Does God allow a woman to divorce her husband for failure to provide?

“Will God allow me to divorce my lazy husband who refuses to work and provide for me and our children?” This is a question many Christian wives ask. If a man fails to provide for his wife and children does God consider this a breach of the marriage covenant allowing for a woman to divorce her husband?

As I have stated in the first two articles in this series on divorce (“Why does God allow divorce” and “Does the Bible allow divorce for adultery?”) – some allowances for divorce are gender specific, and failure to provide is a gender specific reason for which God allows divorce.

God allows divorce for a husband’s failure to provide

In the book of Exodus God gives a woman these rights that are due her, and if her husband fails to give her these three things she is to be freed (divorced from him):

“If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” – Exodus 21:10-11 (KJV)

Here Moses’s states that there are three critical duties a husband has to his wife – he must provide her with food, clothing and duty of marriage. The English phrase “duty of marriage” is a translation of the Hebrew word “ownah” which literally means “conjugal rights” (right to sex).

If a man did not provide these three things to his wife – he had to free her. We will discuss denial of sex as a cause for divorce in a separate upcoming post. For this post we will looking at a man’s duty to provide for his wife, and failure to do so being considered a breach of the marriage covenant and grounds for divorce.

Someone might ask – “Why would a man free his wife even if he was not providing for her physical needs as God commanded?” While the woman could not free herself – her male relatives or the elders of their town could force a man to give his wife a bill of divorce and free her if he was neglecting to provide for her with food and clothing (and shelter would be included with clothing).

Is God saying if a man loses his job his wife can divorce him?

No. What God is talking about here is not momentary failures of a man to provide for his family. Some men may lose their jobs (either because of their own failure, or no failure of their own) and this temporary loss of provision does not warrant divorce. In fact some men may go through some temporary times of depression if they lose their job and a wife needs to be patient with her husband and build him back up.

Some couples may agree that for a temporary time while a man is finishing college to provide a good life for his family, that his wife may be the primary source of income during this time. Again this is temporary and for the ultimate purpose of him becoming the primary provider and her being able to step down from that role.

What I believe God is talking about here is a man that chronically fails to provide, he hates working and looks for any way not to work. He will allow his family to starve and it does not bother him, or he forces his wife to work while he sits in laziness doing nothing. This is the type of man God is targeting in Exodus 21:10-11.

Is there a difference between “failure to provide” and “laziness”?

While often times the sin of laziness is directly linked with a man failing to provide for his family this is not always the case. A man may have inherited wealth, or earned wealth from a business he owned many years ago and sold. Some men can live their entire life off their savings. So this man could be lazy – sit on a couch all day, play video games and eat Cheetos. But if he provides food, shelter and clothing to his wife and children through his accumulated wealth (rather than working a job) he is still providing and thus meeting this requirement of marriage.

Does this mean laziness on the part of a husband is acceptable before God? Absolutely not! God says in the book of Proverbs:

“How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?” – Proverbs 6:9 (KJV)

Our minds and bodies were not meant to lay around on a couch all day. Rather we were designed by God to be busy (both men and women) – God wants us to be ambitious.

But there are certain sins which God considers to be breaches of the marriage covenant, and other sins while still being terrible and wrong, do not breach the marriage covenant and therefore do not warrant divorce.

Does God allow a man to divorce his wife for laziness?

No – a husband may not divorce his wife for laziness, but he may discipline her for it as her head and authority. Just because a man is expected to be the primary provider, this does not free a wife to sit on the couch all day either. God expects both men and women to be busy.

Proverbs 31 tell us this about the excellent wife:

“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” – Proverbs 31:27 (KJV)

“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” – I Timothy 5:14 (KJV)

If a woman is failing to keep the home, failing to cook meals or failing to adequately care for the children a husband could discipline his wife by removing her access to his income and him directly providing the food and other necessities himself. I even once heard of a husband shutting off the cable TV so his wife could not watch her favorite shows (because of her laziness).

What about if a husband is disabled?

God only expects us to do what we are able to do. If a man is truly disabled then his wife may have to step into that primary provider role. What we are talking about here is an able bodied man that refuses to work and provide for his family.

Conclusion

God is clear in Exodus 21:10-11 that a woman is to be freed (allowed a divorce) from a husband that refuses to provide her because in doing so he has breached the marriage covenant.

On a personal note this is one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen – and I have seen it up close and personal with some of my relatives and other acquaintances.   It disgusts me to see men get laid off from their job, and purposefully sit on a couch playing video games and watching TV collecting unemployment checks for months before finally looking for work in their last month of unemployment. It disgusts me when a man sits on a couch and has his wife go out and work and provide. It is different if he is disabled, but when an able bodied man refuses to work I believe we ought to follow God’s Word in I Thessalonians:

“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (KJV)

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Used under Creativecommons license 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

22 thoughts on “Does God allow a woman to divorce her husband for failure to provide?

  1. I mostly agree, but what about a wife who refuses to use birth control when finances are too tight for another child?

  2. Well just tell her she is going to get the all hand-me downs and used stuff for the baby – just kidding.

    I think the issue of birth control is a tough one, because for some people that is a deeply held belief. Let me just say that with each of my kids I thought I could not afford it, I was always scared – but God provides. If you are going to wait till you think you can afford a kid, the you probably never have one.

  3. Even aside from the costs, children limit a wife’s sexual availability for her husband before they are born. Sex is often contraindicated during the final stages of pregnancy, plus an additional six weeks after birth (or whenever the lochia dries up).

  4. Palm Beach Guy,

    Is your wife preventing you from wearing a condom during sex? If she doesn’t want to go on birth control, which could negatively affect your sex life by diminishing her desire (a common side effect of the pill and a possible side effect of other hormonal methods) or making her periods longer and heavier (a common side effect of non-hormonal IUDs), then you do have options of your own.

  5. Also, I’m guessing that when you’re talking about finances being too tight for another child, you’re talking about a case where you already have three or four children? I’ve come across many different interpretations of the command to be fruitful and multiply, but if you’ve already had several children, it seems to me that you’ve definitely done a good deal to further and increase the human population. If your wife disagrees with you on contraception and fears that you’re leading her to sin by trying to get her to use it, perhaps you could look to a Christian counselor for spiritual advice. It also might be the case that she’ll be more comfortable spiritually with you using a condom rather than her going on some form of hormonal birth control because she’ll feel less like she’s sinning.

  6. I do use condoms, but the reality is they have the worst failure rate of all methods. I would like for my wife to get her tubes tied (we have four children), but she won’t have any of it.

  7. Thank you so much for this article….I’m currently living this. My husband lost his job 2years ago because his back could not handle the physical work anymore. He claims himself to be a “stay-at-home” dad, in which he takes and picks up our daughter to preschool, but I still get her ready, take care of the finances, fix dinner, etc. The rest of the day he has to himself and sometimes does a project, but sometimes doesn’t even clean up after himself. He’s on the video games often, sometimes for 4-5 hours at a time, but says he won’t do a desk job b/c he can’t sit for that long; can’t go anywhere without the phone/tablet to play his “clash of clans” game. ARRRGGG He truly thinks he’s disabled but has been denied twice, which I agree with. Thank you for posting an article that reflects on this…many times I feel I am at my wits end….

  8. Becky,

    Yours is not the first story I have heard of the husband who stays home playing video games rather than looking to actually provide for his family. The “video game husband” is growing issue. For some men it is an addiction just as strong a drugs or porn. Some men allow it to dominate their lives.

    What you need to do is make this serious for him. Ask him to go to a counselor and see if he will listen. If will not go or will not listen to a counselor you need to get your Pastor involved. Tell him about your husband’s unwillingness to work and the fact that doctors have told him he could still work(even if in a different occupation).

    If he will not listen to your Pastor and still refuses to work – then give him sometime to reconsider and repent of his sin of laziness. God says that you as wife have a right to be provided for by your husband if he is able bodied.

    “If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
    11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.”
    Exodus 21:10-11 (KJV)

    “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” – II Thessalonians 3:10 (KJV)

    Tell him if he has refused to listen to the Pastor and counselors that he has one year to get a job ad provide as he should .Otherwise you will exercise your right to divorce him for failure to provide. Over that year separate your finances and make it very real for him. Give him time to repent, but he needs to know there is an end date if he will not step up to one of his core duties in marriage.

  9. “… a husband may not divorce his wife for laziness, but he may discipline her for it as her head and authority.”

    And if she resents his efforts at disciplinary action, the divorce lawyers advertise on TV, radio and the internet (facebook) how easy, quick and cheap a divorce is. Unfortunately most local churches support, endorse and pretty much encourage this sad state of affairs. She will get custody of the children, the house, and half of everything he has acquired since their wedding day. If he doesn’t like it, he can do without his driver license, professional licenses and sit in jail until he is ready to properly bow before her.

  10. Becky, Nov. 29

    It may depend on the laws in your state:
    Apply for child support to the federal/state government.
    You may have to get a legal separation from him.
    When you start getting money (AFDC-Welfare) from the government, let them know that he is partially disabled and needs help finding employment. If he can sit and play video games, he can do an internet job such as customer service, call center, surveys.
    If he refuses to cooperate, petition the court to hold him in contempt.
    If he persists, he will be taken into custody and held in civil contempt. He will sit in jail for a period up to the legal limit, which is up to 6 months by US Supreme Court ruling. He will not have access to video games, tobacco or alcohol while in jail.
    He will then be released but after a certain period of time be subpoenaed to court, or be taken into custody once again and the cycle repeated. Each time the period of jailing will be longer.
    While he is out, be the good wife to him, but keep just enough food in the house for him and the child each day. Do not let him have any access to any money that you have earned. A wife and mother, and children, are entitled to be supported by the husband and father unless he is totally unable to work at all.
    Unless a husband and father is totally unable to work at all, he is not entitled to be supported by his wife. If he is partially disabled, she is responsible for making up the difference.
    Until he “plays the man,” now called “mans up,” all monies he earns must go into an account that only you or a trustee have access to. You will decide how much pocket money you will allow him to have.
    If he repents, AND shows WORKS worthy of repentance (not just words), once you and your counselor/adviser are convinced that he is ready, he must be the man of the house once again.
    Sometimes “tough love” will adjust a bum’s attitude. If this works, you will have saved your husband, your child’s father and your marriage.
    In a bygone era sluggards were put in the stocks. If that didn’t work, publicly whipped. But we’re enlightened now. It was prominent, well-to-do women who got the stocks and whipping post abolished. It was men who advocated and used the stocks and the whipping post.
    Almost forgot: if he makes the slightest allusion to violence against you, either to your face or to anyone else, immediately go and get an order of protection against him. This does not mean that he cannot live with you, have sex with you. It means that all it takes to put him in jail, this time on criminal charges, is one bruise, slap mark, whatever.
    I read of one man who was a good husband and doting father. Except when on a drinking binge. Then he would come in drunk, slap and knock his wife around, then go pass out on the bed. He did this one time too many. After he passed out, she took their son’s softball bat and very carefully beat him from his shoulders to his feet, taking care not to injure him so that he could not work by the next Monday morning. When he came out of his stupor, she told him that the next time, he’d better kill her or she would use the bat on his head.
    Wonder of wonders, he stopped drinking and stayed a good husband thereafter.
    Of course, today she’d go to jail for domestic violence.

  11. Palm Beach Guy on August 19, 2015 at 11:20 pm
    “I mostly agree, but what about a wife who refuses to use birth control when finances are too tight for another child?”

    For what it may be worth:
    Until 1853, all “orthodox” Christendom denounced married couples using any means to avoid procreation, especially while enjoying sexual activity.
    Not only the Catholic denominations but all others except for some Gnostic sects. Augustine listed married couples timing their intercourse to avoid the wife’s fertile period as an abominable vice, one of the heresies of the Manicheans. They opposed marriage but tolerated it among the “auditors,” their laity. For the married, the Manichean clergy strongly encouraged total abstinence, and for those who would not abstain all the time, they demanded what we call the “rhythm” method of contraception.

    Luther denounced the worthless married people who refused to build up the family of God by procreating as God would provide.
    Many others made similar denunciations.

    Not until 1853 did any denomination of Christendom declare any toleration of any method of married people intentionally avoiding procreation. People did these things but they were regarded as gross sinners. Men were beaten on their wives’ complaints of their use of methods of contraception.

  12. I realize this is an old thread, but boy do I relate. My spouse has not worked in a little over 3 years. I work in insurance. We both had equally good paying jobs. When he was laid off in 2013, I picked up the slack and worked a little harder and I do earn a bit more now than when he was laid off due to a promotion I received, and we adjusted our finances a bit to “make it work”. I’m able to pay the mortgage, buy food, pay all utilities, cars, clothes, etc. but we have not saved for our kids college or retirement since 2013. He’s very intelligent. Went to Penn State and majored in electrical engineering and is a Network Engineer. Could easily make $70,000 if he tried and we could have a proper retirement and college fund for the kids and live a little more comfortably. He complains that he has migraines and although the doctors did find some brain lesions and I believe he does not feel “as well” as he used to, I think he has depression, migraines and huge case of the lazies. He spends 30+ hours a week playing video games. I do 90% of the housework – after my day job. I do all of the cooking. Besides all that, he barely wants to touch me physically. I’m attractive, 36 and not overweight. I find an extra 30 minutes to work out before my job each morning. He does nothing and has gained 30 lbs. I’m beyond fed up, but don’t want to divorce if I can avoid it. I’m truly afraid and paralyzed as to how to handle this situation.

  13. @Ruth,

    I understand your frustration, but it sounds as though your husband might have a legitimate and severe health problem that’s keeping him from working, taking care of himself, and feeling well enough to want sex. Chronic migraines can be incredibly debilitating, and you say that the doctors found brain lesions as well. It sounds like your best bet here might be to support your husband through his sickness and also encourage him to seek more answers and an effective treatment. If treatment doesn’t turn out to be very effective, you might look into what kind of disability benefits you two could get.

  14. And also see if there’s any kind of work that he could do remotely 30-40 hours a week so that he’s doing something more productive than playing video games.

  15. Thanks. I do take that into consideration and try to have compassion since as a former Migraine sufferer, I realize how difficult that can be. I guess I just have a higher pain tolerance or have been surrounded by men who “bear and grin it”. My dad had cancer and ended up having a trache with voice box (sounding like a robot) as an architect and still worked another 15 years. My husbands best friend has Parkinson’s and still manages to work 40+ hours a week. I know lots of people with certain disabilities who still manage to do what they can. He’s given up and although I think he may have some medical issues, he still manages to do the things he likes, such as video games, he goes to the shooting range, reads, etc. I just feel like he has a bit of selective migraines. I know that sounds terrible to say, but we went on vacation this summer for two weeks and he went snorkeling, out to eat, swam, had a blast. He didn’t complain once. When we return home, he suddenly has a case of the migraines again and isn’t able to look for work. This week I told him that I don’t necessarily expect him to dive in 40 hours a week, if he’s not able to, but given that he feels well enough to participate in many extra curricular activities, that I would expect him to “dip his feet” back into work. Perhaps he could take on a few very small business clients, servicing their network at only 4-5 hours a week each. Or, if he doesn’t want to do this job anymore, maybe he wants to learn a new trade, such as get his life agent license and work with me part-time, just so he has some extra income coming in and isn’t completely out of the job market for multiple years, as that would not look very good on a resume. Or, if he wants to smart a very small, low though business, such buying and servicing a few vending machines, (at 4-5 hours a week), I’d be on board to support whatever he wanted. He mentioned the vending idea to me a few years ago, so I’m trying to supportive of what he wants to do or is able to do, but I keep hitting a brick wall.

  16. That does sound really tough for you. I agree that even when you’re disabled or in ill health, you should do whatever you’re capable of doing. It also sounds like you’re doing all that you can to help and be supportive, but he’s not meeting you halfway by looking for a less strenuous job than what he had before or trying to get treatment or even helping out more around the house. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed the selective migraine and sickness thing in my own family. (Although the selectively sick person in question was a teenage girl.) It’s very frustrating to watch, even from a distance.

  17. Oh…regarding the intimacy issues, I’ve tried to be supportive as well. I’ve mentioned of course that I would like more intimacy. Our summer vacation in JULY was the last official time. TMI I know, but for heavens sake, its frustrating. I know that physical intimacy isn’t everything, but a few x a month might be nice. Heck at this point, every 3 weeks would be an improvement. I suggested that maybe he see a physician and consider getting his testosterone tested. I said it as gently as possible, trying not to insult or start an argument. Just that it was an important way that we show our love and closeness, etc. and that I don’t want to get so far into this pattern that we stop altogether. He agreed to see a doctor, but didn’t seem enthusiastic.

  18. Oh, I think that everyone here would agree that you’d be well within your rights as a wife to encourage him to figure out why he isn’t interested in sex with you (either in initiating or responding, from the sound of it), especially if you two haven’t had sex in over two months.

  19. My husband and i have been separated since 2011 to me losing my job and other circumstances. I have asked him in the past to come back to the marriage but he wanted to stay single. Now he is no where to be found. I just want to to follow the guidance of the Lord. Is it okay now for me to get a divorce? It is now 2016 and I have been very faithful in the marriage until now. What shall I do?

  20. Martha,

    The scriptures tell us that if our spouse abandons us we are no longer bound in marriage to them anymore and may be free:

    “15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”
    I Corinthians 7:15 (KJV)

    It has been five years, you were diligent in waiting for him to return and he has not. You are no longer bound to him and may divorce him and marry another.

    Some Christian teachers try and use this verse from the same passage to say a woman is bound to her husband for life even if he abandons her:

    “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
    I Corinthians 7:39 (KJV)

    But verse 39 is talking about celibacy vs marriage and that if a woman marries she is bound to her husband as long as he lives IF he does not commit a sin that would force him to free her from him or he does divorce her for adultery. It is not canceling out reasons God gave women for divorce in Exodus 21:10-11(failure to provide, failure to give sex) or I Corinthians 7:15(abandonment).

    I pray God will help you to find a godly man.

  21. hello I am posting this question to truly find if I am wrong and how I correct the issue if possible as the law of the land states that I can not generate an income until I receive social security then I can only earn up to 1k per month more under stipulation
    I am disabled with 19 orthopedic injuries to by body and I am only 50 I am 4 months past spinal surgery
    and my wife refuses to Help me get back on my feet
    and I guess has intentions to leave me or make me leave even though she stood right by my side and witnesses everything that happened over 30 years together
    if you are a pastor and can give biblically accurate response that keeps us together it would be nice
    as it is I never intended to become disabled but I am and I fought for 10 + years to survive my injuries
    when you answer I will provide a phone number to converse If need be
    I now have 3 titanium rods in my back and have difficulty even walking So if I did something wrong if there a way to correct it without anyone’s help
    as I believed my vows of marriage at least insulated me within my family but my wife does not see it as I do she has completely rejected me because I’m disabled

  22. Thomas,

    You being physically disabled does not give your wife a right to divorce you. You are not failing to provide because of laziness and unwillingness on your part to work. If you cannot work then you cannot work. In this case God calls your wife to step into the duel role of provider and keeper of the home because of this sin cursed world we live in where people get injured. In essence she has to pull double duty. I know this is hard work for her – but this is what God sometimes call us to do.

    My wife was in a car accident almost 4 years ago where suffered major back and neck injuries. She still has to have surgeries each year to address pain issues caused by nerves in her neck and back. She has good weeks and bad weeks. On those bad weeks I am forced to do double duty not only in providing for my family but also in helping to keep up my my home(make dinner, do laundry, cleaning). It it hard and and exhausting sometimes? Yes. But it is the duty God has called me to when I entered into a covenant of marriage with my wife.

    It is no different for your wife. She made a covenant and she must honor that no matter how difficult it is to do double duty.

    Unfortunately I can’t give you any advice that would keep you together. If your wife is in a sinful selfish state believing she can leave because she just wants to escape your physical issues she will answer to God for that. There is no magic thing I can say except that the Lord expects her to keep covenant with you.

    “2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
    3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”

    Romans 7:2-3 (KJV)

    The Bible is clear in this case that if your wife leaves you simply because you are disabled and she marries another man she is an adulteress in the eyes of God.

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