Fatwa on Conditional Divorce

Islam never takes marriage and divorce lightly. The words of divorce are serious and one should say them with the full understanding of the consequences. It is important for every husband to resist the temptation of using words of divorce jestingly or for threatening. It serves no beneficial purpose. The Qur’an warns the faithful, “Never take the signs of Allah for a plaything.” (Al-Baqarah: 231)
As regard conditional divorce, it is to be known that Islam never takes marriage and divorce lightly. This is clear in the hadith, in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) says that there are three matters which must be taken seriously, whether they are said in earnest or jest. These are: “marriage, divorce and freeing of a slave.”
If we reflect for a moment on the wisdom behind taking the matter of slave manumission out of the fold of jest and fun, we understand how much Islam cares for the feelings of those who are in a position which makes them vulnerable to abuse by other people. Let us imagine for a moment a slave whose master tells him that he would be free after three days or when he has completed a particular assignment, etc. Then three days later, or on the completion of the assignment, the master tells the slave that he was only joking and that he did not expect him to take his words seriously. The slave would be broken-hearted and he could easily harbour ill feelings toward his master. Now that slavery has disappeared, thanks to Allah, there is no more ground for such cruelty.
As we all know, Islam has allowed divorce because it is needed as a solution for social problems. However, a husband who wishes to divorce his wife must abide by the rules which Allah has laid down, and the Prophet has explained, for the divorce to be proper and valid. For example, a husband must make sure that the time is appropriate for him to divorce his wife.
The Islamic system does not allow conditional divorce. Thus, if someone says to his wife, “you are divorced in three months time, or at the end of the year, or when I have arrived at my office, etc.” she continues to be his wife at the end of the period he has specified or on his arrival at his office. This is simply unacceptable as a way of divorce. Many prominent scholars are of the view that a conditional divorce is not valid. The family law of Egypt which has been based on the Islamic law, does not recognize such a divorce.
However, the ruling given by Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, that a conditional divorce is considered on the basis of the circumstances of each case, has some weight. When a man tells his wife that she is divorced if she does something specific, then he will have to answer a simple question: would he prefer to see his marriage terminated rather than see his wife doing what he told her not to do? Or was he simply using the threat of divorce in order to frighten her into obeying his instructions? If he says that his statement was only meant as a warning, then no divorce takes place as a result of her disobedience. On the other hand, if he insists that he meant his statement as divorce, because he would rather divorce her than see her doing what she did, then that is a divorce. In this latter case, the man has clearly meant his words to be a divorce. Hence, the divorce takes place. This means that each case is treated on its merits and according to the intention of the husband.”