The Church teaches that civil divorce does not dissolve the covenant of marriage. Thus, while recognizing the seriousness of divorce, it also understands that:
- There are situations in which civil divorce may be necessary: "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" (CCC 2383), and
- Divorce may occur due to no fault of an innocent spouse: "It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage." (CCC 2386)
Note that those who are divorced and who are living with someone or have remarried outside the Church are not permitted to receive the sacraments: "If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists." (CCC 1650)
A unique situation is that of those who have repented of their illicit union, but remain together for a serious reason, such as for the sake of their children. Catholic pastoral practice allows that IF their pastor judges that scandal can be avoided, then they can undertake an agreement to live as "brother and sister" (without any sexual relations) and be readmitted to the sacraments. If scandal cannot be avoided, then they must either separate or refrain from the sacraments.