Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage contract. Marriage sometimes has a legal and a religious component. Divorce ends the legal contract. Some religions require the married partners to have a religious divorce if the individuals wish to continue their religious practice. For instance, practicing Jews must get both a legal divorce, to satisfy secular authorities, and a get (גט), or religious divorce, to satisfy religious practice. Liberals have consistently gotten divorced at higher rates than social conservatives, which some say strains the sanctity of marriage.
- 1 Primary biblical Statements
- 2 Doctrinal positions
- 3 Denominational positions
- 3.1 Assemblies of God
- 3.2 Christian and Missionary Alliance
- 3.3 Evangelical Lutheran
- 3.4 Evangelical Presbyterian Church
- 3.5 Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
- 3.6 Mennonites
- 3.7 Orthodox Church in America
- 3.8 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
- 3.9 Reformed Church in America
- 3.10 Roman Catholicism
- 3.11 Southern Baptist
- 3.12 United Methodist
- 3.13 United Church of Christ
- 3.14 Wesleyan Church
- 4 Secular view
- 5 Divorce Rate
- 6 Lowering the divorce rate
- 7 Covenant Marriage
- 8 References
Primary biblical Statements
For most of 2,000 years Christians have viewed divorce primarily through two scriptural citations, Matthew 5:32 and 1 Corinthians 7:15. God's views on divorce are seen as most clearly articulated in the former, which is reiterated in 19:9:
"32: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (Matthew 5: 32) and, "9: And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matthew 19: 9)
The corresponding passages in Mark and Luke lack the reference to fornication:
Mark 10:11-12 (KJV): And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
Luke 16:18 (KJV): Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from [her] husband committeth adultery.
"1 Corinthians 7:15 states But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
Historically most conservative Protestant Christians have allowed divorce only in the case of adultery, and some also for desertion, The original text of the Westminster Confession, as approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647, emphatically stated: "Nothing but adultery or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage." The offended party in such circumstances is free to remarry, as if the offending party were dead. In 1927, Dr. Clarence Edward Macartney recommended that the Presbyterian General Assembly declare that, "...adultery alone clearly recognized in the New Testament as cause for divorce. Therefore the Church cannot sanction divorce on any other ground nor the remarriage of divorced persons other than the innocent parties in divorces granted for adultery; and it shall be unlawful for a minister to marry any divorced person except one so divorced."
There is disagreement as to how the absence of the fornication clause in the Mark and Luke affect the meaning of the fuller Matthean account, and some believe that any divorce equates to adultery, and incurs the consequences of such. (Gal. 5:19,21) Further consequences of adultery are stated in Deuteronomy 23:2, where it is stated:
"2:A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 23:2)
However, the verse is open to some degree of interpretation, and as this is an Old Testament decree (unlike the previous reference in Matthew), the generational effects are usually not seen by Christians as applying under the New Covenant where the emphasis of salvation shifts from countries and family lines to individuals, and is open to all who will believe. (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2; Rev. 5:9)
In the extensive examination of the issue by Wesleyan holiness preacher L. S. Boardman, fornication is shown as not restricted to premarital sex, and he contends that "the words from Mark must be blended with Matthew's account to make the dialogue complete."
Most Protestant churches permit divorce, but encourage marriage counseling services or pastoral discussion first to save a marriage, saving divorce as a last resort. Sometimes the local pastor has exclusive authority over the marital business of his church, with only minimal policymaking from above. Most conservative Protestant denominations restrict divorce to one or two conditions, and allow remarriage in the case of the innocent victim. Liberal denominations tend to allow or advocate lesser restraints. Their position statements on such often lack substance.
Assemblies of God
In the rather detailed statement by the General Council of the Assemblies of God it is stated,
- ...divorce is treachery (deceitful unfaithfulness) against one’s companion. Jesus forbade divorce as contrary to God's will and word", though He "permitted a Christian to initiate a divorce when “marital unfaithfulness” was involved", with porneia being "a broad term for sexual immorality of various kinds, often habitual, both before and after marriage (Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:18; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). In stating the exception, Matthew did not use moicheia, the Greek noun for adultery. (Jesus did differentiate between porneia and moicheia elsewhere [Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21] and the verb moicheuō is used in Matthew 5:32;19:9 to describe the actions of the sinful party who forces the divorce without a valid cause.)
As regard remarriage, it holds that,
- This shows that a married person who divorces a sexually immoral spouse does not cause that spouse to commit adultery, since the offender is already guilty of adultery. Paul also included an exception on behalf of the innocent spouse. In cases where unbelieving spouses were unwilling to live with partners who had become believers, Paul advised, “If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound [not “enslaved,” douloō] in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace" (1Corinthians 7:15). “Not bound” is a strong expression that appears to mean the believer is set free. Therefore, the meaning seems to be that the believer is free to remarry.
Christian and Missionary Alliance
The CMA perspective based on an Instructional Statement of The Christian and Missionary Alliance states (in part),
- Divorce is a departure from the purposes of God. Jesus explained that provisions for divorce in the Old Testament were an accommodation to the hardness of people’s hearts and a necessary evil (Matt. 19:8; 19:6).
- While divorce is always contrary to God’s intentions, it is permitted in certain circumstances. Jesus said in Matthew 5:32 and again in Matthew 19:9 that a person is not to divorce his or her spouse except for the cause of fornication. The Greek word used for “fornication” refers to habitual sexual immorality. It implies all kinds of immorality, including adultery, which desecrates the marriage relationship.
- When one partner of a divorce has become involved in adultery, the offended spouse is permitted—though not required—to get a divorce. If an unsaved husband or wife refuses to continue to live with his or her spouse and departs, the believer may agree to this separation (1 Corinthians 7:15). Such separations may result in divorce, and in that case the Christian is guilty of no wrong.
- When an adulterous relationship has brought about a divorce, the party who is innocent of adultery has a right to remarry (Matthew 5:32). The right to marry anyone guilty of adultery is denied and as well as to marry anyone who obtained divorce for the express purpose of remarriage (Mark 10:11–12).
- According to 1 Corinthians 7, remarriage on grounds of desertion alone is not permitted. When two unbelievers have been divorced and one is subsequently converted and neither has remarried, the Christian should attempt to restore the marriage. If the non-Christian refuses, this makes the marriage the same as the kind described in 1 Corinthians 7:15.
- If a person is divorced on other than the above scriptural grounds and his or her former partner remarries, that partner by remarrying has, according to scriptural standards (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9), committed adultery and has dissolved the original relationship.
- Persons who remarry after being divorced on other than scriptural grounds are guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:32). A Christian clergyman should not perform such marriages.
In a non-binding, declaration, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, without providing clear criteria states,
- If after careful consideration the marriage relationship is deemed beyond repair, and the effects of continuing the marriage to be more destructive of the welfare or persons than divorce, the decision for divorce may be recognized as a responsible choice, the lesser of several evils in a fallen world....Remarriage of divorced persons is neither forbidden nor automatically endorsed by The American Lutheran Church.
In Common Convictions, adopted by the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on November 9, 1996, the section on "The ending of a marriage" ambiguously states,
- In some situations, however, divorce may be the better option.
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church Position Paper on Divorce & Remarriage (adopted at the 15th General Assembly, June 1995) states that,
- ...marriage is a sworn fidelity, whereby God joins a man and a woman in life-long companionship. Nevertheless, divorce is permitted only in circumstances of grave repudiation of the marriage covenant, namely adultery and willful, irremediable desertion.
- Adultery is a radical breach of marital fidelity, violating the commitment of exclusive conjugal love...Christ's teaching is that if a divorce takes place on any other grounds than that of marital unfaithfulness, it can have no sanction from God, and any new marriage which follows is an adulterous act, since from God's standpoint the original couple is still married to each other. Matthew 19:9 indicates that a valid divorce (on the grounds of marital unfaithfulness) entails the right to remarry...
- Desertion is the destruction of the marriage which the Christian spouse was unable to prevent. The believer in such a case is not bound (that is, he or she is free to divorce and remarry); for Paul says, "God has called us to live in peace." (1 Cor. 7:15)
Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod states that
- While divorce can be justified Scripturally in certain situations (e.g., adultery or desertion), it is always preferable for couples to forgive and work toward healing and strengthening their marriage.
In the 1987 study, Divorce and Remarriage: An Exegetical Study", it is stated,
- A person who divorces his/her spouse for any other cause than sexual unfaithfulness and marries another commits adultery. have no prohibition on divorce.
Mennonite founder Menno Simons (ca. 1496-1561) clarified the Anabaptist position on divorce, based directly on the words of Christ and of the Apostle Paul, with adultery being the only acceptable ground for divorce.
- And also, that the bond of undefiled, honorable matrimony is so unchangeably bound in the kingdom and government of Christ that neither a man nor a woman can forsake one the other, and take another, understand rightly what Christ says, except it be for fornication, Matthew 19:9.Divorce has not permitted among the Anabaptists and Mennonites from the earliest times to the mid-20th century except for the cause of adultery, in accordance with the Biblical standard as found in Matthew 19:9, although separation (either legal or privately arranged) was generally allowed.
The Wismar Resolutions of 1554, (as quoted in Mennonitisches Lexikon I, 530) stated:
- Adultery on the part of one member breaks the marriage relationship. However, the responsible party may return to re-establish the relationship provided he (or she) gives evidence of due repentance and a changed life. In cases of deliberate adultery, the innocent party may be free to remarry after consulting with the congregation." The position taken by the Hutterian Brethren was ". . . that nothing can break the marriage bond except adultery. In cases where a man is married to an unbelieving woman, and she desires to live with him, he may not divorce her (nor vice versa). If the unbelieving husband threatens her faith or hinders the training of the children in the faith, she may divorce her husband, but must not remarry so long as that man is living.
However, the statement of position and policy adopted on June 24, 1983, by the Southeastern Mennonite Conference, states
- Scripturally, there is nothing which breaks the marriage bond except death. The act of adultery does not dissolve the marriage bond, although it decidedly affects the quality of a marriage relationship and leaves a permanent scar on the persons involved. A legal document called divorce, from God's point of view, does not break the marriage bond, else remarriage would not be adultery. Even the conversion of one of two unbelieving married partners does not dissolve the marriage bond. If the unbelieving partner should leave, the marriage bond continues.
Orthodox Church in America
The OCA takes a liberal position on divorce, as stated in the Q+A section of its official web site:
- Regarding divorce, the Orthodox follow Christ in recognizing it as a tragedy and a lack of fulfillment of marriage as the reflection of divine love in the world. The Church teaches the uniqueness of marriage, if it will be perfect, and is opposed to divorce absolutely.
- If, however, a marriage breaks down and collapses, the Orthodox Church does in fact allow a second marriage, without excommunication, that is, exclusion from Holy Communion, if there is repentance and a good chance that the new alliance can be Christian.
- More than one marriage in any case, however, is frowned upon. It is not allowed to the clergy, and the service of second marriage for laymen is a special rite different from the sacrament as originally celebrated.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
In 1992 the Presbyterian church stated in Minutes of the General Assembly" (p. 62) that divorce was allowed under Biblical grounds.
Reformed Church in America
Reformed Church in America stated  that
- God's intention for marriage is permanency. Divorce involves sin. There are only two permissible grounds for divorce: adultery, based on the exceptive clause in Matthew 19:9, and desertion of the believing spouse by the unbeliever, based upon the so-called "Pauline Privilege" in I Corinthians 7:15.
In ancient time Roman Catholics could possibly obtain divorces for either of the two traditional reasons, Later Canon law does not admit divorce. The Catholic Church has a process of annulment based on the non-fulfilment of any of the religious marriage requirements, such as individual freedom or a previous unmarried state. In addition, various other conditions are recognized as possible grounds for annulment. Technically, an annulment is not a divorce but a declaration that a valid marriage never took place. Current available statistics show 53,885 annulments were granted to Catholics in the United States and 638,705 from 1984 to 705[meaning unclear], the large majority being for "defective consent", meaning deceit by one of the parties. Other common grounds for annulment include "lack of due discretion" in choosing a spouse, "psychic incapacity" to fulfill marital obligations, "defect of form", referring to a marriage that was not performed in the Catholic Church, and "prior bond", meaning one of the partners was married to someone else at the time of the wedding.
In the 2004 Presidential election season many devout Catholics were scandalized by Senator John Kerry, now married to his second wife, taking Holy Communion without having obtained an annulment. Some charge Catholicism with engaging in deception by using annulments to circumvent its prohibition on divorce, while it is pointed out that the Bible considered people married even when joined under conditions which might quality as grounds for annulments.
The current catechism states, in part,
- The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion.
Due to the autonomous nature of the Southern Baptist churches, the largest Protestant denomination, there is no universal policy within the Convention that addresses divorce, though consistent with their general conservatism, they are expected to be strict, as historically it was. One study showed that among Southern Baptists, the top five issues of concern were divorce (53 percent), negative influences from the media (38 percent), materialism (36 percent), absentee fathers (29 percent) and latch-key kids (23 percent).
The United Methodist Church position  is that
- When marriage partners are estranged beyond reconciliation, the church recognizes divorce as regrettable, but also recognizes the right of divorced persons to remarry.
United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ holds  that
- Divorced and remarried persons are welcome to participate fully in the life of the church."
The Wesleyan Church states,
- The only scriptural grounds for considering divorce is the sexual sin of the spouse such as adultery, homosexual behavior, bestiality, or incest. Appropriate counseling to restore the relationship must always precede a consideration of divorce. To obtain a divorce on other than scriptural grounds is a sin against God and man. Such putting asunder of what God has joined is a direct and deliberate act of disobedience against both the Law and the Gospel. It separates one from God and subjects a member to Church discipline (5350; 5370). (Discipline 265:10; 410:6) Divorce, however sinful the act and however serious the consequences, is not unpardonable. A redeemed sinner or reclaimed backslider is “free” to marry “in the Lord” or to remain unmarried...
Divorce is the dissolution of a contract and laws vary from state to state.
In 1969, California became the first U.S. state to legalize no-fault divorce. Under the common unilateral divorce laws (also known as no-fault divorce), either party can demand and get a divorce at any time and for any reason with marital assets being split evenly. Divorce courts do consider allegations of fault when children are involved in regards to awarding of custody, but not in regards to whether or not a divorce can take place or in the awarding of marital assets.
In times past, the divorce rate was statistically much lower. Divorce affects more than the spouses; it also causes pain for any children from the marriage where the non-custodial parent is often seen less often or in some cases not at all. It is common for children to blame themselves for the divorce. Relationship difficulties for the children are especially common into later life if either of the parents is poisoning the relationship with the children for the other by making negative comments to the kids.
However, a follow up study in 2001 that looked into cohabitation trends found that Christians weren't cohabitating in the same proportions as non-Christians and that was affecting the results from the 1999 study. Checking for born again Christians specifically, it was found that 80% of born again Christians were or had been married compared to 69% for all other groups. When this was adjusted for, it gave born again Christians a slightly lower divorce rate than the general population. The difference is within the margin of error.
In addition, The Barna Group has traditionally used nine doctrinal questions to categorize people as evangelicals, which distinguishes them from those who only fit the category of "born again" Christians. Using this criteria, just 8% of the adult population in 2006 were considered evangelical.
Another Barna study in 2004 looking only at people who had married and their rate of divorce (sample size of 3,614) found that there was no difference in divorce rate between born again Christians and other Christians and that Christians on a whole had a slightly lower percentage of divorce when compared to atheists and agnostics. The difference is within the margin of error.
A later study in 2008 revealed that while 78% of adult Americans have been married at least once, the percentage of born again Christians who married was 84%. Among atheists and agnostics that percentage was 65%, and 74% for those aligned with non-Christian faiths.
The study also showed that 33% of all adult Americans have experienced at least one divorce. The greatest disparity related to income, with the divorce rate among "downscale adults" being 39%, versus 22% for "upscale adults." As relates to ideological differences, the lowest likelihood of having been divorced after marriage was among evangelicals (26%), and Catholics (28%). The percentage among atheists was 30%, and 37% for people who consider themselves to be liberal on social and political issues. Among "born again" adults the divorce rate was identical to that of the national average of 33%. The study did not determine whether a divorce occurred prior to the person becoming become born again, though previous research indicated that applied to 20% of people in this class.
Among those churches (e.g., Anabaptist and Conservative Holiness) that recognize no alleged Scriptural exceptions for divorce (and thus prohibit remarriage), the divorce rate is much lower. Among the Mennonites and Amish it is 0.3%.
The Barna study from 2004 also found that there was a large difference in divorce rates between baby boomers and the generations before, with the boomers having a much higher rate of marital failure. It is estimated that the boomers may pass a 50% rate of divorce. The generation after the boomers, the baby busters, appears to be heading to a similar rate of marital failure as the boomers based on early data.
In the US, divorce rates vary substantially among the states. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the states with the lowest rate of divorce in 2009 were Massachusetts (1.8 divorces per 1,000 people), the District of Columbia (2.1), Pennsylvania (2.3), Iowa (2.5), and New York (2.5). Those states with the highest divorce rates were Idaho (5.0), West Virginia (5.0), Wyoming (5.2), Arkansas (5.6), and Nevada (6.6).
Lowering the divorce rate
Alarmed at high rates of divorce within the Christian community, the Family Research Council tried to reverse that trend. They found that 85 percent of Christian couples either had no premarital counseling or only met once with their pastor. Considering this to be unacceptable, they put together programs that require a minimum of 4 months premarital preparation including the taking of a premarital inventory and meeting with mentor couples. This caused divorce rates to drop by 30% to 50% for those couples who adhered to the program.
In order to help solve the social problems created by inordinately high divorce rates, some states have begun passing laws enabling covenant marriages. A covenant marriage in some cases is harder to obtain than a default lawful marriage license and also is more difficult to break (the common exceptions being violence, abandonment or adultery).
- Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible; Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible; John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on Mt. 5:32; 19:9
- Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
- Ibid. Boardman
- Religion: Ground for Divorce; Time magazine, Monday, May. 23, 192
- According to the Talmud and the Rabbins, this refers to those who were begotten in incest or adultery (cf. Ges. thes. p. 781), and is seen by Maimonides and Matthew Henry as being for deterrent effect, while Jephthah (Judges 11:1) seems to be an exception to this, as Ruth is in the next verse. See John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible. And as Henry notes, interpreters also are not agreed what is here meant by "entering into the congregation of the Lord."
- Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Dt. 23:2
- DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE UNDER GOD By L. S. Boardman The Problem of Divorce and Remarriage Scripturally Examined in the Light of the Original Text
- AG Position Papers: Divorce and Remarriage Application of Biblical Principles
- Divorce and Remarriage
- Teachings and Practice on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. A Social Statement of the American Lutheran Church, a predecessor church body of the ELCA (1982)
- Position Paper on Divorce & Remarriage
- How is divorce viewed in the LCMS?
- The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) "Divorce and Remarriage
- Statement of Position on Divorce and Remarriage
- The Orthodox Church in America: Divorce, Birth Control, Abortion
- Understanding Protestant Churches of North America (2003) by Shelly Steig,
- Dissolution and annulment of marriage by the Catholic Church, by Eileen F. Stuart, p. 82
- Vatican's 2004 Statistical Yearbook of the Church
- What God has joined together, pp. 25,26, by Robert H. Vasoli
- John T. Catoir, J.C.D., "Understanding Annulments," St. Anthony Messenger, 1998; http://www.twopaths.com/faq_marriage.htm
- Catholic Divorce: The Deception of Annulments, Pierre Hegy, Joseph Martos (Editors)
- Papal Presumption
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, (c) 1994, 1997; #1665
- Divorce, annulments, and the Catholic Church, by Richard J. Jenks, Craig A Everett p. 29
- Divorce, Media & Materialism Top List of Threats to Family
- Ibid. Steig
- Ibid. Steig
- Standing Firm 10-17-01
- Survey Explores Who Qualifies As an Evangelical, 2007, The Barna Group
- New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released, March 31, 2008, The Barna Group
- Southern California Christian Times, Feb 2000, Pg 14