Ask the Patriarch 189
What are your policies on marital separation and divorce?
from: Amy Hom
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My name is Amy Hom. I am a student at Maryland Bible College and Seminary. My class was given a homework assignment to find out the different policies that organizations have involving marital separation and divorce. The class that I am taking is called Critical Counseling Issues. Our last class was on the crisis of divorce and that is why I was given this assignment. I would be very grateful if you would please respond to this e-mail letting me know your policies involving marital separation and divorce.
I truly appreciate your attention to this matter and I hope to hear back from you soon.
The Patriarch replies:
Thank you for writing.
It's an interesting question, but quite honestly, UCTAA has no official policies on marital separation and divorce. In the case of this church, there is no need for them.
I'll expand on that so you have a little more food for thought than "no policy."
When we consider the marriage ceremony, I suggest there are two aspects relevant to your question; a legal one, and a spiritual one. Both aspects are, in effect, contracts; the legal contract defined by the laws (both formal statutes and legal precedent) of the state, and, in the case of a religious ceremony, a covenant (usually with God) as established by the applicable church.
In a strictly civil ceremony, conducted, for example, by a Justice of the Peace, there is no true spiritual aspect even if a god is mentioned in the ceremony. Only the laws of the land apply to the marriage and to its dissolution, should it become necessary.
In a traditional religious ceremony, in addition to the legal aspects, there is a spiritual covenant in accordance with the beliefs of the particular church. Now, if the participants in a marriage wish to remain in communion with their church, then they are morally bound to accept that spiritual covenant in addition to the law. If they switch denominations, I would think their covenant gets carried over to the new church. If only one of them switches denominations or beliefs - well, it gets spiritually messy.
As far as UCTAA is concerned, the marriages conducted by our clergy are intended to provide a more formal, satisfying, and memorable ceremony than a simple civil ceremony. But, we impose no covenant on the couple. Their marriage is bound by the same laws as a civil marriage, nothing more.
So if there if were to be a policy promulgated by UCTAA on marital separation and divorce, it would be that the law shall be satisfied.
Now, I'm going to express some personal views.
Those entering into marriage should do so with the full intention of entering into a lifetime commitment.
However, we should recognize that there are sound reasons why even those who married with such an intention may subsequently have good cause to end the marriage.
Now, if a member of clergy is asked to assist in a case of marital breakdown, I would suggest the following should be taken into account:
- every attempt should be made to keep the process non-adversarial
- reasonable attempts should be made at reconciliation,
- in the event of reconciliation, and if the situation requires forgiveness by one party (or by both parties), then it should be true forgiveness. Lip-service to forgiveness is lip-service to reconciliation.
- if no reconciliation is possible, then a reasonable attempt by both parties should be made to keep the dissolution of the marriage non-adversarial. (If it becomes unavoidably adversarial, clergy, get out of the way and let the lawyers get rich.)
- both parties have a responsibility to the mutual support of children until they achieve adulthood, and neither party shall undermine the other with the children
- to the extent one party gave up career prospects in the furtherance of the marriage, that party should receive reasonable support from the other to get back on a self-supporting path.
- both parties should put the past behind them and seek their own future happiness.
I hope that helps you in your project, Amy. I appreciate the question; it did make me think.