What Role Does Religion Play in Divorce?

Religion is an important factor for many couples seeking divorce. That is because although marriage has legal implications in New Jersey and across the nation, many popular religions also have their own set of guidelines for marriage and divorce.

If you are a person of faith and want to know how your divorce may impact your religion, this discussion may provide insight.

What is a Civil Divorce?

Divorce or the secular dissolution of marriage is the legal termination of the marital relationship. A civil divorce refers to the end of the marriage in the eyes of the law. When a couple divorces, they must resolve certain issues including the division of assets, alimony, child support, and child custody.

Although some couples opt to separate without getting formally divorced, it is important to complete the civil divorce process for a few reasons. A legal divorce severs the connection between spouses, ending their ability to make financial and medical decisions on each other’s behalf.

If those financial ties linger, you may be responsible for any debts your estranged spouse incurs. And you cannot remarry until you officially divorce your spouse. Even if you and your ex-spouse are living separate lives, you cannot truly move on legally, financially, and emotionally until you have that final divorce decree.

What is a Religious Divorce?

Most religions recognize the institution of marriage. Some also recognize divorce, although attitudes toward divorce tend to vary from faith to faith. Many couples going through a civil divorce have the added task of getting a religious divorce, particularly if they want to remarry in their own house of worship.

How Different Religions View Divorce

Although the process looks different from religion to religion, the following is a basic overview of the most commonly practiced faiths and how they view divorce.

Christianity and divorce. Christianity is the world’s leading religion, with more than 2.5 billion observers across the globe. That means an estimated one-third of the world’s population observes some form of Christianity, with the majority located in the United States.

Generally, Christianity views marriage as a life-long commitment between two people, and divorce is typically frowned on. However, Christianity encompasses several denominations, each with their own specific views on divorce.

Mormonism, for example, frowns on divorce but does allow couples to get a so-called cancellation of sealing to end the marriage within the church. Protestantism also permits divorce if the marriage is beyond repair, and they also support remarriage in the church.

Roman Catholicism is less lenient when it comes to religious divorce. Because Roman Catholics consider marriage one of the holy sacraments, divorce is considered a sin in the church. Marriage for Catholic couples ends only if one partner dies, or the couple gets an annulment.

Annulments. In contrast to a civil divorce that legally ends the marriage and declares the partners single, an annulment renders the marriage null and void, as if it never happened at all.

Annulment is not the same thing as divorce. With divorce, one or both spouses want out even though they acknowledge the union existed. With an annulment, one or both spouses believe the marriage is invalid and never should have happened in the first place.

There are two types of annulments: legal annulments and religious annulments. 

Legal annulments render a marriage invalid based on a variety of reasons that vary: 

  • One or both spouses was tricked into marriage.
  • One or both spouses were not of legal age to get married.
  • One or both spouses were already married at the time of the marriage; bigamy.
  • One or both spouses were not of sound mind to marry, owing to drugs, alcohol, or mental illness.
  • One or both spouses concealed a major issue such as a substance abuse problem or criminal past.

Regarding religious annulments, the Roman Catholic Church has certain procedures for couples to get an annulment. First, a civil court must declare the couple divorced before they can seek a religious annulment.

Next, at least one spouse must provide their baptismal certificates, civil marriage license, and other documents, along with a formal annulment petition explaining why the marriage should be invalid.  The other spouse must be notified but does not have to participate in the annulment process. Perhaps the most common reason couples seek an annulment is so they can remarry in the Catholic Church.

Hinduism and divorce. Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion, dating back more than 4,000 years. Today, an estimated 900 million people follow Hinduism, with the majority of followers living in India. As opposed to a single, organized religion, Hinduism is more of a way of life and a series of principles.

Hindus believe in the universal law of cause and effect, karma, and they strive to have good morals and values. Historically, divorce was forbidden in Hinduism and marriage was considered a sacred union, much like in Catholicism.

However, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 allowed divorce in certain circumstances, including abandonment, cruelty, and infidelity. Still, divorce tends to be less common among Hindus, when compared with people of other faiths. 

Islam and divorce. With around 1.8 million followers, Islam is the second largest religion in the world behind Christianity.  The word Islam means “submission to the will of God,” and observers, Muslims, aim to live a life in complete submission to God, Allah.

Again, like other leading religions, Islam has several smaller groups, and each may have their own respective views of divorce. However, generally, divorce is permitted in Islam, but only as a last resort.

Couples seeking a divorce may be encouraged to visit a mosque to resolve their conflicts and possibly avoid divorce. In Islam, divorced men can remarry immediately, whereas women must wait for a certain period before they can wed again.

Judaism and divorce. Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. It dates back nearly 4,000 years. Jewish people believe a single God established an agreement, or covenant, with them. God communicates through prophets, rewards good acts, and punishes evil.

Divorce is not encouraged in Judaism, but it is allowed. Orthodox Judaism is the strictest of the different sects. In Orthodox Judaism, only men are allowed to divorce their wives. And that divorce must take place in a rabbinical court before a written document, or a get, can be granted.

Without a get, some Orthodox Jewish women are unable to remarry under Jewish law or have future children who are considered religiously legitimate. However, Reform Judaism and other more liberal sects allow both spouses to seek divorce.

Will a Religious Divorce Impact a Civil Divorce?

The answer is yes. Divorce is more complex for couples who have a strong faith and are bound to the marriage guidelines of their religion.  For this reason, legal counsel prior to civil and religious marriage is always strongly advised.

To prevent undue stress, delays, or complications in the future, anyone getting married should meet with an experienced divorce lawyer to fully grasp the civil implications and religious factors involved if they decide to end their marriage.

The reality is that couples who get legally divorced may still be bound to each other because of the rules of their religion. It takes a capable lawyer knowledgeable in the views and guidelines of different religions to resolve these issues.

Although divorce is never the desired outcome, it is in your best interests to be practical and consider that worse-case scenario should you decide to divorce your spouse, especially if you want the option to remarry in your church, mosque, or synagogue.

Beyond these four widely practiced religions, people observe many other faiths. If you have specific questions about your own faith and divorce, contact a trusted religious divorce lawyer and an advisor or elder from your own religious community for guidance.

Morristown Religious Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Dealing with Civil and Religious Divorce Matters

For many people, their religious faith is their foundation, their inspiration, and their moral compass.  But religious tenets do not always neatly align with civil laws, especially when it comes to divorce. The Morristown religious divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. understand the complexities involved with religious divorce and can help you navigate these challenges in a way that honors your faith and upholds the law. Reconciling the two is not always easy, but it is necessary to give you resolution and peace of mind to start the next chapter of your life. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.