This issue can be looked at and analyzed from different perspectives, but in short, what can be said about it is as following:
Firstly: Although marriage has been encouraged in Islamic sources, and divorce has been looked as the most hated halal act in Allah's (swt) eyes, but in cases where there is no other choice, it can be practiced, and if not, will lead to one’s life being an all out hell.
Secondly: There have been people throughout history who have tried to make the history of the prophet’s life unclear and ambiguous, so that it doesn’t reach us; they have been successful to some extent and that is why we see ahadith in certain fields being indefinite and sometimes asserting different things about one matter; one of those fields being his relationship with his spouses. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that we can't learn of the truth on these matters, on the contrary, by precise and scholarly study of the Quran and ahadith, we can grasp the truth. It is on this basis that we say: the Quran has permitted divorce for everyone generally, and has also directly said that the prophet also enjoys this right and if he ever exercises that right, he hasn’t committed anything against Islamic law. This was the Islamic ruling on the issue, but the question here is whether the prophet ever actually exercised this right of his or not? By referring to hadith and history sources on the lives of the infallibles, we find that there is such a great difference of opinion amongst historians that one can never say that such a thing ever happened with certitude. The only thing that we might be able to say has happened in his life is that he contracted marriage with a woman, and before its consummation, she said to him: “I seek refuge in Allah from you”, and he divorced her; the reason remaining unknown to us though. It might have been because of one of the prophet’s characteristics. For further information on the reasons for this, you can take a look at the detailed answer.
As for the imams, Imam Hasan (as) has been accused of practicing divorce a lot; we have answered this in great detail in Question 1559 (website: 1576). As for the rest of the imams, there are some hadith that point to the fact that there have been cases of divorce in their lives. But at the same time, these hadiths aren't reliable, because they suffer from both authenticity issues (their chains of narrators aren't authentic), and content-related issues.
This issue can be looked at and discussed from different perspectives; we have organized the material presented here into an introduction and several sections.
Although marriage has been encouraged in Islamic sources, and divorce has been looked as the most hated halal act in Allah's (swt) eyes, but in cases where there is no other choice, it can be practiced, and if not, will lead to one’s life being an all out hell.
As for the issues that need to be discussed, they are:
1- A source(s) that is reliable and can be studied to learn of the life of the prophet (pbuh): Without a doubt, the first and foremost source that is to be studied to learn of the prophet and his life, is the Holy Quran, because it is a book that “falsehood cannot approach it, from before it nor from behind it”, but unfortunately, the history of Islam, for many reasons, has undergone very much alteration and distortion whose discussion is way beyond the scope of this article. This leads to various historical events being reported differently and this isn't something limited to history; the same thing is also witnessed in the hadiths mentioning the sha’n nuzul (occasions of revelation) of verses; they are sometimes contradictory regarding the occasion of revelation of the same verse and this doesn’t allow one to be able to learn the truth about that particular verse.
2- The ruling of divorce for the prophet (pbuh):
Since the Quran is the primary source for lawmaking in Islam, to see what the ruling for divorce is regarding the prophet (pbuh) and whether or not he has been excluded from it, we have to refer to it. Divorce has been spoken of in several verses, namely:
a) “O Prophet! When you divorce women, divorce them at [the conclusion of] their term and calculate the term…These are Allah's bounds, and whoever transgresses the bounds of Allah certainly wrongs himself. You do not Know, may be by Allah's Will a new Situation appears”
Commentators have interpreted this verse in two manners:
The First: This verse is addressing both the prophet and the Muslim nation, because the prophet is the leader and head of the Muslim nation and whenever he is addressed in the plural form, it is the whole Muslim nation that is being addressed, not just him.
Abu Ishaq has said: “This command is to the prophet, and all believers are being addressed by it.”
The Second: Farra’ has said: “Allah (swt) is addressing the prophet (pbuh), but the ruling being stated applies to all Muslims, the same way sometimes one person is told: “Woe to you! Do you not fear God?!” and the ones really being addressed are that person and his family altogether.”
Based on the first interpretation, the prophet is one of the addressees of the verse and the ruling being explained applies to him as well, in other words, this verse that says: “when you divorce women” is similar to the verse that says “when you stand for prayer” (اِذَا قمتم إلى الصلاة) in that both verses are addressing in the plural form, and the prophet being one of the addressees.
b) “It may be that if he divorces you his Lord will give him, in [your] stead, wives better than you…”.
Commentators have expressed the meaning of this verse like this: “All of you must know that if the prophet divorces all of you, Allah will give him better wives than you, in terms of looks, human qualities, religiosity, and ikhlas (sincerity), and he will give him whatever he wills; virgins, widows, or both.
c) “When you divorce women and they complete their term, then either retain them honourably or release them honourably…” and “There is no sin upon you if you divorce women while you have not yet touched them or settled a dowry for them. Yet provide for them the well-off according to his capacity…”. Clearly, the absoluteness of these verses covers the prophet (pbuh) himself as well, meaning that the same way divorce is permissible for the Muslims, it is permissible for him too and whenever necessary, he can practice it.
d) “O Prophet! Say to your wives," If you desire the life of the world and its glitter, come, I will provide for you and release you in a graceful manner” As you can see, the word ‘divorce’ hasn’t been used in this verse, and the word ‘اسرحکن’ or ‘release’ has been used instead. It has been said that what is meant by this verse is: “I will release you in a graceful manner and divorce you a divorce devoid of harm and enmity.”
As for the occasion of the revelation (sha’n nuzul) of this verse, it has been said: The wives of the prophet complained to him about the meagerness of their nafaqah (sustinence) and jewelry and asked him to spend more on them from the war booty and anfal that Allah (swt) had declared to be the prophet’s (pbuh) personal property. This verse was revealed: “…یا أَیهَا النَّبِی قُلْ لِأَزْواجِکَ” and the prophet (pbuh) was ordered to tell them to choose between either divorce along with mut’ah (here mut’ah has a meaning other than the famous mut’ah) if they are interested in worldly glitter, or living with the prophet (pbuh) and tolerating poverty and deprivation of worldly ornaments if they are after great rewards and a blissful afterlife. They chose the latter, and it was because of this story that this verse took on the name of the verse of Takhyir (choosing between things).
From the whole of these verses it becomes clear that divorce was indeed permissible for the prophet (pbuh) if ever needed, as is for the rest of the Muslims.
3- Did any divorce ever actually take place in the life of the prophet?
In the previous point, we reached the conclusion that divorce is permissible for the prophet (pbuh). The question that comes up here is did he ever actually practice it in his lifetime or not? Clearly, all that the aforementioned verses tell us, is that such a thing is permissible and possible for the prophet (pbuh), but are silent about whether he ever did it or not, hence, we must turn to other sources of history and ahadith for an answer.
There is a great difference of opinion on the number of wives the prophet (pbuh) had, here we will briefly point to the different views:
a) The prophet had twelve wives; one had granted herself to him, two passed away during his lifetime, and nine of them lived after him and passed away after his demise. They were: Sudah, A’ishah, Hafsah, Umm Salmah, Zeynab bint Jahsh, Umm Habibah, Juwayriyah, Safiyyah and Meymunah (rah).
b) The prophet (pbuh) married fifteen women, the marriage of thirteen which he consummated, being married to eleven of them simultaneously, nine of which passed away after his demise. In this viewpoint, there is no mention of any divorce either, the reason being that the different numbers and names claimed in this regard vary greatly, to the extent that sometimes one of his wives is repeated several times with different names.
c) It has been narrated from Zuhari and Abdullah bin Muhammad ibn ‘Aqil that: “The prophet (pbuh) married twelve women of the chaste women of the Arabs.”
d) Abu ‘Ubaydah Mu’ammar ibn al-Muthanna has said: “We have reached the conclusion that the prophet (pbuh) married eighteen women, seven of which were from the Quraysh, one from a tribe who had a treaty with the Quraysh, nine from other Arab tribes and one from the Bani Israel.
First, the prophet (pbuh) married Lady Khadijah (as), then with Sudah from Makkah, with Aishah two years before the Hijrah, then in Medinah after the Battle of Badr with Umm Salmah, then with Hafsah; these were five women from the Quraysh. In the third year after hijrah, he married Zaynab bint Jahsh, (in the fifth year ah) he married Juwayriyah, (in the sixth year ah) with Umm Habibah the daughter of Abu Sufyan, and (in the seventh year ah) he married Safiyyah the daughter of Hayy, Meymunah, Fatimah bint Shurayh, Zeynab bint Khuzaymah, Hind bint Yazid, Asma’ bint Nu’man, the Sister of Ash’ath bin Qeys, and Asma’ bint Salamiyyah.
Can you see the great difference of opinion regarding the number and names of the wives of the prophet (pbuh)?!! To make in even more evident to you, pay attention to the following example: It is said before consummation of her marriage, one of the wives of the prophet (pbuh) offended him by saying: “I seek refuge in Allah from you” and the prophet (pbuh) divorced her. When looking to find the name of this wife in references and history sources, one encounters various names that have been mentioned for her:
i. One of the names is Kalbiyyah whom the prophet (pbuh) married and she said to him: “I seek refuge in Allah from you”. The prophet (pbuh) replied: “You took refuge in the mighty, return to your family!” It is said that consummation took place, but later when the prophet (pbuh) placed his wives in the position of choosing between remaining with him and divorce, she chose the latter and returned to her tribe, and the prophet granted her that.
It is also said that she was the daughter of Dhahhak ibn Sufyan Kilabi, by the name of Fatimah.
ii. It is said that Dhahhak Kilabi presented the prophet (pbuh) with his daughter and told him about her merits and good qualities, saying that her health alone suffices the prophet (pbuh), because she has never become sick nor suffered from even a headache. The prophet (pbuh) replied: “I am in no need of her, she has come to me with her errors.”
As you can see, in this account, there is no report of her saying “I seek refuge in Allah from you”, all that is said is that prophet (pbuh) showed no interest in marrying her.
iii. Kalbi’s account: The lady whose father said that his daughter hadn’t suffered from a headache till then and presented her to the prophet (pbuh) and the prophet (pbuh) replied that he is in no need of her, was named Salamiyyah. Kalbiyyah was the one who chose her tribe (over staying with the prophet) and fled and lost her mind and would say that she was wretched and miserable and that she had been deceived.
iv. Bukhari narrates that he asked Zuhari which of the prophet’s (pbuh) wives it was who sought refuge in Allah from him, and he answered that Urwah had told him that Aishah had informed that it was the daughter of “Jown”.
In this account, there is no mention of any deception, while in other hadiths, there are counts of the other wives of the prophet (pbuh) deceiving her.
In hadith nos. 5256 and 5257 it has been reported that she was Amimah daughter of Sharahbil, it has also been said that her name was Kandiyyah.
Yet another name mentioned for her is Āliyah daughter of Dhabyan bin Amr.
Others say her name was Umm Sharik. Ibn Sa’d recounts that her name was Umrah, daughter of Yazid bin Ubayd, and it has also been said that she was the daughter of Yazid bin Jown.
Hakem Neyshabouri says: “The lady was the one who had whiteness on her side (suffered from leprosy), and she wasn’t Asma’ daughter of Nu’man bin Yazid bin Ubeyd bin Rawas bin Kilab whom the prophet married and heard that she had whiteness or saw whiteness on her side and divorced her.
Seriously, with all this ambiguity and vagueness regarding only one incident, can one really rely on the accounts of historians?!
In any event, even if we assume that the prophet (pbuh) did actually practice divorce in his lifetime, he hasn’t done anything against Islamic law, because as was explained before, the Quran sees this solution to be permissible, the same way there is nothing wrong theologically and doctrinally with divorcing one’s wife or terminating one’s marriage (there is a difference between the two in fiqhi terms), because not always is divorce unfair and unjust and in some cases, not allowing it will be an injustice to the man, like where the man has done everything to serve his wife and provide her with everything she wants, but she is still so bad-tempered and bothersome that the man’s life becomes an all out hell!
In conclusion, we say that it hasn’t been proven to us that the prophet (pbuh) ever exercised divorce in his lifetime and even if he did, he would be right in doing it, because sure and positive reasoning tells us that the noble prophet of Islam (pbuh) is the most complete of all people, free of all impurities. So if there is ever any dilemma between him and a wife of his, he is the one who is right for sure. How can an individual who has been chosen by Allah (swt) and is responsible for guiding the people from darkness and misery to light and salvation and is to help them fight against all aggression and transgression, wrong others himself?!!
The best theory that has been presented, that fits the character of the prophet (pbuh) as well, is that the number of the wives of the prophet (pbuh) was twelve. One of them granted herself to the prophet (pbuh), two of them passed away during his lifetime, and the other nine lived after him and passed away later; they were: Sudah, Aisha, Hafsah, Umm Salmah, Zeynab bint Jahsh, Umm Habibah, Juwayriyah, Safiyyah and Meymunah (rah).
As for the imams: Imam Hasan (as) has been accused of divorcing his wives much, in which we have discussed and answered to in Question 1559 (website: 1576). Regarding the rest of the imams (as), there are hadiths that point to divorce taking place in their lives, but what is important is to scrutinize them so that it becomes clear whether they are clear and explicit in the imams doing so or not, and whether or not these ahadith are authentic. These ahadith are as follows:
a) It has been narrated that Imam Sadiq (as) had a good looking wife that amazed him and he loved. But one morning he divorced her and was unhappy about it. Some if his friends asked him: “May we be sacrificed for you, why did you divorce her?” The imam (as) replied: “I mentioned Ali before her, and she undervalued him. That is why I resented bringing a stone of the stones of hell close to my skin.”
The unreliability of this hadith though, is very clear, because one of those in its chain of narrators, is a person referred to as “a man”, and it is unknown to us who this man in the chain of narrators is, making it totally unreliable.
b) Khitab Salmah has been narrated saying: “I had a wife whose father was such and such and she herself was bad-tempered. But because I knew of her and her father’s faith, I didn’t want to give in to divorcing her, until I met up with Imam Kazem (as); I wanted to ask him about divorcing my wife, that is why I said to him: “May I be your sacrifice, I have an issue that I want to consult with you about, can I?” The imam (as) told me to come the next day. The next day I prayed the Dhuhr prayer and went to him and saw that he had also finished his prayer and was sitting, and I sat next to him. He began speaking and said: “O’ Khitab, my father married me to my cousin, but she was bad-tempered. Sometimes my father would lock us in the room hoping that we would learn to get along with each other, but I would climb the wall and run away from her. When my father passed away, I divorced her.” Khitab says: “I said ‘Allahu Akbar’, by Allah you answered me without any need of me asking my question.”
On top of this hadith totally contradicting the status of the imams, especially Imam Kazem (as), it also contradicts the hadith that follows it; in the following hadith, Imam Kazem (as) says: “My father gave me permission to divorce her from the beginning.”
Especially if we keep in mind that the narrator of both hadiths is the same person (Khitab bin Salmah); in the second hadith he says: “One day I came to the imam with the intention of complaining my wife’s bad-temperedness to him; the imam preceded me to it and said: “My father once married me to a bad-tempered woman and I complained this to him. He asked me what me and her were waiting for (meaning that I could divorce her).”
Add to all the above the fact that Khitab ibn Salmah hasn’t been authenticated as a reliable narrator, as is the case with Ibrahim ibn Ishaq Ahmar, who can also be seen in the chain of narrators. Therefore, the hadith also lacks in its authenticity and chain of narrators.
 Fussilat:42 “لا یَأْتیهِ الْباطِلُ مِنْ بَیْنِ یَدَیْهِ وَ لا مِنْ خَلْفِه”.
 Talaq:1 “یا أَیُّهَا النَّبِیُّ إِذا طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّساءَ فَطَلِّقُوهُنَّ لِعِدَّتِهِنَّ وَ أَحْصُوا الْعِدَّةَ ... تلکَ حُدُودُ اللَّهِ وَ مَنْ یَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَ اللَّهِ فَقَدْ ظَلَمَ نَفْسَهُ لا تَدْری لَعَلَّ اللَّهَ یُحْدِثُ بَعْدَ ذلِکَ أَمْرا”.
 Tafsir Fakhr Razi, vol. 1, pp. 15-16.
 Tafsir Fakhr Razi, vol. 1, pp. 15-16.
 Tahrim:5 “عَسى رَبُّهُ إِنْ طَلَّقَکُنَّ أَنْ یُبْدِلَهُ أَزْواجاً خَیْراً مِنْکُنَّ...”.
 Tafsir Kashef, vol. 7, pg. 364; Tafsir Wasit (Zuheyli), vol. 3, pg. 2690; Al-Amthal fi Tafsir Al-Kitab Al-Munzal, vol. 18, pg. 445.
 Baqarah:231 “وَ إِذا طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّساءَ فَبَلَغْنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَأَمْسِکُوهُنَّ بِمَعْرُوفٍ أَوْ سَرِّحُوهُنَّ بِمَعْرُوفٍ...”.
 Baqarah:236 “لا جُناحَ عَلَیْکُمْ إِنْ طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّساءَ ما لَمْ تَمَسُّوهُنَّ أَوْ تَفْرِضُوا لَهُنَّ فَریضَةً ...”. Also see verse 237 of this surah and Ahzab:49.
 Ahzab:28 “یا أَیُّهَا النَّبِیُّ قُلْ لِأَزْواجِکَ إِنْ کُنْتُنَّ تُرِدْنَ الْحَیاةَ الدُّنْیا وَ زِینَتَها فَتَعالَیْنَ أُمَتِّعْکُنَّ وَ أُسَرِّحْکُنَّ سَراحاً جَمِیلاً”.
 Tafsir Kashef, vol. 6, pg. 211.
 The wealth and belongings the man gives the woman when divorcing her, which depends on his financial ability. See: Tafsir Kashef, vol. 1, pg. 366.
 Tafsir Kashef, vol. 6, pg. 211; Aysar Al-Tafasir (Jaza’eri), vol. 3, pg. 286.
 Imta’ Al-Asma’ (Al-Sam’ani), vol. 6, pg. 93.
 Ibid, quoted from Dala’il Al-Beyhaqi, vol. 7, pp. 288-289; Siyar A’lam Al-Nubala’, vol. 2, pg. 254.
 Ibid, pg. 94, quoted from Dala’il Al-Beyhaqi, vol. 7, pp. 288-289; Siyar A’lam Al-Nubala’, vol. 2, pg. 254.
 See: The book of divorce, chapter 3 (من طلّق، و هل یواجه الرجل امرأته بالطلاق؟), hadiths 5254 and 5255.
 Imta’ Al-Asma’, vo. 6, pp. 96-97. We don’t believe in this hadith and the only reason we mentioned it here was to show to what extent the hadiths on this subject are indefinite and problematic.
 In a margin of Imta’ Al-Asma’, Sam’ani has brought some of the arguments regarding the chains of narrators of the hadiths in which we haven't pointed to here in order to keep the article short. Imta’ Al-Asma’, vol.6, pp. 97-99.
 Kuleini, Al-Kafi, vol.6, pg. 55, hadith 1. “عُثْمَانَ بْنِ عِیسَى عَنْ رَجُلٍ عَنْ أَبِی جَعْفَرٍ (ع) أَنَّهُ کَانَتْ عِنْدَهُ امْرَأَةٌ تُعْجِبُهُ وَ کَانَ لَهَا مُحِبّاً فَأَصْبَحَ یَوْماً وَ قَدْ طَلَّقَهَا وَ اغْتَمَّ لِذَلِکَ فَقَالَ لَهُ بَعْضُ مَوَالِیهِ: جُعِلْتُ فِدَاکَ لِمَ طَلَّقْتَهَا؟ فَقَالَ: إِنِّی ذَکَرْتُ عَلِیّاً (ع) فَتَنَقَّصَتْهُ فَکَرِهْتُ أَنْ أُلْصِقَ جَمْرَةً مِنْ جَمْرِ جَهَنَّمَ بِجِلْدِی”
 Ibid, hadith 2.
 Kuleini, Al-Kafi, vol. 6, pp.55 and 56, hadith 3.
 Read about him in Mu’jam Rijal Al-Hadith, vol. 7, pg. 55.
 Ibid, vol. 1, pg. 179.