Civilly Divorced Brother-in-Law Dating Without Annulment - Advice Please

My brother-in-law got married about 14 years ago. They were married for about 7 years. Both BIL and former SIL are cradle Catholics and have been baptized, received the Eucharist and been confirmed in the Church. The BIL and SIL were married first in a civil ceremony when she was 5 months pregnant. Then when the baby was about a year old, they were married in the Church. A few years later and after the birth of their second child, they were civilly divorced when she came out as a lesbian. SIL began living with a woman and the two children and that situation has remained the same for several years now. Flash forward a few years and BIL is now in a relationship with a woman and it is getting serious. She met the family about a month ago and he is bringing her home for Thanksgiving and probably Christmas after that and so on. He is not a practicing Catholic now and has no interest in getting an annulment. He and my husband are not close, so reminding brother about Church teaching and still being married in the eyes of the Church, so he should not even be dating much less in a serious relationship without an annulment, is not something husband feels he can do. But, if this relationship continues to progress on to marriage, it would be a bit strange to all of a sudden mention that brother needs to get an annulment before he can marry this woman and that he can only marry her if the Church gives him an annulment. Also, we would have to mention that we as practicing Catholics could not attend a wedding unless brother gets a declaration of nullity. An annulment may be difficult or even impossible to get since they were married civilly first while expecting a child and then later married in the Church and then after the sacramental marriage had another child together.

I’d like to not even touch this, but the Church is pretty clear that it is our duty to “instruct” brother on this to try to steer him well and that we cannot attend a wedding if one occurs unless brother gets an annulment. We don’t like that idea at all, but we are serious Catholics and have been kicking this around for a month or so (since meeting the girlfriend, he came home and brought her with him, it was a surprise) and feel we need to do something now, though the idea is not appealing at all. We met the SIL and then they were married soon after. We just met the girlfriend, and the fact that we met her indicates that this might be an issue.

How does one go about gently dealing with this? Church teachings are clear, but there must be an gentle approach we can take with this, even though brother doesn’t practice the faith anymore. Any advice or thoughts from a priest or someone who has been here or in a similar place before?

This is not a new story on CAF. Why don’t you use the search feature, especially Ask An Apologist? There are tons of threads, and tons of Q&A in Ask An Apologist.

You may want to mention this sooner than later though because full anullments take time. I am not 100% sure on this and I am sure there are exceptions but I am pretty sure that her coming out as a homosexual would be grounds for an annullment. If you mentioned this to him up front he may even thank you for the help as long as you keep it positive. No one ever wants to hear what they CAN’T do. They want to hear how to FIX it. Is it possible he may have fallen away because he did not see a path where he could be legitimately with a wife that he loved who loved men and in line with the Church at the same time? This may help him see that God and the Church are both loving and forgiving.

God bless,

In the end, your BIL’s life is just that…his. He’s a big boy now and can make his own decisions. Say how you feel, then back off, or it’ll come back and bite you.


That would be ideal if that were the case and I appreciate you making that point. Unfortunately, it is not the way it is. He doesn’t care about the Church at all and hasn’t for some time. His very Catholic mother has prayed for him for years (we have too but not as long as mom) to return to the Church, but he just has no interest, desire or faith. His former wife also came from a very Catholic family, which is probably the biggest reason they were married in the Church after their civil ceremony. They both bowed to family tradition and family expectations and are now being honest about their own wants, choices, etc. Or something like that.:slight_smile:

I would tend to not say anything at all, but the Church is pretty clear that it is our duty here, especially since this is family and brother’s keeper applies literally here. His mother has mentioned his getting an annulment a few times in the past when he was first divorced because she wanted him to be free to date and marry in the future, but he just doesn’t care enough about Church teachings to have done anything. Now mom has dementia, so the task to remind him if we are so brave falls to the only other practicing Catholics in the family. That would be either his sister or his brother (my husband) and me. I guess we should mention it now and then let it go. Then if he marries this woman, we’d have to decide to go or not go to the wedding, but at least if we had to decline, he would not be completely surprised if we mention the lack of annulment at that point. There would still be the sins of adultery and fornication (yes, he made this clear that this is going on) between now and the wedding if there is one, but he is a big boy and I would hope pointing it out once is enough to meet our duty, (though I doubt it, since I think we are supposed to consistently, but gently remind him).

Thanks to all for your responses and advice!

I have had acquaintances get annulments with relative ease. One couple even set the date of their wedding the same day they applied for the annulment and were told there would be no problem. The invitations went out, the annulment came through, and we attended the wedding. (Note, this was about three years ago so things may have changed,)

If the couple isn’t interested in annulment and get married civilly, this can be awkward for a family. A Catholic friend of mine married a divorced Catholic woman, no annulment was obtained. His sister said she would refuse to attend the wedding but relented because of family pressure.


I’m afraid this is what will happen. When we met the girlfriend, brother mentioned that they had gone to some local tourist-type places that weekend. Among them was a sculpture park. While talking about that outing, the girlfriend casually mentioned that it would be a good place for a wedding. That was probably just a casual comment and not meaningful at all, but one never knows.

I think perhaps the best beginning would be to have my husband casually mention to brother that the relationship seems to be progressing and that now would be a good time to begin the process of trying to get an annulment to be ready just in case the relationship continues to grow so he is free to marry in the Church if/when the time comes and see how a comment like that is received. No matter how it goes, this is an uncomfortable place to be in and we are not thrilled to have to deal with this, but feel we have to truly abide by Church teaching regarding charity and being our brother’s keeper.

There aren’t any church teachings on “dating.” Trust me, I have searched for years. Dating is a new concept, and a cultural one. “Dating” can mean having coffee and donuts next to another single person after Mass, as well as relationships that are sexual. The Church does have teachings on sexual morality, sin, marriage, divorce, and annulments.

The church teachings are related to sin.
1. You are to remain chaste.
You are not to commit adultery or fornication.

2. If he were to get engaged, he wouldn’t be permitted to schedule a wedding at a Catholic Church until he has received an annulment,** provided that his first marriage was never valid.
That is not something for you to decide, that would be up to the trubunal.

3. If you commit mortal sin you are to refrain from receiving the Eucharist until you have been to confession and your sins have been absolved.
4. He’s you brother-in-law? Does that mean he is divorced from your own sister? I would back out of that one. You are not going to help him change his ways.
5. You might want to get a book,
read it, and give it to your sister, and to him.
There are lots of good ones with Imprimaturs, this is the one I happen to have read. This will help you understand what constitutes a valid Sacramental marriage.

Annulment: The Wedding that Was. How the Catholic Church can Declare a Marriage Null.

**6. PRAY FOR HIM. **If you are so concerned about him, that is the Holy Spirit telling you that it is your mission to pray for him. You say he doesn’t practice the faith anymore. You can’t force someone to abide by the faith if he rejects it.

Unfortunately, many divorced people never understood the nature of a sacramental marriage, and when they divorce it is an opportune time to step out. The Church’s teaching on Sacramental Marriage is actually what brought me BACK to the Church after my divorce. I have other friends who converted to the Catholic Church for it’s clear teaching on marriage and divorce that more than any other faith, is most faithful to the Scriptures.

I’m not a tribunal judge, but that is about as good a case for annulments as I’ve seen.

PLEASE, get that book I recommended.
I think having mercy on your BIL, who remained in his marriage for so many years with your SIL, deserves mercy.

For your own sake and edification, also pick up a copy of** Good News for Sex and Marriage** by Christopher West. A very easy read through about the nuts and bolts of Catholic teaching on marriage.

If they were married in the Church, the annulment process will take about two years from beginning to end. Maybe longer, depending on how long it takes for your BIL to fill out the paperwork.

Unfortunately, he has been through a traumatic “marriage” to say the least, and now has children from that union. Whether he admits it or not, he has a lot of “stuff” to get through before he attempts another marriage. It is very tempting to skip God’s will altogether and just get married out of the Church. The annulment process is very healing and cathartic for anyone who goes through it.

Actually a Church wedding is not synonymous with a Sacramental marriage. A wedding is a wedding. A sacrament is what takes place in both people’s hearts at the time of the wedding.

The annulment will be a difficult process, as it takes time, and reflection on the part of the person who is applying. It is basically a spiritual journey into what was going on at the time of the wedding.

Expecting a child doesn’t make a marriage sacramental.
It honestly sounds like the priests that were involved with the Church wedding did not do a very good job at explaining what a Sacrament is.

You cannot instruct someone in a faith they no longer hold. And it sounds like the “annulment before re-marriage” is the only issue of which you are concerned, when, if he is already having marital relations outside of a valid marriage, being civily married doesn’t change that at all. It is now illicit and remains so.

I think the only reasonable thing to do would be for your husband, his brother, to say something along the line of “It would break mom’s heart for you to reject our faith and be married outside the Church. We would sure be happy to help if you wanted to pursue an annulment and return to the church.”

Beyond that, I would consider your brother-in-law non-Catholic and treat his choices as you would any other non-Catholic adult.

(And pray and pray and pray the prayers your mother-in-law would pray for her son if she were in a position to do so . . . )

I don’t understand the concept of sitting out the ceremony. Is this canon law? I’ve never been in this predictament, but if I were to be, I’d go.

I’d voice my concerns and if the couple was bound and determined to marry at the courthouse, I’d go under the the pretext I could do more good to bring them back inside the loop then out.

Boycotting the ceremony could resort in a total shutout by the couple.

NO. We don’t have a duty to instruct everyone we encounter. (You would not be able to attend the wedding, but no, you don’t have a duty to instruct him.)

Our duty to instruct applies to those who are under our authority. Our child. (biological offspring, foster child, adopted child.) Our student. Our god child. A priest has a duty to instruct his parishioners. A youth leader has a duty to instruct the youth who are under his or her care. A teacher of religion or a Catechist has a duty to instruct those who come to his or her classes.

But, no, you are not required to instruct your brother. Your parents have that duty, and his priest has that duty, but not you.

No, though, reminding a 42 year old man about the teachings of the Church when he considers himself single and free to do whatever he wants is also something I don’t envy anyone doing either. That is also a subject that would have to be touched on too if hubby is not shut down after trying to initiate a conversation about an annulment.

All very good points. The problem is that I think we are supposed to try, but since I don’t think we will be heard, I think the result will just be damaged relationships and not a return to the Church. I fear that nobody will “win” in a situation like that. Brother and his lady would still be risking all (souls) and no good would come of it.

I think this might be a “handle with prayer” situation.

I like this. This is a very good idea and a good way to handle this. Not too pushy or abrasive, yet gently gets points across. Thank you!

Prayer is the best way to go, so we will be doing more of that, thanks.

You make good points. The problem is that he probably wouldn’t understand why we couldn’t attend the ceremony if/when it happens unless we bring it up now or soon.

Maybe this is regional, but around here no priest will even consider talking wedding until AFTER nullification has been granted…