Is divorce a sin when one’s spouse is abusive?


Full Question

Is it a sin to divorce a spouse who is physically and emotionally abusive, after many attempts at resolving the behavior in couple’s therapy have failed?


No, it is not a sin to divorce such a spouse. The Code of Canon Law states:

A spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local ordinary [e.g., bishop] or, if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority. (CIC 1153)

The canon does go on to state that once such a danger has passed, common life should be restored, but given the unique difficulties of abuse cases (e.g., promises to reform are all too often broken), an abused spouse may wish to allow an independent specialist such as a priest or a psychologist to determine if and when it is safe to resume common life.

The Church considers civil divorce in such cases to be the ecclesial equivalent of a legal separation and tolerates civil divorce sought for just cause (such as to ensure personal safety and/or the safety of children) to settle estate and child custody arrangements. The divorced person is still considered validly married and may not remarry in the Church unless and until an annulment is granted.

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Raphael Benedict

Raphael Benedict is a Catholic who wants nothing but to spread the catholic faith to reach the ends of the world. Make this possible by always sharing any article or prayers posted on your social media platforms. Remain blessed


  1. If I went and talked to a priest and he gave me absolution even though I was divorced and remarried so I could receive communion, would that absolution hold until now…. I have not been to confession since then, many years ago. I would now like to go to confession …. could I receive absolution

  2. Yes..if after you go through your legal divorce, and the church agrees that an annulment should be issued…depends on the case…you wait until your annulment is finished, then..you are truly unmarried in the eyes of God, and the church.

  3. It is right to separate in my opinion . My dad was an alcoholic & my mum stayed with him 4 19 years of married . I was 18 & my brother was 13 when they separated . It was a relief 4 me I could come home when my mum was out & my dad was at home & feel safe . He never hit the family or was violent 2wards . He controlled the family , by shouting & putting the fear of god in them . He had a very good job at the BBC as a producer ,kept it 4 a long time & was well respected . There were just 2 Ted Smiths .

  4. Even if you physically abused and mental abused from your spouse? You will still stay in that situation? Why did God tell us go marry and be suffered? And still no to divorce? I’m hoping that you will not experience of what others felt in their marriage life…

  5. “The divorced person is still considered validly married and may not remarry in the Church unless and until an annulment is granted.”…enlighten me on this please…in short, the Church voids the marriage when the state annuls and an annulled person can remarry in a church wedding rite again with another person?

    1. Ador,
      The Church does not void the marriage. The Church declares the marriage null. The Church declares, after much investigation, that there was never a licit marriage in the first place. In other words not all of the factors were in place for the marriage to be considered a marriage. Once the Church makes that determination (that you have never married), then yes, you are as free as any other single person to marry. Notice I said marry, not remarry. The Church considers a licit marriage to be until death, so no one can “remarry” in the Church except a widow or widower.

  6. I am civil married but I broke up my husband because he always cheating and fight me he have a new family now .Can I ask a blessing from the priest for my 2nd partner?Im not marry in the church I want to get marry to my 2nd partner now in the church.

    1. You will need to have the first marriage annulled. The Church does indeed recognize a marriage made outside the Church. It depends. Let me see if I can remember how all this goes, it’s been a while.
      The Church does recognize a marriage of two non-Catholics as licit. That marriage is not sacramental though. It would require an annulment.
      Now if one of the parties is Catholic and one non-Catholic, the marriage is not considered sacramental or licit unless a dispensation from the Bishop is granted and the marriage takes place in the Church. With a dispensation, the marriage is both sacramental and licit.
      If both parties are Catholic and the marriage is outside the Church then it is not sacramental or licit. A Bishop will not grant a dispensation to be married outside the Church.
      If both are Catholic and married in the Church, then it is sacramental and licit.
      All this assumes that there are no other extenuating circumstances that would make the marriage illicit.
      If one goes for an annulment, it will (should) be granted in the case of an illicit marriage.

  7. In my country, getting a divorce is not tolerated and worst then that, the church does not grant an annulment when the abuser is physically & emotionally abusive. For better & for worse does not mean that you should put your life & your children’s lives in danger. I do wish that the church is more understandable.

  8. This is an excellent answer to a delicate subject. As a side-note, please let us remember the life of St. Monica. All of our sufferings are to be offered to Jesus. Note that this author explains that a civil divorce is acceptable and that pains should be taken to preserve the physical lives of any of those in danger. This is a moral obligation.
    However, the details of a Church annulment are in the hands of the Church. Once physical safety has been established, the Church has the greater responsibility for the safety of the soul. Mt. 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Blessings.

  9. If a person says they will love their wife/husband at the wedding ceremony but have no intention of doing this is this a marriage? An Abuser seeks to demean, intimidate and humiliate with the intention of subjugating their partner. They are intent on dominating the other. They are about power not love. I don’t think the marriage was valid if one of the couple does not keep their vow to love and really had no intention of loving the other person. The abusive/ dominating person had only one goal and that is to subjugate the other person by torment. Who would expect a person to stay in such a relationship where a Godless person seeks to abuse them 24 hours a day in all sorts of unimaginable ways? Leaving s resisting evil.

  10. Rex, I beg to differ. Walk in a man’s shoes before you judge him. I was emotionally abused and then my husband walked out on me leaving me and the children to fend for ourselves after we had been robbed. He flaunted his girlfriend in public and kicked me off like a dog in his girlfriend’s presence and told me I was harassing him. How low can you go as a wife. This is not the kind of life Christ entailed to raise children. My children are terrified of his girlfriend. I have no regrets about my divorce. I’m coming to terms with praying for him. All through my pain I found a lot of comfort from my local priest. Let divorce be an issue with us and God instead of you passing judgement on us.

  11. Divorce is never an advice for any marriage. Can’t beleive this is preached from the catholic church. Once you are married, its forever until death do you part. You are not to part no mater the circumstances. For better for worse.. period

    1. Obviously, you have never been absused! Like a set of old hedge shears thru your upper leg! Or broke a child’s arm. I was told by numerous priests in my diocese that God never intended marriage to be abusive like mine! It was ment to be of mutual respect & working together! And god needs to be the focus. My x didn’t have that vision. Went thru 8 years of counseling!! They said he would never change!

    2. So… in truth.. you believe that one should stay married to an abuser? My life and the lives of my children were in danger… I felt threatened and truly believe that we could have died… but I guess that would have been the “death do us part” part! I believe that I did the right thing by my children in getting a divorce from the abuser of all of us!

    3. The Catholic church does not preach divorce, but advocates wholly for the sanctity of marriage. If you’ll notice what the author says:
      “The divorced person is still considered validly married and may not remarry in the Church unless and until an annulment is granted.”
      Divorcing your spouse for abuse may be grounds for an annulment, but the process is lengthy and difficult; as it should be. The church is not so callous as to expect an abused spouse to remain with their abuser when there is no hope the abuse will end.


    5. NO..not if your spouse is physically abusing you. That is not from God ( abuse). If you can not see that…no disrespect, but I hope the lord blesses you..to be able to see, and understand.

    6. I respectfully disagree. I had to divorce or be killed. There is no question in my mind that my ex (annulled by the church due to the circumstances) would have killed me based on the abuse I suffered from him and from things he has done to me since our divorce. He even cost me a child I was carrying with my husband (married in the church). If I had chosen to stay and honor my vows (which were made under duress), I have no doubt that I would not be here to disagree with you. Had I not divorced him, he would have hunted me down and used the fact that he was my husband to do whatever he felt like. It was necessary in my case and while I hate that it happened, I would do it again in a heartbeat. God did not create woman to be a punching bag for man and I do not feel He would want woman to live that way.

    7. This is not being preached by the Catholic Church. This is being opined by some guy on a website. Do not mistake this website for the Catholic Church. This website has no authority to speak for, nor does it represent the Catholic Church.

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