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.

Conclusion

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.

25 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 –
    https://biblicalgenderroles.com/2015/08/18/the-undated-wife/

  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?

  11. This is an interesting and helpful article and stream of comments. I would appreciate input on this situation: we married in 2015 and tried to combine two households and kids. Immediately after our wedding (and we’d not even moved in together), my wife announced that we would not be living together. This had never been said – nor of course agreed – before and went against our plan to combine homes. BTW there were no aggravating factors like abuse involved. It was simply her decision.

    Despite many discussions, she persists in this now more than two years later. I have tried and been willing to make this work but am now obviously well past the point of no return. My hesitation was in part due to wanting to follow God’s warning against divorce.

    Surely this constitutes abandonment and is a valid ground for moving on, but is it valid for divorce in God’s eyes?

  12. All of this seems to ignore the fact that the early Church clearly didn’t tolerate divorce at all, and therefore any assumption that it would now is based on the presumption that we somehow know something that the Apostles did not. In actual practice, the only instance in which the a valid marriage can be regarded as dissoluble has been under the conditions of the Petrine Privilege, which is the dissolution of a valid natural marriage between a baptized and unbaptized couple for the benefit of the soul of the baptized person. This is a long recognized exception, but the exception can only be undertaken by the successor of St. Peter.

    I know somebody is going to come in and say not so, but the record of the early church on this and so many other things is so clear, there’s really no reason to debate it. That really amounts to rationalization.

  13. Pat_H,

    Yes I am ignoring the early church’s complete condemnation of divorce in the same way I ignore the early church’s asceticism and its encouragement of marital celibacy except for having children. The early church as well as the Catholic Church and many other Protestant churches today have added things to the Scriptures for centuries. Church leaders not infallible in their understanding of the Scriptures and they are not allowed to add their traditions and make them of the same weight as the Scriptures – despite the council of Trent’s statements to the contrary.

    I would agree with you if Church tradition was my authority rather than the Bible but it is not, the Bible is my authority in all matters of faith and practice.

  14. Your problem there is that the Bible itself is the Canon of Scripture assembled by the Catholic Church. If you say you are going to rely on the Bible, you have to accept that. There was no “Bible” in Apostolic times, although the writings that were written in Apostolic times became the Canon of the Bible once the books of the Bible were determined, by the Catholic Church, to be so. Even at that, there’s no single place in the New Testament in which anyone ever said that there would come to be a set of scriptures and that a person should listen to only that.

  15. Pat_H,

    There actually was a ““Bible” in Apostolic times” and the Bible itself tell us this.

    Christ and his Apostles quoted from Old Testament(which was the Bible of the Jews) more that 350 times and Jesus stated this:

    “17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
    18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
    19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
    Matthew 5:16-18(KJV)

    “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”
    Matthew 22:29 (KJV)

    Jesus also said this about teaching traditions on the same level as God’s commands:

    “7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
    8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.”
    Mark 7:7-8 (KJV)

    This is exactly what the early churches did, the Catholic Church did and even later the Protestant churches. They took over for the Pharisees teaching the doctrines of men for the commandments of God. Jesus did never held up the traditions of the Jewish leaders to be on the same level as that of the prophets and neither should we ever lift the traditions of and teachings of church leaders to be on the same authority as the written Scriptures.

    And even during the Apostles lives there writings came to recognized as the Scriptures on the same level as the Old Testament:

    “13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
    1 Thessalonians 2:13 (KJV)

    “15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
    2 Peter 3:15-17 (KJV)

    And it is a myth that the Catholic Church gave us our Bible. The Catholic Council of Carthage simply recognized what LOCAL churches all over the world already accepted as the New Testament given to us by the Apostles.

  16. If I may ask, how do you harmonize this view with 1 Cor 7:10- 11; cf. Matt 5:32b//Luke 16:18b? It would seem that a Christian deserted (via an unjust divorce) by another believer would not be allowed to remarry. I am struggling with this distinction. Thank you.

  17. Correction – I do understand your interpretation, and it is a very intriguing one indeed. It makes sense, and I am sure that many Christians struggling with abandonment from another believer would gladly embrace it.

    What I wanted to say, is that verses 10 and 11 may very well apply to Christians, and not be a generic statement, as it seems to me that you are considering it. The way I see it, it is quite difficult to make an argument fr one position, or another.

  18. I thank you for your thoughts. Admittedly i do not agree with your assessment. I learned of this article from my mental health councillor. I am in a terrible marriage. Although i have been far from perfect, it is her leaving that has caused our seperate living situation.
    She has given me every reason to want to believe your opinion. However the way vs.11 is worded, to me blows the whole thing down. In vs.11 it states “if she depart, let her REMAIN UNMARRIED”. This assumes there’s already been a divorce when like in vs.15 there’s been a seperation. She left, but again there’s already been a divorce.
    I’m sure you can understand that as a Christian it is of the utmost importance to me what i believe God is trying to say. Again i wish i believed the way you do, it would be far easier.

  19. Jeremy,

    I would highly encourage you to look at this article below where I look at every verse in the Bible on divorce and tie it all together.

    https://biblicalgenderroles.com/2017/12/13/if-we-treated-divorce-like-killing/

    We need to be careful, especially in this area of divorce of picking one verse and making a doctrinal decision on it. We must look at each verse within the larger context of the entire Bible on that subject. We know that God allowed women to be freed from their husbands if they did not provide them with food clothing and shelter and sex in Exodus 21:10-11. What Paul is alluding to with the woman remaining unmarried is a woman who treacherously divorces her husband – a woman who leaves her husband not for reasons that Exodus 21:10-11 allows and also God allows divorce for abandonment in the same chapter you allude to(I Corinthians 7).

    Your wife may have left you for wrong reasons but that does not chain you to her for life. In fact it is her – for leaving you for wrong reasons – that is forbidden to marry any other man. Read the passage sir – does it say if a man’s wife leaves him he must remain unmarried? The answer is no. Again I encourage you to look at the article above which takes a far more exhaustive look at divorce.

  20. God bless you. I am going through the very, exact same thing this article is about. Around October 1st 2017, i was hospitalized because of an infection in my left foot. I went through an amputation, thanks to God, i am able to walk. On that very day i was hospitalized, my wife of 12 years and eight months, informed me she was leaving me. She didn’t visit me, nor have i seen her since she and her friends dropped off my vehicle. We both are Christians, but i am not so sure about her anymore. I have tried to call her, but she never has time to talk. Would like some advice i still love her, but I am very hurt and frustrated. I am46 years old, and feel my life has changed and will never be the same. I even feel like depression is setting in.

  21. Ruben,

    I am sorry to hear about your situation. I recommend continuing to reach out to her but if she goes more than a year while refusing to return to you or even communicate with you then you should just divorce her. You are not under bondage to your wife who has chosen to leave you.

    Larry

  22. Unbelieving wife has abandoned me for a little over two years, no indication that she will return she says she’s not interested. Can I divorce an remarry or is that not allowed also i’m not sure if adultery has taken place on her part and if none has can I still divorce her?

  23. ricardojr92,

    The Scriptures are clear on this point:

    “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)

    You are not under bondage to your unbelieving wife.

    And Biblically speaking, the concept of remarriage only applies to women as God allows men to marry more than one wife where as a woman is meant for one man and one man only.(See Genesis 30:18,Exodus 21:10-11,Deuteronomy 21:15-17,Deuteronomy 25:5-7,II Samuel 12:8,II Chronicles 24:2-3,Ezekiel 23:1-5).

    A lot of people think this Christ’s words in the Gospel like the one’s below allow for divorce, but not for “remarriage”(even though for men that is a misnomer):

    “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”
    Mark 10:11 (KJV)

    There are many Christians who have the false view that even in divorce for reasons God allows,one of which is abandonment that we are talking about now, that a man or woman are forbidden from marrying again because of Christ’s words on this subject in the Gospels. But this is a failure to to take ALL of Christ’s word’s throughout the entire Scriptures into account. Remember that Christ was God and that means he spoke through the prophets of Old that came before his earthly incarnation and he also spoke through his Apostles after his ascension to heaven after his resurrection.

    So any interpretation that does not take into account what Christ said before the Gospels through his prophets or what he said after the Gospels through his Apostles on this subject of divorce will not give you a complete view of God’s view of divorce and remarriage. So with this important concept being understood when Christ says if a man divorces his wife and marries another he commits adultery he is talking about a man “treacherously” putting away(divorcing) his wife as we see in this passage below:

    “14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.
    15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
    16 For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.”
    Malachi 2:14-16 (KJV)

    So are you “treacherously”(for false and unjust reasons) divorcing you wife? The answer is no. You are doing so for the just reason of abandonment. Therefore Christ’s description of a man committing adultery by divorcing his wife and marrying another does not apply to your situation. He is dealing with men who treacherously divorce their wives to make a second wife happy because she does not want the first wife around anymore.

    See my article https://biblicalgenderroles.com/every-verse-in-the-bible-on-divorce/ where I offer commentary and tie together every verse in the entire Bible on the subject of divorce.

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