The Last Resort: Divorce Due To Abuse


I am a die hard fan of the television show, “24”. The main character, Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, was a counter-terrorism hero, saving the country from nuclear disaster and international terror threats. One of the most shocking episodes was when, in order to prevent one terrorist from releasing chemical warfare in Los Angeles, the President had to agree to his list of demands, one which would be carried out by Jack, himself. That was the assasination of the CTU Regional Director, Ryan Chappelle.

It was shocking and heartbreaking because Bauer did not want to kill this man, but there was no way out. It was Chappelle’s sacrifice that would save the rest of society. And after the deed had been done, Jack suffered greviously for it. Although this story was fictional, it reminded me of a very real tragedy happening in reality. The many Catholics who are forced to end their marriages because their spouse is an abuser.

I’m not talking about people who look for and use the slightest excuse to get a divorce or those who feel that falling out of love is a valid reason to divorce. I’m talking about a spouse and children living in a situation that is gravely dangerous to their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Since the start of my support program, Journey of Hope, for separated and divorced Catholics back in 2001, I’ve come to know many spouses who have had to face the reality that they had to remove themselves and their children from the abuse taking place and have suffered terribly for it, especially at the hands of other people who automatically labled them as “failures.”

If you are one of these spouses who has faced this decision, or if you are coming to terms with doing this in the future, I’d like to offer you some ways to cope:

1.   Separation and Divorce Due To Abuse Does Not Constitute Sin. Again, I must reiterate that your situation must be serious and dangerous in this case. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The separation of spouses, while maintaining the marriage bond, can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense (#2383).

Therefore, if you have been or are now faced with having to separate from your spouse, know that you are doing the appropriate thing for you and your children.

2.     You Cannot And Should Not Be An Enabler. If you make excuses for your spouse’s abusive behavior, you are allowing the abuse to continue. You have a responsibility, especially if you are a parent, to stop the harm being done. Separating does not automatically mean a divorce will ensue, and it creates an opportunity for healing to begin for everyone involved.

3.    Your Children Are Getting A Distorted Idea Of What Marriage Is. One of the reasons why divorce is so prevelant in society today is because our children are not getting the right ideas about what marriage really is. Marriage is supposed to be a sacred covenant where a man and a woman love, respect, and serve each other. Children who see their mother abused will grow up with a distorted idea of what marriage is and will likely contribute to this breakdown of society by abusing their spouses as well, or not ever getting married at all.

4.    You Cannot Control What Other People Think, Say, Or Do. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do, and you can’t worry about someone else’s approval. If your parish priest or spiritual director has counseled you that you are doing the right thing, do your best to explain to others who deserve an explanation, and then don’t worry if they understand or not. The most important thing is worrying about what God thinks. If you know you are doing the right thing and you can stand before God with a clear conscience, that’s all that matters.

My heart goes out to anyone who is facing this situation for it is indeed a terribly difficult one. Please count on my prayers for you and feel free to contact me at




  1. Mercedes-627777 February 15, 2013 Reply

    Thank you so much Lisa,! I am spending this valentine day alone, immersed in work (I admit, I love what I am doing) but still, if I were not divorced I would not be working tonight for sure!

    I tried way too long before I realized that there was no other way out than divorce. My ex is an extremely abusive man, but not in a physical way. No, his abuse is psychological, emotional , spiritual. The straw on the camel was the negligence towards our son well-being. I knew that in order to save my son, I had to escape! and I am glad I did. None of our children has
    escaped unscathed from the divorce, but in my heart and mind I knew that my ex would never, ever change. I am working on a book about abused/ battered women and the highlight would be psychological abuse. Critical , demeaning words, control, manipulation and threats can undermine and nullify a woman to the point she does not have any idea of her worth anymore. The children grow up watching their father humiliate their mother everyday and it is a cycle that has no end

    I just pray that next St. Valentine, I and the rest of singles in CM would have found our better half, a partner/ spouse who really respects us and loves us for the rest of our lives.
    In the meantime, I find consolation that I did my best ..for me and for my children
    Mercy Kim

  2. Amanda R. February 9, 2013 Reply

    Thank you for this great article, Lisa! For some reason, people seem to have a hard time blaming the divorce on the abusive spouse, but instead want to find a “reason” for the problem. Like a lack of pre-marital counseling, or “not knowing each other well enough,” or whatever.

    And then the others who say that it is fine to seperate, but divorce is wrong. Well, there are legal ties in marriage that can be very harmful to continue when it is an abusive relationship. Debt incurred is shared, filing of income taxes is affected, eligibility for financial aid or support requires a spouses income and can be denied even if the spouses are sepearted. And not every state has legal sepearation.

    And, yes, a spouse can forgive the abuser, but divorcing the abuser doesn’t mean that there is no forgiveness. Before people decide what victims of abuse “should” do, please research and undestand the topic. It is hard enough for them without being blamed for leaving or divorcing their abusive spouse. There can be more blame for the victim then for the abuser.

    So, I am grateful that God and the Church are much more merciful than we tend to be. It is incredibly hard for us good Catholic women to leave a marriage. It is so hurtful when others judge our decision. I have finally learned to never, ever judge someone else because I have no idea what all the details are in their life.

    • Karen E. February 10, 2013 Reply

      Hi Mandy, Not knowing the details, I knew it had to be a serious reason for the divorce. I’m so sorry you had to experience this. I know your walk with the Lord is the most important thing in your life, and that’s all that really matters. Only God knows what is in any of our hearts, and whether people judge us or not, all that matters is that we know we are taking the next most faithful step in our walk with Him. God bless you and keep you safe in His heart!

  3. Maria-930320 January 26, 2013 Reply

    Consider the possibility that the Catholic abused woman feels so trapped because she sees no feasible resolution (fear of further retaliatory abuse aside) due to her beliefs in doctrine. Yet, the question could be raised that the ideology of this entity “marriage” has become a false idol rendering her entrapment a danger to not only her own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being, but also that of her children who through their misfortune are also held entrapped by the abuser and the abused parents for the sake of this false idol the Catholic marriage, or the perception there of.

  4. Jose-196790 January 14, 2013 Reply

    Thank you Lisa for bringing this topic. it is important to clarify that an abusive relationship is not safe for the victim nor for the children, and that is is morally imperative to stop the abusive behavior. what I would like for you to ellaborate on is the difference between separating from an abuser and divorcing an abuser. reading carefully the quote from the cathecisim, it talks about separating while keeping the sacramental bond.
    as followers of Christ, we are called to love and forgive, and that applies to an abusive partner. in love, and with love, we are called to denounce the abusive situation and seek help and protection, doing it not with a vengante heart but with a loving one. it is only through a loving, yet determined action of intolerance to the abuse, that God can work through us to reach the troubled heart of the abuser and maybe, accept the healing grace of jesus and restore the respect and love in the sacramental marriage.

    God bless you

  5. Nigel-748943 January 12, 2013 Reply

    Roman Catholic single men and women who are seriously thinking of marriage, must seek professional pre – marriage counselling from Roman Catholic marriage agencies.

    Marriage between a man and a woman is an eternal, and extremely sacred, commitment.

    Pre – marriage counselling can help a man and his future wife to be faithful to each other, and their children.

    A married couple should seek post – marriage counselling, which will help them to persevere in being faithful to each other, and their children.


    • Ruth-947500 October 15, 2013 Reply

      Both pre- and post-marriage counseling only works if both parties want it to work. After 11 years of abuse, when my ex said he would go to counseling and then didn’t show up, it was the last straw. Other times before that, he went but wouldn’t work, and put me off when I said I wanted counseling. The one time he regularly went to counseling with me helped for a sum total of about 6 months, and then he was back in his old patterns again, including quitting counseling. Honestly, it only stuck that long because he wanted me to move back in from being separated.

      Those of us who are divorced from abusive relationships have likely tried counseling, but again, because marriage is with two people, it only works when both people in the marriage work at it.

  6. Laura-56149 January 12, 2013 Reply

    I am glad you have written about this. I was blessed to have been supported by priests even 20 years ago. My family wasn’t supportive, but my church was and that got me through some very difficult times. In fact a couple of priests told me to leave and get divorced and annulled long before I did. I felt I had to stick it out and keep trying. Fortunately, spousal abuse is now being talked about and dealt with much more. We need to keep encouraging women and men to get the help and support they need. I finally reached out when I saw what it was doing to my children.

  7. Andrea-864455 January 11, 2013 Reply

    Thank you. This was very helpful.

  8. Lois-765906 January 11, 2013 Reply

    I really disagree with James. Divorce does not “let the guy off the hook”. If a woman discovers her husband has hidden guns around the house and he has a violent temper, should she be better off dead? I DON’T THINK SO!

  9. James-404829 January 11, 2013 Reply

    Divorce only lets the guy off the hook. Estrangement builds a better case against the abuser.

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