Domestic Abuse As Grounds For Divorce?

Katy commented on “Resources:”

Hi I found your blog from the CL blog – I love to see evangelicals standing firm and pushing back on the “all divorce is sin” myth that pervades the Body of Christ these days. Just wondering if you also see other forms of domestic abuse as grounds for divorce, not just infidelity? I spent a lot of time at the Crying out For Justice website, because it is the evangelical answer to those of us trapped in domestic abuse (which may not include cheating).

One thing that I heard a lot in my church when I was getting ready to divorce my husband was “God won’t bless you if you sin {divorce your h}” — and I think the antidote to that craziness is your story, mine, and others who have loved God and battled through a horrible marriage. It ends up that God really *does* bless those who mourn, were trampled on, unjustly attacked, betrayed, abused, you name it. God does care, and He does bless us.
Thanks for this blog!! :)


This is a tricky one from a Biblical standpoint. As I have written elsewhere (link here), I have chosen to focus on adultery as an allowable grounds for divorce because I see plenty of Scripture that makes that clear. Plus, it was my personal experience. Furthermore, I believe that if we do not get the clear teachings correct then we are doomed to really miss the ones requiring pastoral wisdom. The situation of domestic abuse and divorce requires pastoral wisdom for sure!

Without over relying upon the Old Testament teachings and Rabbinical interpretation of those passages (which Jesus rejects in Mt 19 for a clearly more restrictive view on staying married), one needs to look to I Corinthians 7. The Apostle Paul writes, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace” (I Corinthians 7:15, NIV).

This is the second grounds for divorce made explicit in the New Testament–namely, the abandonment of an unbelieving spouse. Most compassionate pastors would utilize this exception to deal with domestic abuse. The reasoning is this: 1) Ongoing domestic abuse is an indication that the abuser is not a Christian and 2) The separation caused by the abuse for the safety of the victim fulfills the physical abandonment part noted in the verse.

Obviously, I believe a separation in the case of domestic abuse is a must! Human life is precious to God as we are all made in His image. Separation ought to be taken to preserve life.

The next step to divorce is the trickier step Biblically. If the couple is part of a Biblical church, the elders ought to put the abusive husband/wife under church discipline including an intentional separation for safety reasons. If the abuser does not submit to this discipline, then the door is open to divorce for the faithful spouse according to the I Corinthians 7:15 passage concerning a non-believing spouse abandoning the marriage.

I realize most circumstances do not allow for such a clear intervention by the church elders. And some may not have church leadership courageous enough to enact such tough matters in the face of clear domestic abuse. I am just writing from the perspective of how I could see I Corinthians 7:15 applied today under a functioning and Biblical church. It would take much wisdom to understand how the Scripture applies outside of such circumstances.

Even saying that, I hesitate to lay this out as an option as it is an interpretation of Scripture. As I mentioned at the beginning of my reply, the Bible is not clear in these circumstances. I may have this wrong. But if I am erring, I am erring on the side of mercy towards the innocent party here–i.e. the abuse survivor. Still, it is important that the survivor only takes such a step to divorce an abuser, if he/she is convinced God is leading them to do so from his/her own reading of the Bible. Ultimately, it is the abuse survivor’s decision to make. They have to live with its consequences. That said, I still heartily recommend making such a decision with a few wise and seasoned Christian friends. Healthy community to discern these difficult matters is important and is part of the reason why we need to belong to a God-honoring church, in my opinion.

In addition, I am concerned about our capacity to deceive ourselves in these matters. Is it really abuse or am I trying to get out of my commitment to a difficult relationship with communication issues? As one of my counselors told me, “emotional abuse” means different things to different people. I would not counsel divorce in such cases pastorally unless I saw clear evidence that it was indeed emotional abuse (which can escalate to physical violence as I have been told). Physical abuse is more clean cut. And it is completely unacceptable.

I hope this helps, Katy. In summation, I have to say that I really do not know for sure if domestic abuse is grounds for Biblical divorce. It is not clear. However, what is clear is that God does not want innocent blood shed (Proverbs 6:17) and cares for the vulnerable always (Psalm 82:3-4).




11 thoughts on “Domestic Abuse As Grounds For Divorce?”

  1. Dear Divorce Minister

    This is my first post and I am so grateful for a blog like yours, an evangelical, biblical response to infidelity and divorce and I will write more at a later time praising you and Mrs Divorce for the stand and wisdom of your blogs.

    That all being said, I am disappointed at your response to Katy. My husband was chronically and cyclically unfaithful with prostitutes but the most damaging and abusing aspect wasn’t the unfaithfulness but the emotional abuse he instigated as part of his cycle of detachment leading up to every instance of unfaithfulness.

    Now divorced, I will be years recovering, not from his unfaithfulness but from his emotional abuse. Katy does not ask you whether there is a clear biblical reference for an ‘out’ to an abusive marriage. She is referring to the pervasive and unhealthy response many churches have to domestic abuse and lack of support for the abused.

    I just don’t think there is a need to do biblical gymnastics to take a stand for divorce because of domestic abuse. When there is any type of abuse, that person’s house is on fire and church elders need to step in and help the abused person put out the fire without guilt and years of deliberating.

    I waited for 2 years deliberating, trying to hear from God and almost died from smoke inhalation.

    1. Superchump,

      I absolutely believe pastors and elders need to step into a situation where domestic abuse is taking place. As I wrote in my response to Katy, I see God valuing human life highly, and His shepherds need to take action to preserve such life. Biblical divorce in such cases is another question, though.

      Katy asked directly: “…if you also see other forms of domestic abuse as grounds for divorce, not just infidelity?” I stand by what I wrote as I do not see Scripture as clear on this one. While I think an argument can be made for it (as I do in my response), I do not see domestic abuse as clearly enumerated as grounds for divorce in Scripture. I am an evangelical pastor who is committed to teaching what I see from Scripture as authoritative on these matters. This is what I honestly see (or do not see as in this case).

      While I definitely believe emotional abuse exists (e.g. gaslighting as faithful spouses know too well), I DO believe caution is in order due to our ability to deceive ourselves on these matters. Some might even force average marital conflict under the heading of “emotional abuse,” and I do not see Jesus teaching us that we can divorce under such circumstances (see Mt 19) while still honoring God.

      Furthermore, adulterous spouses may even use false charges of “emotional abuse” from the faithful spouse as an excuse to cheat or divorce. I am unwilling to aid in such wicked justifications. This is the other major reason for my qualifications on these matters. I am aware of at least one situation where this actually took place.

      To be clear: domestic abuse is unacceptable. Elder and pastors need to take a hard-line against such abuse. Preserve life and address the sin.

      However, I still stand by what I wrote concerning divorce in these situations. Those are my convictions.


    2. Superchump- I think the intention behind DM’s response on it not being a clearly stated biblical grounds is that adultery and abandonment are the only ones that are clearly stated without having to do a lot of guesswork. Pastors are called to be biblical in the advice given. It would not make sense to ask a pastor something and not expect them to do their best to follow what the Bible says. This is especially the case when one of the parties involved in a pending divorce situation is in a leadership role of some kind within the church. The Bible is a good book but it definitely does not addresses every scenario or situation that we face in life. It doesn’t specifically address domestic abuse by name, plain and simple. He’s not in the wrong to say that it’s not a clearly stated case. (My own question on the reason for that is I wonder if it would have been considered abuse in the time the bible was written? Women were objects and property so there wouldn’t have been a lot of incentive to see anything against them as abuse. Men held all the power so they probably didn’t need a reason to divorce or wouldn’t have needed to label something as abusive coming from a woman. I dunno). The Bible also doesn’t give me a clearly laid out plan for potty training or tantrums, they’re not addressed specifically by name. Various verses come up in relation to parenting but they’re interpreted, get applied to various contexts and mean so many different things.

      It would be really nice if there was more clarity on abuse, but more often than not it’s up to us to ask for wisdom in preceding because it’s not clear cut. Everything else falls under interpretation and our own personal relationship with Christ, which is where it gets fuzzy because you have to work harder to make the case and connect the dots. Thank you for the article above. It is a prime example of having to work really hard to connect the dots to make the case for divorce in the presence of abuse without adultery. Even with clearly stated grounds for divorce in the case of adultery many decide that it doesn’t line up with their own morals. Regardless of what the scripture says, people still make their own choices. Those darn gaps in scripture cause us a lot of headache. Often times there’s one extreme being taken over the other. Slavery and killings were justified with scripture just as much as they were also unjustified. The roles of men and women are other controversial, hot topics where scripture is used to justify various sides/extremes. Even when something is clearly stated it’s still left up to some form of cultural interpretation as to what it means in today’s world. Adultery is clearly stated for divorce yet how many adultery survivors had a pastor tell them they still couldn’t divorce?

      In the absence of adultery, often times the case for biblical grounds is made under the abandonment clause in order to fit it into one of the two clearly stated grounds. When a pastor is giving counsel the goal is to be biblical, therefore if they’re going to label something as biblical they want to be able to make the case for it biblically. The case can definitely be made for abuse and should be when necessary, it’s absolutely not acceptable. If you re-read what he wrote, he’s not trying to say that it wouldn’t be allowed or that abuse is acceptable. What he said is that wisdom is needed because it falls into one of those stupid gaps.

      Trying to make a biblical case for domestic abuse does not mean you go the path of years of guilt and deliberation either. The “wait a year+ approach” or “you’re sinning by divorcing in the presence of domestic abuse” are part of the RIC complex. The path of years of deliberation and guilt is often times just the fallback approach in general, regardless of whether or not abuse or adultery are present. How many stories on Chump Lady prove that’s true?

      In the case of physical abuse, which is pretty easy to classify as abuse, his response is for the safety of the innocent party. He would not tell someone to stay in that marriage (not to mention I’d probably whup him upside the head if he did! :P). With emotional abuse what he said was that it calls for wisdom and mindfulness of what is being labeled as emotional abuse as it’s not as visible as physical abuse and becomes an all-too-easy fallback for a manipulation tool. The article you posted even says the same thing. He’s lived it and seen it play out first hand where the faithful spouse is labeled as abusive for having poor communication skills (on par with the cheater yet no one looks at the cheater of course), or simply telling the family of the cheating spouse that said spouse was cheating. That is why it’s really important to find out what is meant by “emotional abuse.” One person’s emotional abuse may be: “they just don’t talk to me every night anymore” or “they told my mom I was cheating on them!” while another’s is “they belittle my existence, tell me I’m scum, they tell me I’m not worthy of being able to look them in the eye and they threatened to kill me.” There’s a very big difference between them. I would not be so quick to label the first two examples as abuse. It would be incredibly unwise for a pastor to grant a divorce based on abuse on those first examples and it would not be biblical.

      Hope that helps clarify.

  2. I appreciate seeing Katy’s post, and am checking out the Cry for Justice website. I have been hanging out at CL’s website (with her knowledge and blessing) not because my issue is adultery, but because this was the first resource that I found that helped me find the freedom to begin to heal from an abusive marriage. A few weeks of reading her articles and the responses from others moved me further along the road to feeling I had the right to terminate the marriage than did seven years of separation.

    When I emailed her asking permission to hang out there (“I’ll sit in the back seat and not talk much”), she welcomed me and said “Abuse is abuse,” meaning, `adultery is just another form of abuse’. It might explain why I identified so strongly with the emotions and rationalizations of adultery survivors.

    I also fell into that gray area of `is this really abuse?’, because his physical abuse was primarily directed towards our children (which he passed off for discipline, and blamed me for his having to do it by not raising them to be well-behaved). The ambiguity also resulted for me in church `friends’ giving me the `just try harder/dance faster’ message, while telling me `God hates divorce’. After I moved out with the kids, I was completely cut by them, and got the message that we were just not good enough anymore. I turned to my STBX’s spiritual leader to ask if he could address this issue from the pulpit in a generic fashion, and got a no. My husband got our friends and God in the divorce, so to speak.

    I appreciated seeing Katy’s post because I thought, “I’m not the only one lurking on these sites for this issue”. I have a hunch there are others who found you and CL and are using them to heal even though the wound was a different one. Just thought you might want to know.

    1. EnoughAlready,

      Glad you found your way here! Sorry you have experienced such treatment at the hands of people claiming God’s name. I truly believe God cares deeply for the vulnerable and does not tolerate abuse–certainly, He does not tolerate abuse of children! So, they got a “god” but not THE “God.” Never forget that. He is ever near the brokenhearted and a bruised reed He will not crush.


    2. Enough-I’m sorry you had the ball dropped on you so many times. The discipline conversations get so twisted and complicated. I have had countless conversations around discipline and the difference between discipline and punishment in my daily work with parents. It’s a very touchy topic but so critical. More often than not one parent is on one end of the spectrum while the other is at the opposite end. No, it’s not your fault that they’re not “well-behaved.” I don’t know how old your kids are now, but when it comes to the safety of your kids, you can call CPS. Based on the information you provide them they can help in determining if it’s something they’ll open up a case for or not. It’s not okay for the kids to be the ones that get the physical part taken out on them. It’s not okay for anyone to be on the receiving end of that period.

      1. Thank you, both of you, for your replies.

        Read MrDM’s with tears in my eyes. Thank you.

        MrsDM, good on you for picking up on the fact that children might be at risk; this is not the case at this time. They’re young adults now, and moving on into their own lives. When they were younger and at greatest risk, I moved the children into a safer situation, at great effort, with his full knowledge. Got a job. Got a place to live. We ate dinner on a tablecloth on the floor because we had no furniture, and it felt like a picnic or a party every evening. Just happy to be happy and at peace.

        Got DS into counseling. Counselor reported DS’s remarks, CPS opened up a case, and required me to request that their father rejoin us `so that we could work out these issues together and so that I would have support’. I know how weird that sounds, and I am not making it up or leaving pertinent details out. It was like living a nightmare or a scary movie, the kind where you get away and you’re safe and you turn around and you’re not. So he came back, and the nightmare went on, but we all covered very well and danced the dance and the case was closed and the nightmare continued until we got away again, and did a better job of it. Nothing left now but the scars . . .

        Sorry, this is bringing tears to my eyes as well, but not the good kind.

        1. And another example of how CPS isn’t always the best route either. You were required to put your safety at risk again. I’m so sorry. I’m glad you were able to get away and that you’re safe now. It took a lot of strength to move out the first time and again the second. Eating at a table cloth on the floor is not so far out of the norm in what I’ve seen on home visits. You are not alone there. Never apologize for your tears. They’re yours, they’re valid.

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