Religion and California Divorce Laws

Effective in January of 1971, California significantly changed its divorce laws from a fault-based system to a no-fault system.

In its fault-based system, a spouse who had committed adultery or physically/emotionally abused the other spouse would create grounds for divorce by the other spouse. If granted the divorce, the spouse at fault be punished; usually in the form of paying or not paying spousal support (depending on who was at fault).

The new divorce laws changed all that. Now, there are only two reasons for divorce – now called dissolution of marriage – either irreconcilable differences or permanent legal incapacity to make decisions.

Although the original purposes of marriage and divorce can be based on religious beliefs, by 1971, one’s religious practices had no bearing on whether someone could get married or divorced. To determine whether one’s religious practices allowed an individual to divorce, that person must consult with his or her religious representative (usually a priest, rabbi, minister, iman, or some other religious cleric).

Here are some large religions and their beliefs regarding divorce:

  • Christianity: Marriage and family life play a large role in Christian religions. Many of them accept and allow divorce as a part of living. The Roman Catholic Church, however, does not recognize divorce, believing that marriage is a gift from God and can only be ended by God. The Church does recognize its own system of annulment, however.
  • Judaism: This religion recognizes that people do not always get along and it is better for couples to separate then to live their entire lives in bitterness and strife. Depending upon the subset of Judaism, the husband must hand the wife a bill of divorcement called a get. The wife cannot present her husband with a bill of divorcement. In the Jewish faith, a get shows that a woman is free to re-marry.
  • Islam: According to the Quran, marriage is intended to be unbounded in time, but when marital harmony cannot be attained, the Quran allows the spouses to bring the marriage to an end. Either husband or wife can request a divorce, and the process of receiving a divorce is controlled by sharia laws.
  • Buddhism: This religion does not recognize the tenants of marriage, so it has no basis for divorce. It considers marriage and divorce secular situations.
  • Wicca: This religion does recognize divorce and is provided viahandparting.

Remember: Divorce, or dissolution of marriage is a civil action that controls legal aspects of one’s marital state – just like marriage can be a religious ceremony but must also conform to California’s civil laws. Whether any religion agrees to allow couples to divorce based on their religious precepts, a civil divorce must be obtained to be legal.

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