No matter what the reason for divorce, be it biblical or otherwise, the hardships, heartache, and repercussions of a married couple separating are exponentially more complicated when child custody matters are a factor. While the Bible is clear that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), God still recognizes that divorces may occur since marriages involve two sinful human beings. He even laid down laws in order to protect the rights of divorcées (Deuteronomy 24:1–4). However, the Bible provides no clear law on how to deal with the issue of children trapped between divorcing parents. This is likely because, as Jesus says in Matthew 19:8, divorce was never meant to be.
The divorce process will be fraught with many negative emotions—anger, betrayal, bitterness, a desire for revenge, and a host of damaging judgments upon oneself and the spouse. But when the couple has children and custody arrangements to consider, parents must set aside their negativity toward one another and put their children’s needs first. The Bible says that children are God’s gifts and He cares about how they are raised (Psalm 127:3; 34:11; Proverbs 23:13–14). Even after a couple divorces and are no longer married, they are still the parents of their children and must treat parenthood, the care of God’s gifts, with the highest possible respect and priority.
In the United States, child custody laws differ, but, generally speaking, the courts will grant custody based on the best interests of the children involved. The judge will take into account several factors including the children’s ages; parental preferences; willingness to support and further a relationship with the other parent; ability to provide a safe, stable, and loving living environment; the children’s school locations; and perhaps the children’s wishes if they are old enough to communicate their requests. The judge will also take into consideration any confirmed evidence (or false allegations) of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect by either parent.
Two types of child custody may be granted during a divorce—legal and physical—and both can be either sole or joint. The legal custodian is given authority to make vital decisions about raising the children, such as deciding what schools they attend, what extracurricular activities they participate in, and their religious upbringing. The physical custodian is the one with whom the children will live.
When choosing who is responsible for which decisions and scheduling parenting time or visitation rights, set aside personal bias and think of what’s best for the children. If physical or emotional abuse is not an issue, the other parent will still have legal rights to reasonable access to the children post-divorce. Divorced parents must encourage their kids’ relationship with the other parent no matter how much they might harbor personal hurt from the divorce. Spending quality time with both parents will ultimately benefit the children’s emotional stability and ability to cope with the loss and grief they are experiencing.
Reconciliation and forgiveness should mark a Christian’s life (Luke 11:4; Ephesians 4:32), even in the case of divorce. Do not pit children against the other parent or instill anger within them (Ephesians 6:4). While a divorced couple may need to work through their own emotional tumults, they must still exhibit godly behavior for the sake of their children and their own faith (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). When children see their divorced parents treating one another in a godly manner, they have an opportunity to experience God’s peace through hard times (Hebrews 12:14).
Divorce is a strenuous and cruel life challenge and is never a part of God’s original plan. When children are caught in the middle, the agony will undoubtedly multiply. Yet Christian parents are called to persevere through these trials (James 1:12); God can make beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). Divorced parents would do well to pray regularly for their children, for their children’s relationship with the other parent, and for their own personal healing (Philippians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 3 John 1:4).
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)