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 a 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)
In his well-known book, The Reliance of the Traveler, Ahmad ibn Naqeeb Al-Misri, states: “The words that effect a divorce may be plain or allusive. Plain words effect the divorce whether one intends divorce or not, while allusive words do not effect it unless one intends divorce.
Using plain words to effect a divorce means making a clear pronouncement of the word “divorce” or words derived from it. When the husband says “I divorce you,” or “you are divorced”, the wife is automatically divorced, whether he has made the intention or not.
Forms of allusive words that effect a divorce include:
1- the husband’s saying, “You are now alone,” “You are free,” “You are separated,” “You are parted,” “You are no longer lawful to me,” “Re-join your kin,” “You are footloose,” and the like,
2- his saying, “I am divorced from you”,
3- when he commissions the wife to pronounce the divorce, and she says, “You are divorced”,
4- when someone asks, “Do you have a wife?” and he says “No”,
5- and when the husband writes words that effect the divorce (no matter whether he is able or unable to speak at the time of writing, or whether he is present or absent, or whether he writes in plain or allusive words).
Divorce is effected only if intention couples the utterance of or writing any of the above.
However, if a husband is asked: “Have you divorced your wife?” and he says “Yes,” then she is divorced (even if he does not intend that).
If the husband says, “You are divorced,” and thereby intends a two or threefold pronouncement, then whatever number he intends is effected, this rule holds for all words that effect a divorce, whether plain or allusive. The proof that a single pronouncement can validly effect a threefold divorce is that when Rukana divorced his wife and then said to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) “I did not intend it except as one time,” the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made him swear to that effect, and then returned her wife to him. Accordingly, if a single pronouncement could not effect a threefold divorce, there would not have been any point in the Prophet’s making him swear to that effect. If a husband tells his wife, “You are divorced inshaa’Allah (if Allah wills),” or “if Allah does not will,” or “unless Allah wills,” then the divorce is not effected.”