What Are The Definitions For Divorce?

Morning friend,

I’m in Chicago. Appreciate your prayers for my step-mom. She is lucid and we’re grateful for the time we have to say our goodbyes and love on her. On another note, Lord willing I will be doing a live webinar (from Chicago) Thursday at Noon ET and 7:30 PM ET, on Four Lies That Christian Women Believe That Keep Them Stuck And Afraid in Their Destructive Marriage. To attend, you must sign up. Here is the link.

Today’s Question: Are there any other acceptable biblical reasons for leaving a marriage except abandonment and adultery? What would be the scripture reference for those other than the above? 

Answer: The answer depends on who you listen to and how you (or they) define abandonment and adultery. For example, is adultery biblically defined only by sexual intercourse with a person you are not married to? Or is Biblical adultery better described as a pattern of unrepentant unfaithfulness?

Adultery could be defined as sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. But I believe it also could be expanded to include emotional affairs, oral sex, pornography use, and other sexual acting out outside of marriage. But the Bible also describes a generic unfaithfulness to Israel’s covenant relationship with God by using the term adultery. (see Jeremiah 3:8, Ezekiel 16 and Ezekiel 23), where God divorced Israel. 

The same confusion revolves around interpreting the word abandonment. Traditionally, pastors have viewed abandonment in marriage as physically abandoning the marriage. For example, moving away. Not having contact. But in my opinion, that definition is too narrow. 

What about a person who serves in the military? Or works overseas? He or (she) may not live at home, but usually, they are still connected. They have not abandoned their family emotionally or financially, even if they are not present physically. We wouldn’t describe their behavior as abandonment even if he or she was not present for long periods of time. 

But what about a spouse who is present physically? A spouse who still lives at home, but in every other way has abandoned the marital covenant to cherish, love, and provide? Would that be considered Biblical abandonment? That is debatable in some churches but I believe it qualifies. Here’s a verse that would support this as God’s view of abandonment. 

“If a man who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the rights of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy. If he fails in any of these three obligations, she may leave as a free woman without making payment.” Exodus 21:10,11. In this verse God cares and provides for the “least of these”. A slave wife. A woman who culturally had no rights in a patriarchal culture. Yet, God says she does have rights as a wife and if those rights are neglected (abandonment), she has a right to leave the marriage. 

When people quote the passage in Malachi 2:16 about God hating divorce, an alternative translation of that text implies God hates when a man treacherously (or carelessly) divorces his wife. In other words, God does not condone divorce for reasons like “I don’t love you anymore” or “I found someone else” or “I’m tired of you.” [Tweet “Marriage is a sacred covenant that God takes seriously and we ought to as well.”] However, God is also realistic enough to know the hardness of some people’s hearts and their cruelty as well as unfaithfulness. He does not ask a wife or husband to stay married to someone who is repeatedly unfaithful to their vows, unrepentant, and unwilling to change. 

Even God himself does not offer unconditional relationship with everyone. He tells us “Your sin separates me from you (Isaiah 59:2).” Jesus died to reconcile us with God but if we are not repentant and accept this gift from God’s unconditional love, we stay separated from him. (see John 3:36). When a spouse is unfaithful whether sexually or through abandoning his/her marital promises and is unrepentant or unwilling to change, a safe and trusting marriage is not possible. To pretend otherwise, does not give glory to God nor help someone come to his or her senses.

But here is where your own work comes in. Among conservative Christians, there is not full agreement on this topic. Therefore, whatever you decide, you will have those who disagree. I’d encourage you to read through the Scriptures on this topic, pray, ask God for wisdom and direction, and trust him to lead you to how you need to view your situation and your next right steps forward to follow God. [Tweet “So often a woman is directed to do whatever it takes to save her marriage, but I think that’s wrong counsel.”] She is to be a God-centered woman, not a husband/marriage-centered woman. Follow God first. Do what he says to do and leave the outcome of your marriage in God’s sovereign hands.

Friend, how would you define adultery and abandonment, and have you seen other Biblical reasons for divorce?


  1. Sandi Wilson on August 18, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    Praying for you Leslie, your Dad and Family, as you start to go and walk through this grieving journey. May God have mercy and take your Step-Mom out of her pain and to her forever home in Paradise! 💐🙏🏻💞

    • Leslie Vernick on August 18, 2021 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks Sandi, – are you my friend from Arizona and AACC or another Sandi Wilson?

  2. Janice D on August 18, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    My husband is unable/unwilling to “ leave and cleave” and I believe this is a form of both emotional adultery and abandonment.He values and prioritizes his family of origin over his own family.I moved out 3 years ago and am legally separated.Nothing has changed,in fact he seems more enmeshed with his mom and sister.God has been so kind in providing healing for me.I continue to pray for freedom from the bondage he is in,while he continues to deny the reality and ask for reconciliation.

  3. Autumn on August 18, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    I think that we need not limit ourselves to only adultery and abandonment when it comes to marriage. I think we have multiple reasons not to be with a person who is evil or a fool. I think we confuse ourselves when we are married to an evil fool and think they are somehow exempt from biblical advice because we are married to them. Apply all the cautious teachings about removing yourself from evil, irregardless if that person is your spouse. The teaching to flee, like in the book of Samuel for example, applies to ALL people, even the person you married. Bye,bye evil fool. Adios.

    • Maria on August 18, 2021 at 11:30 pm

      What a wisdom! Thank you! It helped me a lot!

      • Autumn on August 19, 2021 at 6:28 pm

        So glad this was helpful to you. I remain shocked that it isn’t preached from the pulpit. Mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin or husband, the bible does not differentiate a specific protocol of behavior based on our relationship to a hard hearted, evil, lying fool. A fool is a fool and an evil person is evil. We are to have nothing to do with them. Run from it.

    • Leslie Vernick on August 24, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Agreed, but the question was about those terms and I’m limited in how much I can say in one blog, but thanks for your added comments. That’s why our conversation is so helpful to the group. We add more to what has already been said.

  4. Maria on August 19, 2021 at 2:59 am

    Please, listen to Theology Mom. She is so wise and full of grace. https://youtu.be/Lv8ReZ-H07k

  5. Catalina (Alias) on October 5, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    I asked my husband for a divorce in July after many years of verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse. He of course refuses to leave the house and so we all (kids too) are living together until the courts start moving (Covid is slowing things down). Leslie’s videos help me so much and really keep me grounded in God’s word.
    I’ve realized that even though he’s never cheated on me, he’s done things just as bad. He makes it difficult to co-exist since he follows me around the house, forcing a conversation at times and even follows me to places like the beach when I go without him. Please pray for peace, patience, and that God will help move forward so my kids and I can finally live without him.

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