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Contemplating Getting a Divorce

Getting a divorce as an American Muslim may come with many challenges and little help or support on how to navigate them. Lack of guidance may amplify the emotional and physical toll of the divorce process on you and your loved ones, and lack of support may leave you feeling unsure where to turn.

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With appropriate support and direction, divorce does not need to feel so difficult and stigmatized. Such support can allow you to properly address some of the issues that may challenge you as you go through this process such as co-parenting, a new reality regarding finances, and managing the stigma you may face from your community. Proper guidance and preparation can also help mitigate the negative effects of divorce on your life, faith, and spirituality.

This toolkit provides resources and practical tips on maneuvering through a divorce, regardless of what stage you are in.

To create this toolkit, The FYI team selected relevant resources from a variety of platforms while keeping cultural and religious sensitivities in mind. Other content, views, and opinions expressed on these platforms do not necessarily reflect the vision and views of The FYI. Some resources in this toolkit were developed by individuals who are not licensed counselors, such as content writers and personal coaches. While still incredibly helpful, these resources should not replace the consultation of a trained mental health professional when needed.

Please note that this toolkit is not a replacement for counseling. It is our hope that individuals and couples will use it as a resource along with counseling.

History of the Project

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

American Muslim communities are experiencing a rise in marital struggles and divorce at similar rates to their non-Muslim counterparts. However, Muslim families and couples face unique challenges as they navigate divorce, particularly stigma, shame, and lack of familial or community support. Guided by the principles of community-based participatory research (Wallerstein & Duran, 2010), we conducted a three-pronged needs assessment of the divorce process among American Muslim couples. First, we conducted a review of current research on divorce amongst both American-Muslim and other-religion families. This review provided information about the potential areas of conflict during the divorce process as well as ways to support struggling couples. Second, we interviewed individuals who were from diverse professional backgrounds (e.g., Marriage/Family Therapist, Imam, Social Worker), and served clients struggling with marriage or were divorced themselves. Finally, based on the findings from the literature review and interviews, an online survey was created and disseminated to the broader American Muslim community. 

This toolkit is for you if:

  • You are dealing with divorce yourself, at any stage – be it just in the beginning, in the midst, post-divorce or even contemplating remarriage
  • You have a loved one (friend, sibling, etc.) you want to support
  • You are a community leader who wants to learn how to support your congregants
  • You are a mental health professional who is looking for resources for their clients

How to use this toolkit

This toolkit was built as a resource to guide you through the many stages of divorce. You can read the sections in order or navigate to the section that applies to your circumstance. You can also search for any topic within the toolkit.

  • If you are in a rocky relationship and are not sure how to move forward, check out the suggestions in Section 1.
  • If you are already divorced and thinking about re-marriage, there are great resources for you in Section 4 of this toolkit.
  • If you are looking for resources on how to manage finances, make a budget, or work through the reality of a new financial situation, check out Section 6.

*Note: Divorce is not a linear process – it’s a transition from the beginning to the very end, and even many years after. You may find yourself moving in and out through different stages, even after you have obtained the divorce and that’s okay – be kind to yourself as you move through this transition.

Click on the section that most applies to you, or go through section by section for specific resources.

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

Assessing Your Marriage

If you are experiencing stress in your marriage, you may find yourself thinking about separation or even divorce. There are many important questions that you may be asking yourself as you are having this internal struggle. This section provides guidance and resources about how to navigate these questions and areas of concern. You will find the following subsections in this section: 

1) Assessing your marriage
2) Leaning toward divorce
3) Reconciling your relationship
4) Conflict in your relationship
5) Children

Start with evaluating the state of your relationship to gain insight into positives and negatives of your relationship, and discover choices that you can make to either heal your relationship or end it: 

  • Try completing marriage assessments which help you become aware of warning signs and really dig into your relationship. Even if your partner is not willing to take these, you can still take them yourself so you can get your own internal assessment of the state of your marriage
  • Engage in muhasaba — or self-reflection to hold yourself accountable. As you evaluate your marriage, ask yourself:
    • “What is my role in this relationship?”  
    • “What am I contributing to the conflict in this relationship?”
    • “How is my past impacting my interactions and experiences in this marriage?
  • Healing separation is another path you may consider as structured time apart to help you heal your relationship.
  • Discernment counseling is something couples can also consider. It usually leads to choosing one of three paths:
    • Maintaining the relationship as it is,
    • Getting a separation or divorce,
    • ORsix months of couples therapy and a recommitment to making the marriage work

While it is not a replacement for counseling, reading through what a discernment counseling session looks like can help you think about the right questions. 

Leaning Towards Divorce

Couples who are leaning towards divorce may be looking for “signs” that they should move forward with a divorce. There is never just one warning sign that signals divorce and signs can differ from person to person, and from situation to situation. Consider these resources if you are leaning towards divorce:

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

Reconciling Your Relationship

Here are resources to help you navigate the process of reconciliation if that’s the right direction for you and your partner. Focus on building your relationship skills, communicating effectively, and engage in activities that enhance your connection. Here are some ideas about where to start: 

Shifting away from the blame game and being attuned to each other emotionally are two of the 10 Things to Try Before Giving Up on Your Marriage from the Gottman Institute:

Contemplating Getting a Divorce
  • Create a roadmap for reconciliation
    • Make an action plan for going forward
    • Identify what went wrong
    • Evaluate your relationship: is it sliding or deciding?
    • Discuss needs and expectations
    • Staying on the same team
  • Try the 8-step rescue plan as you try to transition from conflict to repair. For example:
    • Make a list of all the issues you have disagreements about
    • Fix your focus solidly on yourself
    • Learn how to express concerns constructively
    • Learn how to make decisions cooperatively
  • Focus on the positive and share each others needs
    Try these marriage exercises and activities that can help strengthen your relationship. Share them with your partner:

Abuse in Your Relationship

Mistreatment in a relationship can take many forms and it can be difficult to accept that you are experiencing abuse. Words are powerful and finding the ability and strength to label your experience using the right words can be empowering and shift your perspective about what you are going through. If you aren’t sure if what you are experiencing is abuse, here is a useful assessment tool. Additionally, this section provides more resources on how to determine if you are experiencing mistreatment or abuse in your relationship, what to do about it, and how to ensure your safety. 

If you fear for your safety or are in immediate danger, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

It’s important to understand why it is so hard for victims of domestic violence to leave their abusers. Know the warning signs of domestic violence, even in Muslim communities:

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

Recognize that domestic abuse happens to men too

  • Learn the signs of abuse by your female partner and how to protect yourself
  • Refer to this booklet to learn about why men stay in these relationships, and what to do about it
  • Read this to know what steps you can take to get help and stop the abuse 

Read and watch these resources to clear misconceptions about abuse in Islam:

Sexual abuse:

Check out the Peaceful Families Project’s directory of Muslim service providers who specialize in domestic violence.

Children

“But what about my kids?!” When thinking about divorce, considering the possible negative effects it may have on your children is likely one of the major issues you are struggling with. Here are some things to consider as you go through this process.

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

Should you stay together for the kids? There are circumstances when divorce might benefit everyone. Here are some of the main points to consider:

  • How are children affected by chronic conflict? Toxic marriages may negatively affect children more so than an amicable divorce
  • Three key factors typically determine how well children adjust after divorce:
    • The relationship children have with each parent pre-divorce
    • How long and intense the chronic conflict has occurred
    • Parents being able to prioritize children’s needs during the divorce
  • Some positive outcomes for children after divorce include:
    • Children may become more resilient and adaptable 
    • Children have more quality time with each parent, particularly fathers
    • Children have increased empathy for others who struggle 

In the Midst of Divorce

As you move through a divorce, things can become mentally, physically, and emotionally chaotic. Walking away from a harmful relationship takes courage and strength – and is something outlined in our Deen if it’s the path to be taken. You are not alone – read about the experiences and patterns in our communities, as well as lessons from divorced Muslims as you reflect on your experience. With the support and resources in this section, you can try to mitigate some of the stressors in this process and lessen the negative impact on yourself and your family. You will find the following subsections in this section: 

1) Self-care
2) Interacting with your partner
3) Children

*Note: Divorce is not a linear process — it’s a transition from the beginning to the very end, and even many years after. You may find yourself coming back to this section even after you have obtained the divorce and that’s okay – be kind to yourself as you move through this transition. 

Self-Care

Contemplating Getting a DivorceAs you experience a change in your normal routines and lifestyle, you may be going through a wide range of emotions, from anger to anxiety. Engage in self-care throughout the entire process. Here are some things you can try:

Interacting with Your Partner

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

This section provides resources on how to maintain your safety and well-being while interacting with your soon-to-be ex-partner.

Refer to the “children” section below for co-parenting resources

You may be experiencing doubt or regret about leaving a hurtful relationship, likely projected on to you from others – was it really abusive? Should you have tried more? Maybe you could have been more patient? Refer to these resources to navigate these doubts about abusive relationships in Muslim communities:

If you are working on your way out of an abusive relationship, refer to these resources to ensure your safety and well-being:

If you fear for your safety or are in immediate danger, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

Children

  • Informing your child about the divorce can be a daunting task.
  • Keep their age in mind when thinking about how to talk to them about it, what behaviors to watch for, and how to help them with the transition
  • Consider these talking points and reactions for younger children
  • Learn about the unique ways your teenage children may be impacted
  • Follow these 7 tips for communicating about the divorce:
  • If possible, talk to your children about the divorce with the other parent.
  • Be honest in answering questions
  • Let your children know what life will be like after the divorce
  • Emphasize that the divorce is final
  • Reassure your kids
  • Be available
  • Communicate stability, but don’t be afraid to show emotion
  • Watch this video to help you understand what children go through in a divorce
  • Try these children’s books about divorce and separation
  • Helping your children cope will be a priority during this time to build their resilience
  • Use these 7 strategies to help them grieve and move forward
  • Use this checklist to create a stable home environment for your children
  • Make the transition easier by reassuring your love for them and encouraging open and honest conversation about their feelings, among other things
  • Read about the unique ways you can help your teenage child cope and adjust
  • Work on your own resilience so that you can build resilience in your children
  • Reduce conflict with your partner for your children’s sake during the process:
  • Utilize these parenting strategies to protect your child from conflict in your marital relationship during the divorce process
  • Set boundaries with the other parent to reduce conflict
  • Contemplating Getting a Divorce Try this worksheet and this plan about parenting times, events, communication, and decision-making
  • If you realize you cannot co-parent successfully, consider parallel parenting
  • Read about the Islamic rulings on parent access to children and visitation rights
  • Check out the infographics in this section for more pointers

After a Divorce

Finally getting through a divorce may leave you navigating many emotions, from anxiety about what’s to come to sadness over what’s been lost to even joy at breaking away from a negative situation. Healthy coping strategies and reliance on Allah (swt) can help you come out of this process and move forward with positivity. Refer to this section for how to navigate stressors you may be facing after divorce. You will find the following subsections in this section: 

1) Coping with the breakup
2) Recovery
3) Children

*Note: Divorce is not a linear process – it’s a transition from the beginning to the very end, and even many years after. You may find yourself coming back to this section even after you have obtained the divorce and that’s okay – be kind to yourself as you move through this transition. 

Coping with the Breakup

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

Allow yourself to grieve over your relationship and cope in healthy ways. Recognize that you will be going through many different stages of divorce — understand these stages and the coping strategy you need to use in each stage. Choose to cope in healthy ways and care for yourself emotionally and physically.

Know that Allah (SWT) will bring ease to you after this hardship.”Verily, Along with Every Hardship is Ease” (Quran, 94:6). You can seize this moment and learn more about how you can thrive after a divorce.

Recovery

Contemplating Getting a DivorceRecovering from a hurtful and abusive relationship takes time and healing. Check out these resources to help you navigate this specific journey:

  • Recognize that you will have a lot of unlearning and rebuilding to do after you leave an unhealthy relationship
  • Try these 5 self-care tips such as positive affirmations and channeling the pain into creativity
  • Consider these tips to help you emotionally recover from an abusive relationship
  • Consider the power of forgiveness when you are ready, not to excuse the abuser but rather, to work on letting go of your anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge so that you can prioritize your own healing
  • Heal from gaslighting and learn how to trust yourself again

Children

Contemplating Getting a DivorceRecognize that divorce can have negative effects on your children. The resources below offer information about how to help your children cope.

  • Get the facts on common misconceptions about divorcing with children
  • Watch this video to help you understand what children go through in a divorce
  • Know that a high-conflict divorce has negative effects on children
  • Manage the effects of divorce on kids by paying attention to changes in their behaviors
  • Your teen still needs you during this transition – learn how to help them adjust
  • Learn how to meet the rights of children, such as their right to live in a conflict-free zone and to love each parent

The home environment and how you parent with your ex are two key factors in building resilience in your children and protecting them from the negative effects of divorce:

Considering Remarriage

“I think I’m ready to remarry.”

Being open to remarriage happens over time, and comes with unique challenges compared to the first marriage. Use this section to equip yourself with the tools that lead to a successful second marriage and learn how to work on issues connected to a shaky second marriage

You will find the following subsections in this section:

1) Readiness
2) Rules for a successful second marriage
3) Healing from your previous relationship
4) Children and step-parenting
5) Additional resources

Readiness

Ask yourself these questions:

  • “What’s motivating my desire to get married?”
  • “Have I given myself enough time?”
  • “Have we battled a storm together?”
  • “What’s your relationship like with their ex or children?”
  • “Are our finances compatible?”
  • “Am I ready to be married again?”
  • Do I feel so lonely and desperate that I’m totally miserable without a relationship?”

The above questions are from theknot.com. You can also try this ready-to-remarry checklist for additional questions.

Rules for a Successful Second Marriage

Contemplating Getting a Divorce

  • Build a culture of appreciation, respect, and tolerance
  • Practice being vulnerable in small steps
  • Create time and a relaxed atmosphere to interact with your partner
  • Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings
  • Prepare for conflict
  • Communicate effectively
  • Embrace your role as a stepparent (more on this below)
  • Emotionally attune to your partner
  • Establish an open-ended dialogue
  • Practice forgiveness which is one of the fundamentals of marriage

These 10 Rules are from Gottman.com

Contemplating Getting a DivorceHeal from Your Previous Relationship

Children and Step-Parenting

Contemplating Getting a DivorceCreate a healthy faith-based blended family in your new marriage. It may seem counterintuitive but prioritizing your new spouse and establishing your marital relationship as the foundation of your blended family is what kids need:

Recognize the impact a second marriage has on children and how to create the best situation for them:

  • Children can experience mixed feelings, sense of loss, and have trouble adapting to new things when you remarry
  • The ability of children to adjust depends on their age
  • Consider these strategies unique to step-parenting a teen
  • Children also face challenges such as:
  • Relationship between child and stepparent
  • Relationship between child and step-siblings
  • Visitation and parenting plans
  • Grief and loss after divorce
  • Contemplating Getting a DivorceHere’s how you can create the best circumstances for your children when remarrying and blending your families
  • Let children know how important they are and how much you love them
  • Don’t “compensate” for this rough time by spoiling your child
  • Become a “kindly neighbor” to your stepchildren – get to know them
  • Discipline does not mean anger
  • Don’t favor your child; don’t favor your step-child
  • The key is patience
  • Consider therapy for emotional difficulties
  • Be inspired to have a healthy relationship with your ex by these 5 divorced fathers

Additional Resources:

Later in Life Divorces

“Your marriage is ending as your kids are leaving the house.”

Although divorce among couples over the age of 50 is still not as prevalent as for those under 50, it is rising and becoming a concern in our communities. Divorce in later-life comes with its own set of stigma and challenges but can end with good outcomes. Refer to this section for resources on navigating later-life divorces. You will find the following subsections in this section:

1) Resources for “gray” divorce
2) Resources for adult children of divorced/divorcing parents
 

Resources for “Gray” Divorce

Resources for Adult Children of Divorced/Divorcing Parents

Navigating your parents’ divorce as an adult child in a unique experience. Although you have strengths that work in your favor than those who experience divorce in childhood, there are negative aspects to the experience as well. With the resources listed below, and trust in Allah’s (SWT) will, you can rise above all the turmoil and find tranquility.

  • Consider these 5 things you may face as an adult child of divorce
  • Try these tips to cope with the emotional toll of your parents’ divorce
  • Rely on these 5 strategies to help you get through your parents’ divorce
  • Acknowledge your feelings no matter what they may be
  • Set firm boundaries as your parents lean on you for support
  • Seek help for yourself
  • Prioritize self-care as you try to “parent your parents”
  • Be kind to yourself and engage in self-compassion

Finances

Contemplating Getting a Divorce“How will a divorce impact my financial situation?!”

Financial stability is important for mental health and is a legitimate concern during the divorce process. Consider the following financial issues throughout the process of divorce and even years later. You will find the following subsections in this section: 

1) Educate yourself
2) Refine your financial skills
3) Protect yourself

Educate Yourself

Refine Your Financial Skills

Protect Yourself

Providing Support to Loved Ones

Contemplating Getting a DivorceYour support during difficult times can mean the world to a friend or family member who is going through a divorce. It’s important to know what not to say to someone going through a divorce and why not to say it as you try to find the words to comfort those you love. Check out the resources below. There are also good resources in Section 4 of this toolkit. You will find the following subsections in this section:

1) General divorce support resources
2) Marrying a divorcee resources
3) If your spouse is a survivor of abuse
4) Responding to abuse – resources for family members, friends and community leaders
5) Resources for reducing stigma around domestic violence

General Divorce Support Resources

If you are married to or marrying a divorcee, use these resources

  • Consider the pros and cons that may exist in being with someone who is divorced
  • Create healthy a interpersonal communication style using these 10 rules
  • Recognize that your spouse may be triggered by trauma from his/her previous marriage and learn how to cope with it
  • Conflict in your relationship can be triggering for your partner–accept that it’s a normal part of a relationship that can be managed
  • Your partner may be experiencing mistrust – read this to learn more about what they may be feeling
  • Emotionally attune to your partner

If your spouse is a survivor of abuse, use these resources

Contemplating Getting a DivorceResponding to Abuse – Resources for family members, friends and community leaders

Resources for reducing stigma around domestic violence

You will find the following subsections in this section: 

1) Additional readings
2) Support groups
3) Organizations

Additional Readings

Support Groups

Support GroupWeb AddressDescription
Nasiha Counseling Treatment Centerhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/support-group-for-divorced-muslim-women/35702Support group for divorced Muslim women
Wasilah Connectionshttps://wasilahconnect.org/event/Wasilah Connections aims to be a social service organization that will create and support individuals by providing holistic support to the challenges people face. They provide divorce support groups regularly.
Islamic Society of Greater Houstonhttps://isgh.org/support/Support group for Muslims whose marriages have ended. You will find welcoming and supportive people who have shared similar experiences. Facilitators will guide the group to discuss important issues surrounding divorce.
Muslim Women’s Alliancehttps://mwachicago.org/Dedicated to empowering Muslim women and girls. MWA’s core focus areas are the development of leaders, fostering community service, mentoring women, and empowering the community through social justice awareness and action.

Organizations

Organization NameWeb AddressDescription
The Faith Trust Institutehttps://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/A national, multifaith, multicultural training, and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence.
The Khalil Centerhttps://khalilcenter.com/counselingtherapy/Provides counseling and therapy services. Has web therapy sessions available. Discounted fees based on income, financial assistance, and insurance coverage.
Peaceful Families Projecthttps://www.peacefulfamilies.org/Programming includes prevention and intervention and addresses domestic violence among Muslim families and communities through collaboration with imams, community leaders and members, social service professionals, activists, educators, legal providers, and youth leaders.
Turning Point for Women and Familieshttp://tpny.orgProvides direct services like free counseling, crisis intervention, support groups, and advocacy & referral services for women/children affected by domestic violence that are culturally and religiously sensitive.
In Shaykh’s Clothinghttps://inshaykhsclothing.comA resource website for spiritual abuse in the Muslim community. They discuss the phenomenon of spiritual abuse, help those directly affected, and work on prevention by providing education, training, and policies.
Heart Women and Girlshttp://heartwomenandgirls.orgEmpowers faith-based communities to address sexual violence and improve sexual health literacy. They ensure that all Muslims have the resources, language, and choice to nurture sexual health and confront sexual violence. Their work is culturally-sensitive and developmentally appropriate for the audiences that they serve.
Wellness Through Counselinghttps://www.wellnessthroughcounseling.comCulturally sensitive therapy and counseling services. Provides individual psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and family therapy.
National Stepfamily Resource Centerhttps://www.stepfamilies.info/Focuses on the dissemination of research-based resources for stepfamilies and professionals who work with them.

Feedback

Your feedback is incredibly valuable to us. It helps us refine and improve our efforts to better serve you. Whether it’s positive comments that motivate us or constructive criticism that guides our enhancements, your insights are an essential part of our journey. We genuinely appreciate your time and input as we work to provide the best possible experience. Thank you for being a part of our process!

Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).