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Religion and Family Law: Thou Shalt Not Divorce

Religion is important to an extremely large number of people — it shapes their belief systems, provides a framework for how they interact with the world and may be fundamental to their identity. As important as religious belief and practice may be to an individual, there is occasional tension between what a person’s religion requires of them and what is allowable under the law. One such instance is with divorce. While the law provides the ready availability of divorce, a person’s religion may prohibit divorce entirely or may greatly limit divorce’s availability to a small number of circumstances. We’re here today to talk about what relief may be available when there is some conflict between religion and family law.

Divorce Under the Law

As mentioned previously, divorce is, for all intents and purposes, readily available to anyone who may seek a divorce. Historically, one may have been required to demonstrate “fault” in order to be granted a divorce. However, the states have all but done away with the concept of “fault” as a prerequisite to seeking a divorce. Instead, the law is more likely to inquire whether a marriage is irretrievably broken, or otherwise incapable of repair. While the availability of divorce is helpful to many, it provides little relief for those people who practice a religion opposed to divorce.

Religious Practitioners

Although a person’s religion may strictly prohibit divorce, there are possible alternative avenues of relief available to the devout.

Declaration of Invalidity

When people marry, they tend to do so with good intentions. However, occasionally, there may be circumstances unbeknownst to one of the parties involved. Sometimes, these circumstances may serve as a condition that undermines the validity of the marriage. For example, Sue and Bob get married. Unknown to Sue at the time of the marriage, Bob had made some sort of fraudulent representation to Sue, and that representation undermined the essence of the marriage. If Sue later learns about Bob’s fraud, she may be able to seek that her marriage to Bob is declared invalid. Speaking in terms common to religious belief, you might know this concept as an “annulment”. Some religions may allow married couples to annul their marriage.

Legal Separation

A declaration of invalidity may only be available in very limited circumstances. For those couples that don’t have the ability to have their marriage declared invalid, there is an alternative route that may still be acceptable within their religion. The other option (frequently acceptable within various religions), is to seek a legal separation. Typically, when we hear people ask about legal separation, it’s for reasons of uncertainty about “going through with a divorce”. However, these people are frequently confused. A legal separation is nearly identical to a divorce save for one key distinction — at the conclusion of a legal separation, the two spouses remain legally married. Therefore, the property is allocated, debts are divided, and parental responsibilities may be determined. The only difference is that the couple remains married at the end of the day. For those religions opposed to divorce, a legal separation may accomplish the goals of a suffering couple, without subjecting them to religious disapproval.

Final Thoughts

Religion and Family Law sometimes come into conflict. If you are of a religion that is opposed to divorce, it may be worth considering a legal separation or declaration of invalidity. If you have questions, take the time to speak to a family law attorney. Here at MFL, we specialize in family law and we offer free consultations with our team of family law attorneys. So get in touch with us today for a free consultation.

Posted April 26, 2017
by: MFL Team

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