“Truly, the Lord loveth union and harmony and abhorreth separation and
divorce. Live ye one with another, O people, in radiance and joy…” –
“Now the friends in America must live and conduct themselves in this way.
They must strictly refrain from divorce unless something arises which compelleth
them to separate because of their aversion for each other. In that case with the
knowledge of the Spiritual Assembly they may decide to separate. They must then
be patient and wait one complete year. If during this year harmony is not
re-established between them, then their divorce may be realized.”
Q: What is considered “aversion” for purposes of a Bahá’i divorce?
A: In a letter dated Nov. 3, 1982, written on its behalf to an individual
believer, the Universal House of Justice explains that “aversion” is not a
specific legal term that needs to be defined. “Indeed a number of other terms
are used in describing the situation that can lead to divorce in Bahá’i law,
such as ‘antipathy,’ ‘resentment,’ ‘estrangement,’ ‘impossibility of
establishing harmony,’ and ‘irreconcilability.’ The texts, however, point out
that divorce is strongly condemned, should be viewed as ‘a last resort’ when
‘rare and urgent circumstances’ exist, and that the partner who is the ‘cause of
divorce’ will ‘unquestionably’ become the ‘victim of formidable calamities.’ “
Q: What is the process that should be followed in requesting a Bahá’i
A: Bahá’is who intend to divorce should consult with their Local Spiritual
Assembly, if there is one in their community. If they are isolated believers or
members of a group, they may consult with any neighboring Assembly. If the
Assembly determines that it is not possible to reconcile the couple, and the
couple has established separate residences, it will grant the beginning of a
year of waiting. A year of waiting cannot begin unless and until the parties are
living apart, and it is for them to decide between them which will leave the
Q: So if the parties are having marital difficulties, they should request a
year of waiting from the Local Spiritual Assembly?
A: It is important to understand that a request for a year of waiting is
essentially an application for a Bahá’i divorce. So if the parties to a marriage
are having difficulties but have no intention of divorcing, they should not
request a year of waiting. Instead, they may seek the help of the Local Assembly
in resolving the cause of their difficulties. While the Assembly is not
qualified to provide professional marital counseling, in the process of
providing the couple with whatever assistance it can the Assembly may suggest
that the parties seek such professional counseling if it feels that it might aid
them in resolving their differences.
Q: What if one of the parties to the marriage does not wish to initiate a
year of waiting?
A: Application for a year of waiting may be made by either party to the marriage
and does not require the consent of the other party. In addition, one party,
acting alone, cannot ask for a termination of the year of waiting.
Q: If someone has already initiated legal steps to divorce at the time when
he or she becomes a Bahá’i, must they still observe Bahá’i divorce law?
A: Since the legal case is already in process before the person’s registration,
the party does not have to observe the Bahá’i divorce law, unless the person to
whom they are married is already a member of the Bahá’i faith.
Q: Must a Bahá’i who wishes to divorce also apply for a civil divorce?
A: Yes. Civil divorce and Bahá’i divorce are two entirely different matters, and
obtaining a civil divorce is only for the purpose of giving legal sanction to
the divorce. While all states in the United States have authorized Local
Spiritual Assemblies to conduct marriages, the states retain exclusive
jurisdiction over divorce and related matters, such as child custody, support,
and property and financial settlements. Before a Bahá’i divorce can be granted,
the parties must complete the required year of waiting and provide proof to the
Local Assembly that they have been granted a civil divorce.
Q: Is it permissible to apply for a civil divorce during the year of waiting?
A: In a letter dated Sept. 20, 1973, written on its behalf to a National
Spiritual Assembly, the Universal House of Justice states, “It is permissible,
when necessary, to initiate civil divorce proceedings before the end of the year
of waiting. Obviously it is much more in the spirit of Bahá’i law for a believer
to approach the Spiritual Assembly before initiating any civil proceedings, but
if he does the reverse this is not a sanctionable offense.”
(Reprinted from The American Bahá’í Magazine)