The Option of Divorce
“If your marriage mate dies, people understand you even if you haven’t been the best marriage mate. But if your husband leaves you—well, some think you didn’t try hard enough. Please, please, HELP!”—An Awake! reader in South Africa.
INFIDELITY and divorce can be very traumatic. Even though many have found reasons to reconcile with their mate and preserve their marriage, others have valid reasons to choose the God-given option of divorcing an adulterous mate. (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) For example, the safety, spirituality, and general well-being of a faithful wife and her children may be in jeopardy. She may also be concerned about being infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Or perhaps she has forgiven her spouse for committing adultery, but there is little basis for hoping that genuine trust can be restored and that she can continue living with him as her husband.
“This was the most difficult decision of my life,” admitted one distraught wife. A difficult decision, indeed—not only because the betrayal is so hurtful but also because divorce has far-reaching consequences that will affect her whole life. Therefore, whether or not a wife should divorce her unfaithful mate is a personal decision. The Biblical right of the innocent spouse to make that decision should be respected by others.
Tragically, though, many people rush into divorce without properly counting the cost. (Compare Luke 14:28.) What are some of the factors involved in the option of divorce?
If There Are Children
“Children’s needs are often forgotten or ignored by parents who are too absorbed in their own problems,” states the book Couples in Crisis. Thus, when contemplating divorce, keep in mind the spirituality and survival of your children. Many researchers note that the more amicable a divorce can be, the less the children are likely to suffer. Even under difficult circumstances, mildness will help a person ‘not to fight, but to be gentle toward all, keeping himself restrained under evil.’—2 Timothy 2:24, 25.a
If one chooses to divorce, it should be borne in mind that the husband and wife—not the children—are getting divorced. The children still need both Mom and Dad. Of course, there may be extreme circumstances, such as when the child is in danger of suffering child abuse. But religious or personal differences should not be used to deprive children of the benefit of having two parents.
Also to be taken into account are the fragile emotions of young children and their need for ample reassurance, love, and affection. “This continuity of love,” states one book, “will provide both a background and a foundation for them to deal with the new situation.” In addition, giving attention to their daily spiritual needs can help them maintain stability.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Matthew 4:4.
Finances and Legal Proceedings
Divorce inevitably robs each spouse of a certain amount of income and property, some comforts, and maybe a much loved home. Since an individual may have to handle increased expenditure with a reduced income, it is wise to draw up a realistic budget according to financial priorities. The urge to compensate for losses and hurt feelings by spending more or incurring debt should be avoided.
If a decision is made to divorce, it is also necessary to resolve with one’s spouse how joint accounts will be handled. To prevent misuse of funds in a joint bank account, for example, it may be wise to ask the bank manager to require both spouses’ signatures for withdrawals until each has his own account.
It is also prudent to keep accurate records of income and expenses, in preparation for negotiating a maintenance settlement. Also, in many countries it is a legal requirement that people inform the tax authorities of their changed circumstances.
In addition, most people benefit from consulting a legal professional—one who has specific experience in divorce issues. Some countries allow mediators or conciliators to help couples cooperate to reach mutually acceptable and peaceful agreements, which are then ratified by a court of law. Especially where children are involved, many parents prefer to use the services of a professional who is not adversarial. Rather than win at all costs, the parents aim to minimize conflict and hurt. Certain material gains are simply not worth what it would cost emotionally and financially to get them.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the awkwardness and uncertainty that many people feel about their divorced friends,” informs one researcher. Even if the faithful spouse is acting within her legal, moral, and Scriptural rights, there may well be some who see her as the cause of the marital breakup. Their reaction may range from a cool greeting to obvious avoidance. Worse yet, open animosity may come from formerly close companions.
Many simply do not realize how much support a person needs when going through a divorce; they may be under the impression that a brief letter or a card is enough. However, there are usually friends who “have just the right touch,” notes the book Divorce and Separation, “and will call to see if you’re wanting to be accompanied anywhere, want something done or just feel like talking.” Indeed, at such a time in life, a person needs, as the Bible says, “a friend sticking closer than a brother.”—Proverbs 18:24.
Working Toward Recovery
Sixteen years after her divorce, a mother admits: “There are still times when there’s an incredible loneliness—even when I’m around people.” How does she cope? “I have built up a defense of sorts,” she recalls, “by keeping myself busy at work, looking after my son, and maintaining my house. I also started attending meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, sharing my beliefs with my neighbors, and doing things for others. That helped a lot.”
Certain dates and times of the year may resurrect painful memories and emotions: the day the infidelity was revealed, the time he left the house, the date of the court case. Happy events the couple used to share—such as vacations and wedding anniversaries—can be difficult emotional experiences to deal with. “I handle those days by arranging to spend time with my family or with close friends who know my situation,” says Pat. “We do things that will offset thoughts of the past and make new memories. But my biggest help is my relationship with Jehovah—knowing that he understands how I feel.”
Do Not Despair
Innocent mates who apply Bible principles and choose to avail themselves of the God-given right to divorce an adulterous spouse need not feel guilty or fear that they have been abandoned by Jehovah. The treacherous course of the adulterous mate—which has caused “weeping and sighing”—is what is hated by God. (Malachi 2:13-16) Even Jehovah, the God of “tender compassion,” knows how it feels to be rejected by a loved one. (Luke 1:78; Jeremiah 3:1; 31:31, 32) Be assured, then, that “Jehovah is a lover of justice, and he will not leave his loyal ones.”—Psalm 37:28.
Of course, it would be far better if marital unfaithfulness and its tragic consequences could be avoided in the first place. The Secret of Family Happiness,b a practical family guide, is helping many people around the world to build happy marriages and avoid marital unfaithfulness. It has chapters on building a happy marriage, training children, and coping with marriage problems. Jehovah’s Witnesses in your area or the publishers of this magazine will be happy to provide more information on this subject.
a More information can be found in the series “Child Custody—What Is the Balanced View?” and in the article “Helping the Children of Divorce,” in the December 8, 1997, and April 22, 1991, issues of Awake!
b Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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CHILDREN DO NOT DESERVE DIVORCE
In 1988 the late Diana, Princess of Wales, said that in Britain alone, every day up to 420 children go through the divorce of their parents. A third of those children are younger than five years old. Tragically, as many as 40 percent of children lose contact with one of their parents after divorce.
Contrary to what many people think, “very few children of divorcing parents welcome the breakup,” observes a respected health and medical writer. “The great majority of children would prefer to see their parents together even if the family atmosphere is difficult.” Even if at the time of the infidelity a couple argued a lot, they should not hastily conclude that ending the marriage would be better for the children. Making changes in their attitudes and behavior may make it possible for them to stay together for the good of the whole family.
“Husbands being promiscuous,” states author Pamela Winfield, “should think of the pain in their children’s eyes at the break-up of the home which will follow their foolishness.”
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DOES GOD HATE ALL DIVORCE?
“The thing that bothered me a lot,” admits Pat, “was the thought that ‘Jehovah hates a divorcing.’ Always in the back of my mind was the question, ‘Am I doing what pleases Jehovah?’”
Let us look at the context of Malachi 2:16 to answer that question. In Malachi’s time many Israelite men were divorcing their wives, possibly to marry younger, pagan women. God condemned this deceitful, treacherous conduct. (Malachi 2:13-16) Hence, what is hateful to God is the frivolous putting away of one mate so as to take another. One who deceitfully commits adultery and then either divorces his mate or pressures her to divorce him has committed a treacherous, hateful sin.
However, these verses do not condemn all divorce. This can be confirmed by Jesus’ words: “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9) Here Jesus acknowledged that fornication is an acceptable ground for a Scriptural divorce—indeed, the only acceptable ground that allows for remarriage. An innocent spouse might decide to forgive the erring marriage mate. However, a person who chooses to use Jesus’ statement as a basis for divorcing an adulterous mate is not doing something that Jehovah hates. It is the unfaithful spouse’s deceitful conduct that is hated by God.
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Innocent mates and their children benefit from loving support