Catholic lawyers and divorce cases

This story was originally published by Catholic News Singapore on 18 August 2012. Republished with permission.

By Martin See

A recent talk sought to answer the question of whether they should take up such cases

Several Catholic lawyers recently attended a talk on canon law, divorces and whether Catholic lawyers should take up such cases.

The event, organised by the Catholic Lawyers Guild, was titled Catholic Lawyers and Divorces, and held on Aug 4 at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Mr Andrew Kong, who has studied canon law, gave a 30-minute talk introducing the moral aspects of accepting civil divorce cases.

Fr Adrian Yeo, a canon lawyer who is on the archdiocesan marriage tribunal, then spoke on divorce and marriage annulments.

At the heart of the talk was the question: Can a Catholic lawyer handle divorce cases? Fr Yeo said that it is acceptable to do so. “The role of the lawyer is to protect the rights of your client and if you are protecting your clients’ rights you should take up the case,” he said.

However, he stressed that Catholic lawyers should not “formally cooperate” but rather “materially cooperate” with the divorce process.

This means that Catholic lawyers should not work towards the breakup of the marriage, but merely do the legal work after the couple has already decided to go ahead with the divorce.

“Lawyers handle divorces so as to ensure that the rights of the client are not trampled upon, like inheritance, the welfare of the children and the protection of self,” he added.

Fr Yeo said that for an annulment or dissolution of marriage to take place, the parties involved must first go through a civil divorce from the civil courts.

Nonetheless, he added that the Church is against divorce because “Christ’s love for His Church is unconditional and He sacrificed His life for His Church, and the love of a husband and wife should mirror Christ’s love for the Church”.

Mr Kong, in his talk, also explained that divorce is not an “intrinsically evil act”, that is to say that it is not evil in itself unlike acts of abortion, contraception, torture, rape or adultery.

Fr Yeo explained that an annulment of marriage is given when, after a careful study by the Church, a marriage is deemed to be not “valid” due to circumstances before and during the marriage.

Fr Yeo also highlighted the grounds for annulments and the conditions for a valid marriage in his talk. “To consent to marriage, both parties need to have full knowledge of each other and have full will to exercise their choice,” he said.

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