In some religions, marriage is perceived as eternal and is a bond that can not be broken.

I believe I have read that marriage in Buddhism is not a formal or well-defined institution as it is in Christianity or other religions, but I am not sure.

In Buddhism, is divorce permitted between lay people ? Is it frowned upon ?

6 Answers 6


It is frowned upon in cultures influenced by Buddhism depending on the situation. If you are abandoning your family because of your sexual desire or craving towards wealth, fame, power of another person, it's frowned upon. If you are getting divorced simply to get away from responsibilities, it's frowned upon. If you are leaving the lay life to become a monk or a hermit, it's accepted. If you want a divorce because you don't get along well with your partner, you are first expected to try to correct yourselves. Be more tolerant of the differences and resolve your problems according to the Dhamma. There's very good advice on how to lead a successful marriage life in the Singalovada sutta.

There's no 'soul-mate' concept among Buddhists as they don't believe in a soul. But the general advice is to stay celibate until you get married and limit yourself only to one partner afterwards.

There's no encouragement to get divorced in Buddhism. You can make a case with the verse in the Dhammapada Balavagga which says:

Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary course; there is no fellowship with the fool.

But that's for finding friends in general. In case of marriage, it should be applied in the first place, when you are looking for a partner to get married to.


SN 37.30 (no-link) supports a Buddhist case for divorce. It states:

There are five powers of a woman...beauty... wealth... relatives... sons... virtue... If a women possesses...or does not possess...the power of beauty... wealth... relatives... sons but not the power of virtue, they expel her; they do not accommodate her in the family.

Therefore, it appears the only grounds for divorce in Buddhism is a lack of virtue (morality).


Here is a quote on "Divorce" from the book "What Buddhists Belive" by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda, p. 323-324:


Separation or divorce is not prohibited in Buddhism though the necessity would scarcely arise if the Buddha’s injunctions were strictly followed. Men and women must have the liberty to separate if they really cannot agree with each other. Separation is preferable to living a miserable family life for a long period of time for both partners and innocent children. The Buddha further advises old men not to have young wives as the old and young are unlikely to be compatible, which can create undue problems, disharmony and downfall (PARABHAVA SUTRA).

A society grows through a network of relationships which are mutually intertwined and inter-dependent. Every relationship is a wholehearted commitment to support and to protect others in a group or community. Marriage plays a very important part in this strong web of relationships of giving support and protection. A good marriage should grow and develop gradually from understanding and not impulse, from true loyalty and not just sheer indulgence. The institution of marriage provides a fine basis for the development of culture, a delightful association of two individuals to be nurtured, and to be free from loneliness, deprivation and fear. In marriage, each partner develops a complementary role, giving strength and moral courage to one another, each manifesting a supportive and appreciative recognition of the other’s skills. There must be no thought of either man or woman being superior; each is complementary to the other, in a partnership of equality, exuding gentleness, self-control, respect, generosity, calm and dedication".

  • Thank you - I look forward to reading the rest of the PDF as well.
    – pmagunia
    Jun 25, 2015 at 16:47
  • Np. I can recommend the reading. The book covers the majority of topics in Theravada Buddhism. Check out the table of contents and you can find almost anything in there. In-depth and great detailed discourses you will not find but more like an overview or different topics.
    – user2424
    Jun 25, 2015 at 16:49

Am answering this in a general sense.

Most of us perceive "to love" and "being loved" as good.

In Buddhism, without going into talking about Karma, it is an attachment.

You love someone, more or less on the condition that, this person must love you back. If not, what would happen and how many relationships have ended up in tragedy.

Again, am not going into the Karma part of this.

Just speaking in terms of attachment.

Why do we love someone. Again, very generally speaking, first comes into play is the "sense of perception" (i.e. "She is beautiful", "He is just gorgeous, look at his body", etc).

Then, based on that, you conjure up thoughts and feelings that favor and fulfill that "sense of perception" ("No, no, no, he is not bad, I still think he is a good person", "I dunno why, even though she lied to her own mother and has stolen some money in the past, I still think she was just mistaken; deep inside, I think she is a good person. She is just lost and having a bad time in the moment. I think she is nice. Give her a chance").

Again, speaking very generally, you would do whatever to please her / him, doing things that you wouldn't normally do - that's one suffering (a debt, if you will).


Then just to please her, you try to lavish her with items you don't normally buy. For example, a leather bag, leather shoes, a gorgeous diner, etc etc. Think of these actions, behind these, someone / thing had to suffer / die for you, for your fulfillment of pleasing her.

Again, putting Karma aside.

Let say you are normally a very calm person, knowing how to avoid conflicts and ease things. But since you are with a girl now, you need to become / become competitive and more aggressive (i.e. if she complains that a guy at the train station is looking at her, you would need to stare at his guy back, when normally if you were being stared at, you had your own way to avoid conflict and stay calm).

Attachment stacks up, likewise sufferings.

And so, let say you still decided to do all of the above and is OK for you, then if one day she so happens to do something that doesn't please you back, all of what you have done for her rush at you in thoughts and your anger arises ("You know I love you, how much have I done for you?, I I I, did this; when I was sick, I still went to you and I I I". And she also "I I I".).

From now from, it cycles further.

Then, at the very very last thought before you decided to leave her, your first sight (the beauty of her) comes to "conciliate" your decision of leaving this relationship. And it goes on like this.

Let say somehow it turns out OK and you and her have kids. It is another attachment stacked up.

You need to raise them. The stress, etc etc, forces you to do something you don't normally do and against your will.

Again, putting aside Karma and be very general:

You need to fulfill your kids' needs (food, toys, clothes, iPad?). And now you need more money. Normally you work and that's it, but suddenly money is important and thus your job and a raise; so, you start office politics and ooze out some co-workers, who you think might endanger your position). Sufferings to all parties including yourself. Debts.

It goes on and on.

Your kids, who you tried so hard to put into Stanford, turn out to be someone who smokes and drinks on the streets with a guitar, living day by day by stealing. Another attachment that causes sufferings here - your "kindness" to your kids are not reciprocated. You disown them, and they in turn off and on shout at you, etc etc.

Or: they turn out to be graduates from Stanford. But not visiting you enough afterwards, not saying to you enough "thank you, papa" and your anger arises.

All these are "binary" - your love depends on the others', the others' yours. It will be payed out and must be re-payed.

All of the above begin with one perception (re-cap: "He is gorgeous", "She is so fine, so pretty").

The cycle "cycles" onwards for generations.


So, if you are already in a relationship and would like to know if a "divorce" would be frowned upon, the answer is, all has already begun from the "first perception" that led into "loving" and "wanting to be loved" with this person.

If the thought "why is loving another so 'bad'?" or "I think loving and being loved is a most beautiful thing!", then please re-visit my answer here someday in the future as you continue your path with Buddhism and I hope to hear from you then.

I am not saying / defining here some thing is bad; rather: not to attach oneself or get attached to that something is good enough.

Roses grow, fish swims, but we don't need to pluck the roses or catch the fish and put it into a tank. Let them be where they are and you so likewise.

  • 1
    Very good points, but I'm not so sure if it will answer this specific question, as a suggestion I believe you could explore more the social conventions on divorce x Buddhism, also the 4th precept. I understand that love and attachment are different things, but the question made assumes that the person has already decided to have a relationship.
    – konrad01
    Jul 24, 2014 at 19:41

In the world we do not have idealistic situations. Permanent fairly tail love does not exist other than story books. This is is also subjected to unsatisfactoriness like everything else. Also at some point one of the partners will have to die hence get separated.

Having said this Buddhism highlights duties and practices for a harmonious marriage. Much of the issues we see today are due to issues like fidelity and lack of respect each other. Also not doing thins which might increase the harmony like at least exchanging presents on the anniversary b'days etc. Buddhism says you should at least do something like this once a year.

Buddhism has nothing against divorce but practicing morality and other advice of the Buddha may certainly prevent it as your marriage will be happy, content and fulfilling. If you want to part or go your own ways it is up to the individuals to resolve this.


There is a difference between love and attachment:

  • if you love someone, then you don't have an attachment/dependency towards them
  • if you have a dependency/attachment towards someone, then you don't love them

Ideally marriages should last a long time, we have to be realistic - this is only feasible if the appropriate conditions are met and each partner is making the effort to keep the marriage going.

Siddhārtha Gautama abandoned his wife and child in silence without warning them. However, his former wife and son were well provided for, living in a fully staffed Royal Palace with the rest of Buddha's family. Surely abandoning one's family in silence without warning might be cruel?

  • 1
    The Pali suttas do not say the Buddha left silently. This story must be a fable. suttacentral.net/en/mn26 "Later, while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth, in the prime of life, though my mother and father wished otherwise and wept with tearful faces, I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness" Feb 11, 2017 at 11:51
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    This does not answer the question which is: "What is Buddhism's view on divorce?" & "In Buddhism, is divorce permitted between lay people ? Is it frowned upon ?".
    – user2424
    Feb 11, 2017 at 14:12
  • It touches on the question, at least, by pointing out that Gautama separated himself from his family.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 18, 2017 at 11:34
  • The last sentence ("Surely abandoning...") doesn't really fit: it seems to be a new question, rather than part of the answer. Perhaps you could delete it, or clarify how it helps to answer the question.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 18, 2017 at 11:38

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