by Moojan Momenpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 7
New York: Columbia University, 1996
The law of divorce given by the Bāb in the Persian Bayān (wāḥed 6, chap. 12) discourages divorce and makes it permissible only under pressing circumstances (eżṭerār). Even then, it is necessary to wait for one whole year, called the Year of patience or waiting (Sāl-e tarabbos). If during that time affection returns between the couple then the divorce is annulled. At the end of that time, however, the divorce is final. If subsequently the couple wish to remarry, they may do so provided that nineteen days have passed.
Bahāʾ-Allāh also commends marriage and discourages divorce (Divorce, p. 5). In the Ketāb-e aqdas (par. 67-70) Bahāʾ-Allāh confirms the Bāb’s provision concerning a year’s period of waiting before divorce can be effected. He provides for remarriage to the same person and abrogates the law of triple divorce in Islam. He defines desertion and provides for remarriage in such cases. If estrangement occurs between the husband and wife during a journey, the husband is responsible for ensuring the safe return of his wife to their home and for providing her with expenses for a year. In cases of proven infidelity, no maintenance is payable.
Most of the writings of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ and Shoghi Effendi on this subject are taken up with strong condemnations of divorce. In their role of authorized interpreters of the Bahai teachings, however, they amplified Bahāʾ-Allāh’s laws by stating that the woman had an equal right to initiate the divorce; by clarifying that during the year of patience, the couple are not to live together; and by establishing that the husband is normally responsible for the wife’s maintenance during the year of patience.
The procedure for divorce is carried out in the Bahai community under the supervision of the Bahai local Spiritual Assembly (Pers. Maḥfel-e rūḥānī; in some areas of the world, the procedure is still supervised by a committee of the National Spiritual Assembly). It is this institution’s duty to establish that antipathy and aversion exists between the two parties. This is the only recognized grounds for separation. A date may then be set for the year of patience, which is the period of waiting that the couple must undergo before the divorce can be effected. They must live separately for one year and no sexual intercourse may occur. During the year of patience, attempts are made under the supervision of the local Spiritual Assembly to effect a reconciliation and neither party should seek a new partner during this time. The Assembly should try to establish an agreement between the couple regarding the financial arrangements and access to the children for this year. The norm is for the husband to support his wife and children during this year unless there is mutual agreement to a different arrangement (e.g., if the woman has been the main provider of income for the household). The husband normally remains responsible for his children’s upkeep both during the year of patience and after the divorce. If there is a reconciliation during this year, then the procedure for divorce is abandoned.
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