Does God allow divorce for spousal abandonment?

If your spouse abandons you, but does not divorce you does God allow you to divorce them?

The Apostle Paul tells us about how to handle spousal abandonment in his first letter to the Corinthian Church:

“10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

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.

16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?”

I Corinthians 7:10-16 (KJV)

Many Christians mistakenly think this is just talking about relationships between a believing and non-believing spouses.   But the principle of a spouse departing remains the same whether that spouse is a believer or not.

Paul starts this passage by reminding of us Christ’s word on divorce, and that God does not want husbands and wives divorcing each other without a cause that God approves of. He then adds another cause that God allows divorce for – the sin of abandonment.

“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)

But Paul does not say divorce – he says “not under bondage”

Some Christians will say “Paul does not use the word divorce, but he simply says they are not under bondage” – meaning the person cannot divorce and remarry. They simply don’t have to go seeking after the departed person. But again word “divorce” does not have to be used. In Exodus 21:10-11 divorce is spoke of as a woman being “free”. In the same way when Paul says a “brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases” – he is saying they are freed from that marriage.

This cause for divorce applies equally to both genders

By his language “A brother or a sister” Paul makes it clear that both a man and a woman can divorce their spouse for abandonment. This is not a gender specific cause for divorce.

How long must one wait?

The Bible does not specify a wait time in cases of abandonment. I personally believe that even if a spouse says they are leaving never to return – that a Christian should give their spouse a long time to reconsider. My thought would be to wait at least a year before filing for divorce.


God does not require a believer to be bound to a spouse that abandons them. Marriage requires to people, if one departs then the marriage covenant has been breached and there is no more marriage.


10 thoughts on “Does God allow divorce for spousal abandonment?

  1. I’ve read all of your recent your articles on divorce. Well done. I actually take the same view on scripture that you seem to, in each scenario you’ve presented. To simplify, I believe that Christ does not like divorce but He allows for it in certain circumstance.

    I tend to avoid the legalistic aspect of it and suggest that we will all have to answer for our divorces, so it’s something we should prayerfully consider and become right with God over, keeping in mind that He wishes us to prosper and be in good health, not to suffer in endless martyrdom and misery because of our marriages. So abuse, adultery, abandonment, these are all significant challenges to marriage and after you’ve done your best to reconcile these challenges, hand it over to God and trust in His mercy.

    Those issues are in direct contrast to some dreadful articles I’ve recently read from 40- ish women who are suddenly feeling “vaguely empty, unhappy, emotionally unfulfilled.” The kids are leaving, the man was a good dad, good provider, but they’re just not feeling “it” anymore. I was really appalled by some of the selfishness I was reading. Dad has served his purpose, he’s no longer useful, there must be something better out there for her. Part of that is probably some hormonal shifts, life changes, some empty nesting, but sheesh, some of those women just needed to take two minutes to consider the possibility that the problem might be them and not their spouse.

  2. It is interesting that you talk about articles you have read about women feeling “vaguely empty, unhappy, emotionally unfulfilled.” even though their husbands were “a good dad, good provider, but they’re just not feeling “it” anymore.” I recently received a comment from a Christian wife, that is going to be right up your ally.

    I look forward to your comments on it – you can read it here –

  3. A couple questions:
    (1) What are your thoughts on how long to wait before getting a divorce, in a situation in which the wife has not only left but gotten a permanent restraining order, so that a judge would have to grant permission before the wife could come back to her husband? (Assume there hasn’t been any physical abuse, but the wife claimed her husband was harassing her.)
    (2) Would your advice on how long to wait be any different if the married couple had children?

  4. Nathan,

    I advice people in any of these situations, even if they have Biblical cause for divorce that they should wait at LEAST one year, maybe even two years before pursuing divorce in these cases.

    I think if a man’s wife filed false charges against him had been gone a year or more and it looks like there will be no reconciliation than he can file for divorce at that point. She has chosen to separate from him and it is probably time to end this marriage.

    I don’t really think in the end it matters if you have children or not – I know from an emotional point it does, but from a position of confronting sin it does not.

  5. What is “abandonment?”

    • husband goes into the navy and doesn’t come home every weekend
    • wife gets into a snit and goes home to Mother
    • husband is gone overseas on business and doesn’t come home for weeks; months
    • husband is sentenced to prison; months, years
    • wife is kidnaped and isn’t heard of again
    • ?

  6. Gerry,

    Let me first answer your direct questions:

    • husband goes into the navy and doesn’t come home every weekend – not abandonment, we need men in the military.
    • wife gets into a snit and goes home to Mother – For weeks? Or months? Not abandonment. For more than year with no indication of returning? We may be getting to abandonment.
    • husband is gone overseas on business and doesn’t come home for weeks; months – weeks or months away for work is NOT spousal abandonment.
    • husband is sentenced to prison; months, years – Not abandonment.
    • wife is kidnaped and isn’t heard of again – Not abandonment.
    • ?”

    “What is “abandonment?”

    Abandonment is when a spouse leaves and makes it clear they will no longer be living with their spouse. Now yes spouses can get angry and run to their parents or say they are leaving when they don’t really mean it. That is why like God did with Israel a Christian spouse must give their spouse time to return. I think a person should give a wayward spouse at least a year to return. But a 5 years? A decade? I think not. But eventually God divorced his wayward wife and as Christians we have that same right – Paul says a brother or sister in Christ is under bondage in such cases.

  7. Gerry,

    One other thing – As far as men in the military. I think it is different if a woman marries a man and he was not in the military and had no inclination and then a few years after marriage decides he is going to join the military. But if a woman marries a man in the military she accepted up front that he would be gone for 6 months to possibly even a year at a time.

    Even if a man wrongly takes a job that takes him away for several months at a time – this never excuses sinful behavior on the part of the wife.

  8. What if you are living with your husband,but the wife feel the husband doesn’t exist. With four children and he’s not finding ways to support his children. The feeling of, you have the husband but still you’re alone to decide for your children. Im a mother of four. Tried to save my marriage but I gave up. We didnt fight but felt abandoned even if he’s around for 19 years. We’re 24 years married but the love I have for him faded already.’

  9. Emily,

    I know it is tough. We as men can sometimes not realize how neglectful we can be of our wives. I have been guilty of it myself with the business for work and the things life throws at us. Are you saying he does not go the children’s activities? Or he never talks to them? Have you tried to talk to him about this?
    I know under the circumstances it is hard to love someone who is not involved. But I don’t think this the abandonment Paul is talking about. He is referring to a spouse physically leaving. God wants you to unconditionally love your husband even though he is not doing what he should be doing as a father and as a husband.

    Here is what I would suggest. If you have not talked in a long time try and talk to him alone. Are you two having sex? Do you feel that you gave him room to lead? You need to look to find the root of this issue. It did not happen over night – I am sure it took some time for this to happen.

  10. What if the wife that has separated for any reason before, consents to return to live with her husband again after he begged to return, but finds that he has not told her that he lives with another woman. Can women refuse to return to him? And can she marry another?

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