry so long as we will abide by the prenup agreement"? A "condition or stipulation is a quality added to a contract which suspends its validity or effect until the time when the condition is fulfilled".
    – Geremia
    May 12, 2019 at 4:28
  • @Geremia a prenup usually provides for protection of assets in case of a divorce. "we agree to marry so long as we will abide by the prenup agreement" is usually just the same as "we agree to marry," because the prenup doesn't say anything about the marriage contract, but about assets in case of a divorce.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 1, 2023 at 14:30
  • @jaredad7 It sounds like you're speaking of civil marriage. There is no such thing as divorce in a sacramental marriage (separation, or imperfect divorce, yes; divorce and remarriage, no).
    – Geremia
    Aug 1, 2023 at 23:45
  • Yes, that is what is meant by the word divorce.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 2, 2023 at 2:24

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