Divorce and Religion: What Different Faiths Say About Ending a Marriage

See what the Bible and various religions say about ending a marriage, and how religious views can factor into decisions around divorce.

Navigating a divorce is an inherently complex process, no matter the circumstances. But when you add religion into the mix, the already complicated decision can become even more daunting.

According to the Pew Research Center, 57% of divorced or separated adults consider religion very important to them. Another 24% find it somewhat important. So, it's undeniable that religion will play at least a small factor in many divorce decisions, no matter the denomination.

How Certain Religions View Divorce

Religions obviously have their own views on any number of issues in life, divorce among them. Here's an overview of the positions of some faiths on the topic of ending a marriage.

Christianity and Divorce

Though it has several denominations, Christianity follows the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as written and explained in the Bible. The religion, which believes in only one God, is firmly centered on beliefs around Jesus's birth, death, and resurrection. It is also the largest religion in the world, having had more than 2.3 billion followers around the globe in 2015.

Many people wonder what the Bible says about divorce. Generally, in Christianity, marriage is viewed as a life-long promise between partners. While many believe that means God hates divorce, and Christian divorce is indeed normally frowned upon, that isn't the end of the story. Reasons for acceptable divorce in the Bible may include unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9) and abuse (Exodus 21:10-11).

Of course, different denominations interpret these Scriptures differently. So, here's a look at the general beliefs of some of them around divorce:

  • Protestantism: While it advocates against divorce whenever possible, many Protestant churches allow divorce if a marriage is beyond repair. Protestantism also permits remarriage in many cases.
  • Catholicism: Since marriage is considered a sacred sacrament, the Catholic Church doesn't believe in divorce and considers it a sin. To this religion, a marriage only ends in the case of a partner's death or if there is a Catholic annulment, which declares the marriage invalid and says it should have never have happened.
  • Mormonism: Similar to Protestantism, Mormonism disapproves of divorce but permits it in some instances. Couples may be able to get a "cancellation of sealing," which allows for an ending to the marriage in the eyes of the church.

Judaism and Divorce

Judaism, one of the world's oldest religions, is centered on the belief in one God and his covenant, meaning a special agreement between God and his people. All of the laws and teachings in Judaism originate from the Torah, the sacred book in the Jewish religion.

Similar to many Christian denominations, divorce is allowed in Judaism, even if it's not encouraged. According to traditional Jewish law, only the husband can divorce his wife, but, while some Orthodox Jews still abide by that thinking, most Jewish communities will now allow for a divorce initiated by either a man or a woman.

Since Jewish couples sign a ketubah, or marriage contract, when they get married, a legal document under Jewish law is required for divorce under some denominations. That's called a "get," and the cases in which it may be given include situations of infidelity, abuse, or irreconcilable differences. In Orthodox Judaism, a religious divorce must go through proceedings before a rabbinical court before a "get" is granted.

Hinduism and Divorce

Originating in India, Hinduism is not a single, unitary religion, but, instead, a collection of principles considered a way of life. There's no one sacred text like a Bible or Torah, but many Hindus believe in dharma, which is the religious code that governs an individual's conduct and duty.

Divorce is allowed in Hinduism, but it appears to be rare in that religion when compared to others. Historically, divorce was forbidden in Hindu relationships as women had an inferior standing in culture and society. And since Hinduism considers marriage a sacrament and life-long promise made in the presence of several gods, divorce was never an option. However, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 in India allowed divorce under certain conditions, including infidelity, abandonment, cruelty, and absence of communication, among other reasons.

Islam and Divorce

Islam, the world's second-largest religion, believes in one God, Allah, and his prophet, Muhammad. Muslims believe they must submit to the will of Allah, and they follow the Qur'an, their central and sacred religious text. Like other religions, Islam has multiple groups, including Sunni and Shi'a, and these groups have differences.

As with many other religions, divorce is allowed in Islam, but it is considered a last resort. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad reportedly said, "The most detestable of lawful things before Allah is divorce." So, Islamic couples may be encouraged to work with their mosque to resolve any differences before taking steps to divorce.

When it comes to remarriage, different rules apply to men and women. Differences include the principle that a man can immediately remarry after a valid divorce whereas a woman must not remarry for a certain period of time (usually three months).

Buddhism and Divorce

Since Buddhism doesn't have strict tenets about marriage, divorce is allowed in the religion and is unrestricted. Divorce may actually be recommended if an unhappy marriage causes stress or suffering.

Considering Religion When Thinking About Divorce

Studies have shown that religious involvement can reduce divorce rates (by up to 14 percent according to one). And at least one study reported that couples that attended church together were less likely to divorce. But that doesn't make the process any easier or less complicated for those considering going through it.

After all, no matter your religion, divorce can be a touchy subject. Though views on divorce have changed with time, there can be a stigma associated with it that's hard to shake. Some people undoubtedly worry a divorce will cause judgment or even shame from others in a religious community. Or they might be concerned that it will cause a loss of friends or push them away from their faith. According to the study referenced above, people can experience a drop in religious involvement after a divorce, especially in middle age.

But, to many, that need not dictate how people navigate their own marital challenges. Similar to how religion is a very personal decision, divorce is a unique topic to each individual, with no one-size-fits-all answer. Not all people in the same denominations have the same beliefs, and views on divorce may differ between people within a religious group. Plus, views within religions and society generally can evolve.

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