8.5 Divorce and reconciliation procedure

8.5 Divorce and reconciliation procedure7

It is sometimes said that divorce is easily obtained in Islam, and that it consists of pronouncing the intention to divorce three times at one and the same time. This is a gross distortion of the facts. The reality – as described by the Qur’an – is as follows:

It is true that there should be three pronouncements. However, only one pronouncement can be given on the very first occasion. This is followed by a long period before a second pronouncement can be made, and a further delay before any third pronouncement can be made. The third pronouncement makes the divorce final. The very length of this procedure leads to reconciliation in most cases.

Before any pronouncement of divorce is made the husband should first have been patient with his wife. If he sees something in her of which he disapproves or simply dislikes, then he should try to balance her good qualities with her faults in his own mind.

(4:19) […]and consort with your wives in a goodly manner; if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike something which God might yet make a source of abundant good.

(4:34) […] As for those women whose animosity and or ill will you have reason to fear, then leave them alone in bed, and then separate; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek a way against them (see 8.3).

If all these approaches fail, and the rift between the husband and wife deepens then resort should be made to arbitration by appointing two persons (one from the wife’s side and one from the husband’s side) of good will and sound judgement.

(4: 35) And if ye fear breach between them twain (the man and wife), appoint an arbiter from his folk and arbiter from her folk. If they desire amendment Allah will make them of one mind. Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Aware.

And if all these measures fail then the husband may resort to divorce, but he must follow the procedure laid down by the Qur’an.

(2:226, 227) Those who take an oath that they will not approach their wives shall have four months of grace; and if they go back (on their oath) — God is Much-Forgiving, a Dispenser of grace. But if they are resolved on divorce — behold God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

(2:228) And the divorced woman shall undergo, without remarrying, a waiting-period of three monthly courses: for it is not lawful for them to conceal what God has created in their wombs, if they believe in God and the Last Day. And during this period the husbands are fully entitled to take them back, if they desire reconciliation; but, in accordance with justice, the rights of the wives (with regard to their husbands) are equal to their (husbands’) rights with regard to them, although men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And God is Almighty, Wise.

Note: the husband has relative advantage over his wife in the sense that the wife has to wait because of the possibility of pregnancy. Moreover, the husband has the primary responsibility of maintaining the family. In all other aspects husbands and wives have similar rights to one another, and this implies that the wife, too, has the right to divorce the husband. Otherwise ‘equal’ or ‘similar rights’ according to (2:228) has no meaning. Also, note the following verse:

(65:6,7) (Hence) let the women (who are undergoing a waiting period) live in the same manner as you live yourselves, in accordance with your means; and do not harass them with a view to making their lives a misery. And if they happen to be with child, spend freely on them until they deliver their burden; and if they nurse your offspring (after the divorce has become final), give them their (due) recompense; and take counsel with one another in a fair manner (about the child’s future). And if you both find it difficult (that the mother should nurse the child), let another woman nurse it on her behalf. (In all these respects) let him who has ample means spend according to his means; and let him whose means of subsistence are scant spend in accordance with what God has given him: God does not burden any human being with more than He has given him — (and it may well be that) God will grant, after hardship, ease.

Other verses on divorce procedures are as follows:

(2:229) A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you, to take back any of your gifts (from your wives), except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. If ye do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah, there is no blame on either of them if she gives something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by Allah[…]

(65:2) And so, when they are about to reach the end of their waiting-period, either retain them in a fair manner or part with them in a fair manner. And let two persons of (known) probity from among your own community witness (what they have decided); and do yourselves bear true witness before God[…]

(2:230) And if he divorces her finally (the third time), she shall thereafter not be lawful unto him unless she takes another husband; then if the latter divorces her, there shall be no sin upon either of the two if they return to one another — provided that both of them think that they will be able to keep within the bounds set by God.

As stated in the note above, the wife also has the right to seek divorce. She can initiate the divorce if she fears ill-treatment or desertion by her husband. However, before separation, if possible, the two should try to settle the differences amicably. Self-interest is the main hurdle to such a settlement.

(4:128) And if a woman has reason to fear ill-treatment from her husband, or that he might turn away from her, it shall not be wrong for the two to set things peacefully to rights between themselves: for peace is best, and selfishness is ever-present in human souls. But if you do good and are conscious of Him — behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do.

If amicable settlement is not possible, then as stated before in verse 4:35, they should resort to arbitration by appointing two persons (one from the wife’s side and one from the husband’s side) of good will and sound judgement. And if these fail then the only course left is to separate as the following verse states:

(4:130) And if the husband and wife do separate, God will provide for each of them out of His abundance: for God is indeed Infinite, Wise.

Also in such cases, to keep the limits ordained by Allah a woman can, if necessary, free herself by sacrificing part of her dowry or marriage gifts (see verse 2:229 above).