Christian Prenuptial Agreements
- The growing popularity of prenuptial agreements are closely tied to rising divorce rates in Europe and North America. Statistics released by the National Center for Health Statistics suggest that 43 percent of all American marriages end in divorce, and Christians are no exception when it comes to the prevalence of failed unions. The Barna Report, published in 1999, remains the most extensive study on divorce rates among major Christian denominations in the United States. According to these statistics, 34 percent of all Christians who characterize themselves as being nondenominational are divorced, while the figure for Baptists reached 29 percent. Divorce rates among Catholics and Lutherans stands at 21 percent.
- The Bible does not provide explicit teachings on prenuptial agreements, as these did not exist in the days of the Hebrew Scriptures or in New Testament times. Prenuptial agreements are modern legal contracts and while all 50 states in the United States permit them, American politicians in the early 20th century viewed such arrangements in a negative light and felt that they endangered the sanctity of marriage.
While the Bible may not offer teachings on prenuptials, marriage is widely presented as a permanent covenant that may only be broken by death. While Malachi 2:16 suggests that Hebrew society frowned upon divorce, Matthew 19:6 talks about married couples joined together by God and notes that they must "not separate."
Prenuptials and Catholicism
- While prenuptial agreements are not banned outright in the Roman Catholic Church, canon and civil law do not permit the existence of such marital contracts in every instance out of concern that this will undermine the marriage. The Church believes that marital vows are permanent, while prenuptial agreements formally recognize that they may be temporal and that the lawful division of assets between separated spouses may be necessary. Parish priests ask all engaged couples whether they have signed a prenuptial agreement during their first meeting. If such an agreement exists, the priest is required to obtain a copy of this document and must send it to the Catholic Department for Canon and Civil Law Services, where church officials determine if a Catholic wedding may proceed.
After obtaining a copy of the prenuptial agreement, the priest advises the engaged couple that they must put their marriage plans on hold until they receive a positive response from the Church. If the prenuptial agreement is rejected, the engaged couple must formally terminate their contract before a Catholic wedding may take place.
- While the Catholic Church prohibits couples from marrying if their prenuptial agreement focuses on the division of assets following divorce, Church officials are more lenient when dealing with widows and widowers seeking to remarry. If the widow's main reason for a prenuptial agreement is to ensure that children from a previous marriage are guaranteed their inheritance, church officials will not require the termination of the marital contract. As such, those seeking a Catholic marriage must ensure that their prenuptial agreement determines the division of assets in the case of death and not because of divorce. Catholic Canon law allows for prenuptials only if the document serves to protect a third party, such as children or elderly dependents.
- In contrast to the Catholic Church, Protestant denominations do not require engaged couples to disclose or rescind their prenuptial agreement. Yet mainstream Protestant churches do express concerns similar to those of Catholic priests that prenuptial agreements treat marriage as temporal. Conservative Christian organizations emphasize that a church marriage is a spiritual covenant rather than a legal contract. While contracts can be terminated and place limits on the responsibilities of both parties, a covenant is everlasting and all-encompassing. Canon law does not require Protestant pastors to turn to a higher church authority before performing a wedding for those with prenuptial agreements, but all ministers stress that marriage must be viewed as a permanent commitment.