I met a woman who is separated from her husband, but whose marriage has not yet been annulled in spite of adultery on his part. Would it be possible to have a stable romantic relationship with her?

Dear Friend,

You are very wise to ask this question before allowing yourself to get involved with this woman. Many people consider separation to be the same as divorce or annulment, but you obviously know that there are critical differences.

It is very common for separated people to begin dating even though they are still married. But it is also common for separated people to get back together after some time has passed. Whomever they have dated often become the victims, left behind with emotional attachment and regrets.

Marriage is a legally-binding contract. Let’s compare it to buying a house. If I am looking for a house, I go and see several houses that are for sale. I decide which one to buy, and I make an offer. The current owner accepts my offer and we agree on the details. However, the house is not mine until I go and sign papers and give the owner the money to pay for it.

Let’s suppose that I decide that I really love the house and want to move in quickly. I load up my belongings and arrive at the house, ready to move in. When I knock on the door, the current owner opens it. I explain that I am really anxious to live in the house, so I want to move in early. But the owner reminds me that I haven’t paid for the house yet and that we haven’t signed the legal papers that will give me ownership. And the owner then tells me to take my things and leave because I have no right yet to live in the house.

A homeowner’s contract is like a marriage contract. It remains legally binding until it is legally terminated. Just as the current owner has the right to stay in the house until the legal arrangements are finished, spouses are still married until the legal arrangements are finished and the court terminates their marriage contract.

The woman that you met has legitimate grounds to end her marriage because her husband committed adultery. Jesus Christ taught that adultery is an acceptable reason to end a marriage.1 However, until the legal paperwork is finished, she is still married and does not have the liberty to date as if she were not.

Of course, you may choose to deny the reality that she is still married, and you may risk falling in love with her. But the fact that you ask us this question reveals that you don’t feel right about it. It would be wise for you to listen to that inner voice that is warning you not to proceed.

We wish you well,

1Mt 19:9