The father is responsible for financially supporting his own children’s needs such as housing, food, clothing, medicine, and education until they reach adulthood. When a wife is divorced she is entitled to spousal support during her waiting period [ʿiddah] only. Any wealth that is accrued during the marriage belongs only to the spouse who owns it. You are not allowed to take more than you are entitled to according to Islamic Law, even if a court awards you that money.
Divorce terminates a marriage so that the couple are no longer husband and wife. However, some of the responsibilities resulting from marriage continue for a period of time even after the two are no longer married.
The father is responsible for financially supporting his own children’s needs such as housing, food, clothing, medicine, and education until they reach adulthood. This responsibility applies whether or not he is still married to their mother. It does not matter if the mother is wealthy or poor. Even when the children are in the custody of the mother, the man is still financially responsible for the care of the children. There is no fixed amount and it is dependent on his financial circumstances. Allah mentions in the Qur’an: “Let the wealthy man spend according to his wealth. But let him whose provision is restricted spend according to what God has given him: God does not burden any soul with more than He has given it. After hardship, God will bring ease.” [65:7]
However, an ex-husband is not financially responsible for his ex-wife. This becomes tricky because both the mother and children need a home, food, clothing, and other necessities of life. The expenses of the children often become mixed with the expenses of the mother. For example, when a mother goes grocery shopping, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the actual cost of groceries that she would consume verses what the children would consume. Almost no one would buy a carton of milk and track how much the mother drank versus the children. The situation becomes more complicated for larger expenses such as housing. A woman without children would still need to pay her own rent for a home. If she has custody of the children, it is difficult to determine how much additional money she is entitled to pay for the children’s living arrangements. This also fluctuates based on how much time she spends with the children versus how much time they spend with their father. A good estimate is to look at the additional expense required due to having custody of children. So a woman who needs a studio apartment for herself would need to upgrade to a two bedroom apartment if she had three children [especially in a state like California where the legally reasonable occupancy limit is two persons per bedroom plus one]. Therefore, the husband would pay monthly for the cost of this upgrade. Even if a woman was wealthy or owned her own home, he would still be liable for this payment because he remains financially responsible for his children. Based on the principle mentioned in the Qur’an, a wealthy man should pay extra for a luxury apartment level upgrade and one not well-off would pay the minimum in their area.
Furthermore, a mother who is breastfeeding is entitled to payment for feeding her own child, the same way that another woman who was hired to do that job would be paid. This is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an: “Mothers may breastfeed their children two complete years…Upon the father is the mother’s provision and their clothing according to what is acceptable. No person is charged with more than his capacity. No mother should be harmed through her child, and no father through his child…And if you wish to have your children nursed by a substitute, there is no blame upon you as long as you give payment according to what is acceptable…” [2:233] By extension, a woman may be entitled to some payment for raising her children as well, since this might prevent her from working to earn a living, to some extent.
Spousal Support [Alimony]
When a wife is divorced she is entitled to spousal support during her waiting period [ʿiddah] only. This means that she will reside in the house of her husband and he will financially provide for her basic needs. Allah says: “House the wives you are divorcing according to your means, wherever you house yourselves, and do not harass them to make their lives difficult. If they are pregnant, maintain them until they are delivered of their burdens… and let the wealthy man spend according to his wealth. But let him whose provision is restricted spend according to what God has given him…” [65:6-7] The period of time is either three menstrual cycles or until delivery if she is pregnant.
It is also recommended to give the ex-wife a parting gift as well, to reduce any ill feelings resulting from the divorce. Allah says, “Divorced women shall also have a gift as is considered fair: this is a duty for those who are mindful of God.” [2:241] There is no specified amount to this gift and the husband’s financial situation should be considered.
There are no other obligations the man has towards his ex-wife, as exists in some other philosophies prevalent in the world today where a man must support his wife financially for several years until she remarries. It has been argued that since some women were busy raising the children she was unable to get an education or work and save up money for herself, so she should be entitled to alimony. This is a valid concern but since this varies from person to person depending on their capabilities and investment into the marriage, a better solution is for the wife to demand an allowance regularly throughout the marriage and save up her own money due to the lost earning potential of caring for the family. After that, she should rely on her own savings to support herself, work if needed, get help from relatives, and if all else fails, she is eligible to receive Zakāh. The husband’s financial obligation is not supposed to continue after the period specified in the Qur’an.
When a man and woman marry, they maintain their separate property throughout the marriage. Any wealth that is accrued during the marriage belongs only to the spouse who owns it. However, oftentimes, spouses keep joint accounts and do not keep proper track of their own wealth and property. It becomes mixed up either due to lack of proper financial accounting, tax benefits, or some other reason. Upon divorce, they try to figure out who really owned what assets and money. The ideal situation is to prevent this from happening by strictly keeping separate accounts and records for each spouse’s wealth. When this is not done, it often results in serious disputes.
Islam does not have a concept of a ‘community property assumption’, as is done in nine states in the USA and some other countries, where each spouse owns 50% of all wealth earned during the marriage. The concept of ‘community property’ only applies when one spouse sues the other. This philosophy has resulted in much confusion and conflict because when a person receives their paycheck from work or opens a bank account, it only has one person’s name on it, so it is assumed to belong to that person only. However, in the event of divorce or death, when the matter is taken to court, the ‘community property assumption’ changes ownership of that wealth to become 50% instead of what it really was. A Muslim should not try to take this property from the other spouse, even if a court is awarding it to them.
Instead, to rectify the past, a couple must try to estimate all the money each one of them owned separately. They must keep in mind that the husband is financially responsible for providing for the needs of the wife and children throughout the marriage. So if the woman helped pay rent because it was needed, and she was not voluntarily gifting it over, she is entitled to recover all that money she had paid. After identifying all the separate property, and compensating for any unjustified expenses, each spouse keeps their separate property upon divorce.
Referring to Non-Muslim Courts
The best way to determine the amount for child support, spousal support, and property distribution is for the former husband and wife to mutually agree on an amount, after consulting knowledgeable people about what is fair. The ex-husband is only responsible for providing for the needs of the children. If there is a dispute, they will take their case to a Muslim council that can determine a fair amount according to Islamic Law.
If it is not possible to take your rights through one of these methods, because your spouse refuses, it is permissible only as a last resort to refer the matter to local civil courts. Often times this becomes necessary when a father refuses to pay for children, or one spouse refuses to return your property that they had put in their name. However, you are not allowed to take more than you are entitled to according to Islamic Law, even if the court awards you that money. So an ex-husband cannot claim alimony or child support money if his ex-wife earns more than him, even if the court will award it to him. Likewise, an ex-wife cannot claim alimony or child support based on his income, even if the court forces him to pay that. Furthermore, bankruptcy or undocumented loans do not cancel their obligation to be paid in Islam, even if a court pardons the obligation.
The court should only be used to ensure you get what you Islamically have a right to, and you must return the remaining amount if you are awarded more. The argument made by some people that the law-of-the-land makes this money permissible, or that the parties had agreed to the community property assumption when registering the marriage, is very weak. When the couple performed the verbal Islamic marriage contract according to the Qur’an and Sunnah, it served as a prenuptial agreement overriding the default law-of-the-land. The Prophet said, “I am only human. You may refer a dispute to me, and perhaps one of you is more eloquent in making his argument than the other, so I judge according to what I hear. If I judge in a person’s favor, giving him what is rightfully his brother’s, let him not take it, for I have only given him a piece of fire.” [Bukhārī, Muslim] If one spouse does not return the additional wealth back to its rightful owner, they will have to pay for it on the Day of Judgment.
 Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah posited that this gift is a requirement, due to the language of it being a ‘duty’.
 The Ḥanafī school says that this gift consists of a few pieces of clothing only.
Shaykh Mustafa Umar