When your faith doesn’t allow divorce

Posted on Oct 18, 2019 by Katie Carter

Believe me, I am far from a spiritual adviser. What I am, though, is someone who has seen a lot of divorce. I’ve seen women in my office make arguments for divorce, and arguments against divorce. Though my general feeling is that most people who say that they don’t believe in divorce haven’t been unhappily married themselves, I do also hear from people who object to divorce on religious grounds.

Though I don’t argue for or against divorce in any case (because, of course, that’s a decision for the woman to make herself), I am sensitive to the women who object on religious grounds. That’s a different kind of objection entirely, and one that is very difficult to overcome. Just this morning, a woman sat in my office and told me that, though her husband was eager to get a divorce, she didn’t feel that was a direction God was leading her.

As you can probably imagine, she’s kind, considerate, and compassionate, even towards her (likely) soon to be ex husband. She spent a good bit of our time together discussing the trauma in his life, and how it caused him to be the way he is. She explained to me that she’d love him until she died, and felt that was her duty as his wife, regardless of whether he moved forward with the divorce.

I’m not here to steer anyone in any particular direction, but I do always want to make sure that women have the information they need to make the best types of decisions on behalf of themselves and their families. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re under stress!

I always tell women it’s a good idea to get a general sense of your rights and entitlements under Virginia law by requesting a copy of one of our divorce and custody books  or attending one of our divorce or custody seminars. Whether or not you want the divorce, the information is invaluable.

Helping women make good choices is my job, and, especially to the women who object to a divorce on religious grounds, I feel like there are several points I need to make.

One spouse can’t prevent the other from getting a divorce indefinitely

You don’t have to both want the divorce. One party wanting it is enough to move it through the court system. You could slow down the process, for sure, but you can’t stop it completely.

It’s important to be aware of – and make peace with – the fact that you can’t tie him down indefinitely, no matter what your religious convictions. If he doesn’t share them and he’s determined to move things forward, eventually he will be successful.

You have two divorce options in Virginia: agreement or litigation

Basically, in a divorce, you either agree about how all the assets and liabilities will be divided, or you go to court and let the judge decide.

Though you can’t stop him from pursuing a divorce, that doesn’t mean you have to sign a separation agreement. There’s nothing he can do to force you to sign. If you don’t sign, though, he’ll have to file for divorce and move things forward through the legal system. That’s fine, of course; plenty of people need the help of the court to resolve the issues they face in their divorces.

But there are some significant disadvantages: specifically, the loss of control over how your assets and liabilities will be divided, the time involved, and the expense.

It’s a good idea to consider whether it’s worth it to you to force your case into litigation

We’re not talking about my religious convictions here; we’re talking about yours. Only you can tell me (or whoever you choose to hire to represent you) whether, when push comes to shove, you’d prefer to reach an agreement if your husband can’t be convinced to see reason, or if you need to go through all the procedural litigated steps for your own peace of mind.

I’m practically minded, so my advice would be to not commit financial suicide to prove a religious point. But, again, it’s not my religious convictions we’re talking about here. I think it’s probably a good idea to also work with a therapist or consult a religious advisor on the particular point so that you can work through some of these issues now. Since, legally, you can’t stop it, my general thought is that it’s better to let him bear the brunt of the work involved, but participate as much as necessary to preserve as much of the money as possible so that you can get your fresh start after divorce.

Even if this isn’t what you want or what you would have sought out for yourself, I think it’s a good idea to understand the process and remain practical.

If your religious convictions are completely unbending, that’s fine, too – but still a good idea to be aware of the law and how the system will likely resolve some of the outstanding issues.

Again, I think it’s a good idea to talk with a religious official in your particular organization about these issues, preferably before they arise. You may find that he or she has important points to consider that make the issues feel a little different than they do to you now.

Obviously, as an attorney, I can’t really offer spiritual guidance. But I can point you in the right direction so that you can get the information you need to make these decisions yourself, and then help you work towards those ends.

If you have more questions or need more information about how to handle your particular case in light of your religious objections, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.