Why We Call It “Mental Divorce”

 By Greg Gwin

Most Christians have, by now, heard of the marriage/divorce/remarriage issue that has been dubbed “mental divorce.” Many articles have been written to identify it, debates (both written and oral) have been conducted, private and public Bible studies have examined it. 

We call it “mental divorce,” because it involves something that happens AFTER the actual divorce has occurred. The dictionary defines divorce as, “an absolute legal dissolution of the marriage.” So then, if something happens after the divorce has taken place - after the dissolution of the marriage - it cannot be properly called “divorce.” By definition, you cannot dissolve something that has already been dissolved!  So, we need some other means of identifying what certain brethren are suggesting – and thus, the term “mental divorce.” 

Some, however, continue to object to the label “mental divorce.” They claim that this terminology is prejudicial and defamatory. They argue that it does not describe the position they espouse. We disagree. 

The term “mental divorce,” no doubt, had its origin with statements like this from Weldon Warnock: 

“But someone asks: ‘What about a woman who is put away (divorced) by a man simply because the man no longer wanted to be married? Fornication is not involved and the woman repeatedly tried to prevent the divorce, but to no avail. After a couple of years the man marries another woman.  Is the ‘put away’ woman then free to marry? She certainly is, if she puts away her husband for fornication. She would have to do this before God in purpose of heart since the divorce has already taken place, legally speaking. She could not go through the process of having a legal document charging her husband with ‘adultery,’ but God would know…” (Searching The Scriptures, 11/85) 

Now, we could call this “purpose of heart divorce,” using brother Warnock’s exact words. Would this be preferable to those who object to the “mental divorce” label? Do they agree with brother Warnock? Does his explanation of the subject accurately describe what they believe and teach? If so, they surely would not object to this “purpose of heart divorce” terminology. 

Or, perhaps we could use this explanation from Ron Halbrook: 

“…But if he commits adultery (before or after his action in the courts of man), there is something else to be said by divine law – by the moral and spiritual law of the court of God.  She now may put away, reject, or divorce him as a moral and spiritual act.”  (Notes and Thoughts for Further Study, 1986) 

We could call this “moral and spiritual divorce,” using brother Halbrook’s exact words. Would this be preferable to those who are offended by the “mental divorce” designation? Do they agree with brother Halbrook? Do his words properly define their position? If so, we would expect them to gladly embrace this “moral and spiritual divorce” nomenclature. 

So, it could be called “purpose of heart divorce,” or “moral and spiritual divorce,” - or simply “mental divorce.” (Do you see why this label ‘fits’ the false doctrine these brethren are promoting?) But, whatever you choose to call it, it cannot be called just “divorce,” because the marriage has already been dissolved at the point in time when this takes place. 

- Greg Gwin

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM