Logo for Interpeople-Inc Mediation: Divorce, Family & Work

Littleton & Arlington MA   1 800 336 0956


Divorce in Religious Traditions

Civil v. religious divorce. The state views religious divorce traditions as irrelevant to people's legal marital status as defined and accepted by the government. This means parties can be legally divorced in the eye of the state, but still considered married from the perspective of their religious community. They can remarry in a civil marriage after a civil divorce, but the marriage could be seen as an extramarital relationship by some religious communities. If they live in a tightknit religious community that rejects them because of the divorce or remarriage after a civil divorce, this can be traumatic.

Implication for prenuptials. A prenuptial agreement might be a good idea in some religious communities. When couples are married by a religious authority (a priest, a Rabbi, a Qadi), a prenuptial agreement can include an undertaking to cooperate on divorcing within the religious framework. There are circumstances where an agreement to do the religious divorce (if things come to that) can be very significant.

Here are brief summaries of divorce customs in the three main monotheistic religions.

Divorce in the Catholic tradition

Christian denominations deal with divorce variously. Here is a brief summary of treatment of divorce in the Catholic Church.

Catholicism forbids divorce. Its way around it is to annul the marriage retroactively. The annulled marriage is considered to have never happened, to have been a "putative marriage."

The Catholic church will annul a marriage in the following circumstances:

Divorce in Islam

In Islam there are three types of divorce:

"Talak" when a husband initiates a divorce. He has to say "Talak" ("I divorce you") three times for the divorce to be recognized. It is said consecutively or with intervals of up to a month. If Talak is declared just once or twice, the spouses can get back together. Intercourse "cancels" a declared Talak. Attempts at reconciliation by family representatives of each spouse are encouraged. Stating the final third "Talak" in the presence of two male witnesses confirms the divorce.

Custody of the children, if granted to the mother, will only last until the children are 7 years old.

The wife has no claim to the husband's property no matter how long the marriage and he is not obliged to support her after the divorce.

"Khula" when a wife initiates the divorce. It is very hard for the wife in a Muslem marriage to get a divorce that she initiates. The only acceptable grounds are if she has not had intercourse for over two months or if the husband does not provide for her basic needs such as food and shelter.

"Il'an" when a wife is accused of adultery. In this case, if adultery is proven, she is subject to a death sentence according to Sharia. In countries such as Saudi Arabia such sentences are executed publicly. In other societies, such as the Palestinian and other Arab societies, it is done by family members as "honor killings". If the husband accuses her and swears he is saying the truth five times the wife can deny it by counter-swearing she did not. (not sure what the consequences are of this situation; maybe a divorce? Note: husbands in most Muslim societies can marry more than one wife and their extramarital relatioships, if any, are not grounds for divorce)

Divorce in the Jewish tradition: "Gett"

In the Jewish tradition either husband or wife can file for divorce before a "Beyt Din", which is a tribunal of three rabbis. The Beyt Din will do its best to dissuade the parties from getting divorced. If the divorce does go forward it involves a short ritual: