What does Christianity say about divorce and remarriage?

Divorce is mentioned in the Bible, the main source of authority and guidance for Christians, many times. Jesus’s teaching on divorce is that it is adultery, which is forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but he did allow for divorce in the case of a partner’s infidelity.

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.Matthew 19:9

This is interpreted in different ways by the various Christian churches:

  • The Roman Catholic Church does not recognise divorce. A marriage can only end when one partner dies or if there are grounds for an annulment. A couple may be granted a civil divorce and be divorced in the eyes of the state, but their marriage will continue 'in the eyes of God'.
  • The Church of England does not advocate divorce but it is allowed if the marriage has truly broken down and cannot be repaired. Someone who is divorced can now remarry in an Anglican church.

Many Christians experiencing marital difficulties will try to work through them as they have promised before God to stay together for the rest of their lives. A couple may go to their church to ask for advice and support. However, sometimes a couple might feel that divorce is the only option.

What does this mean in practice?

Most Roman Catholics will try to resolve problems in their marriage to avoid divorce as it is forbidden by their Church. If the marriage has irretrievably broken down, they can get a civil divorce but they will be unable ever to remarry in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. This is because they made an everlasting covenant in church during their original marriage ceremony.

In some instances the Roman Catholic Church will grant an annulment to a couple whose marriage is not working out, if it can be shown that the marriage is not ‘valid’. For a marriage to be valid three conditions must apply:

  • the couple must marry freely and without reservation
  • they must love and honour each other for life
  • they must accept children lovingly from God

If it is shown that any of these conditions is not being met in the marriage, then one or both of the partners may ask for the marriage to be declared null and void. If a decree of nullity is granted, which means that the marriage never existed, the couple is free to remarry and do so in church.

Most members of the Church of England will also try to work through any problems in their marriages to avoid divorce. However, if they cannot resolve these issues, they can get a divorce and they may remarry in the church.

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