How Different Religions View Divorce in America

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Divorce is hardly easy. Even if the break-up is amicable, there are still second guesses. Friends can be too quick to offer advice and too slow to, well, just be friends.

Often, the sluggishness in comforting extends to religious bodies. Spiritual communities are too quick to offer condemnation instead of solace and support.

Some, like Buddhism, focus on maintaining relationships with a minimum of rules. Others, like Islam, don't trust the parties involved to work through life changes on their own and watch people drown in the rules and regulations.

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Others like New Age, take a middle approach and allow the couple to work their through the kaleidoscope of feelings with a minimum of mandates.

How do the five largest religions deal with divorce? What do they teach about divorce? The answer could take a month of Sunday's to read all of the books, so here's just a brief synopsis.


Christians view God as the Creator of humanity and marriage. Most feel that God's plan for marriage means for it to be a lifelong union.

Christians believe that through the prophets, God emphasized three things about matrimony:

1. Marriage is sacred
2. God hates divorce, and
3. Marriage is intended to produce children of upright character

A relatively standard belief in Christian circles is that there are only two legitimate reasons for divorce:

A. A spouse is unfaithful, or
B. A spouse abandons their partner

Many situations don't fit those criteria, and people are stuck since many conservative Christians see divorce as being an option.

Christian views on divorce are based on biblical sources from the days of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:14. New Testament developments in the Christian world emphasized the permanence of marriage.

Jesus is quoted in Matthew as saying, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

Many conservative evangelical churches strongly oppose divorce, viewing it as a sin and point to Malachi 2:16.

The divorce rate in the religious arena is comparable to that of society as a whole and most Christians even conservatives, are increasingly seeing nothing wrong with divorce — at least in their particular situation. W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that "active conservative Protestants" who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans


The Hindu civil code permits divorce on certain grounds, but the concept of divorce is alien to Hinduism.

In Hindu beliefs, marriage is sacred, a divine covenant and a sacrament.

In ancient days, women in Hindu society had very little freedom. They were bought and sold, abducted, forcibly married and forced into slavery or postpetition. There wasn't the modern concept of a divorce or legal separation. When a woman left her parent's home, she was completely at the mercy of her husband or her husband's parents.

Part of the reason was that Manu, the lawmaker, viewed women with suspicion and would not trust them with freedom.

Many see the attitude of Hindus towards women as being ambiguous.

The Hindu law books proclaim women to be untrustworthy and declare a woman to be a possession. At the same time, the books advise men to treat women honorably and keep them happy.

Legal Position

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 applies not just to Hindus, but any person who is a Buddhist, Jaina or Sikh, domiciled in India and who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew.

According to the Marriage Act, divorce can be sought on certain grounds including adultery, cruelty, religious conversation, venereal disease, leprosy and a lack of communication for more than seven years.

While the Marriage Act is somewhat long and involved, its thoughts on divorce can be summed up as:

"Both parties to a marriage may seek lawful separation by joint consent."

Hindu marriage has undergone some changes in modern times. The position of women has changed, and she is not as dependent as her ancestors were. Still, divorce is the desperate last resort with the stigma associated with divorce being the biggest challenge.

The Hindu law has now given way to the principles of democracy and a belief in gender equality. Compared to marriages in the western world though, Hindu marriage have greater stability and a majority take the responsibility seriously.

New Age

When Gwyneth Paltrow recently made news for her "conscious uncoupling" with her husband, it was a new term for many. What is conscious uncoupling and in what way does it diverge than a typical divorce.

Actually, a conscious uncoupling isn't remotely similar to divorce. It's more of a "pre-divorce" where two people decide how they are going to live their lives before they start the divorce process.

A conscious uncoupling then is all about the "wholeness in separation," or the capacity to comprehend that every annoyance and quarrel was a sign to look inside and identify a negative internal object that needs healing.

From this perspective, there aren't any bad guys. Just two people each being teacher and student simultaneously.

Some observers ask why can't two people just move past resentments and stay together.

According to the teaching of conscious uncoupling, humans aren't meant to stay married for years. Pointing to the increased lifespan of the last century, many New Age believers believe there are three lifetimes now as compared to early humans. Adherents claim that social research suggests that because lifespans are so long, most people will have two or three significant long-term relationships.

"Our biology and mind aren't set up to be with one person for four, five or six decades," says Dr. Habib Sadeghi, Paltrow's guru

"You'll see that though it looks like everything is coming apart; it's all coming together," he added.


The question of divorce is not explicitly discussed within Buddha's teachings; neither is it prohibited.

Instead of teaching against divorce, as in the Christian or Islam religion, most of the Buddhist teachings are pro-marriage and relationships.

Both sexes are given the freedom to separate if they cannot agree with each other and Buddhism teaches that separation is preferable over a lifetime of misery.

Buddhism teaches that marriage plays an important part in life's web of relationships by giving support and protection. A good marriage, according to Buddha, should grow and develop gradually from understanding and not from impulse.

In a Buddhist marriage, each partner is encouraged to develop a complementary role where each manifests a supportive and appreciative recognition of the other's skills.

Instead of teaching male or female supremacy, there is to be no thought of either the man or woman being superior and the complementary aspect is reinforced, calling for a "partnership of equality, gentleness, generosity, calm and dedication."


Just as Buddhism is substantially relaxed about marriage mandates and divorce, Islam goes to the other extreme and overloads adherents with complex rules and numerous regulations. The Muslim laws surrounding the divorce are spelled out in detail and vary widely depending on which Islamic School of Thought — Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki or Shafi — they follow. Complicating this further is the question of whether the couple is Sunni or Shiite. Cultural traditions and a host of other factors within Islam combine to make the rules thicker than a 1960s New York phonebook.

Divorce is allowable in Islam, but it is not encouraged. The Prophet Muhammad called divorce the most displeasing thing to Allah. Muslims view divorce as a last result and often seek counseling to avoid it. Muslims believe that Allah allows divorce as an option because sometimes it is truly in the best interests of all involved.

Determining the proper procedure for divorce is complicated and depends on the timing of the divorce, the reasons for the divorce and which Islamic School of thought govern.

Women's property is not divided during a divorce. What a woman earns or is given before and during the marriage remains her property. However, a man's property is divided if a divorce occurs.

Typically in the laws of Islam, there are three kinds of divorce — and each type have their separate rules — and each different law has its own conditions.

1. Talaq — When a man has initiated a divorce, the procedure is called talaq.

2. Lian — When a man accuses his wife of adultery without witnesses and the wife denies any adultery.

3. Khula — When a woman has initiated divorce proceedings.

The Talaq divorce is the one most westerners are probably most familiar with where the husband speaks the phrase "I divorce you" to his wife, three times. In keeping with the hefty book of rules and regulations, Shia and Sunni Muslims add their own rules as based on their own schools of jurisprudence.

The Quran goes into great detail about divorce with over 100 passages pertaining specifically to divorce and the procedure of obtaining a divorce.

Bruce Provda became an attorney in New York as far back as the 1970s. Bruce focuses on divorce and separation, child custody, domestic violence as well as uncontested divorce.

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