There are 3 categories of divorce and 3 numbers of divorce. The Categories refer to what the couple must do to reunite, and the numbers refer to how many divorces have been done. It’s easy to get the Categories confused with the Numbers, so brace yourself for a lot of detail:
1st Category (Talaqe Raj‘i): When a man divorces his wife, the waiting period (‘iddat) of three months begins. During this period, the husband can take his wife back and there is no need to repeat the nikah. This is the 1st Category of divorce. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
And the divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three courses… And their husbands have the greater right to take them back during that period.(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:229).
2nd Category (Talaqe Ba‘in): If the waiting period of three months ends, the 1st Category divorce automatically becomes a 2nd category divorce. The nikah of the husband and wife now comes to an end and they are free to marry whom they please. If they wish to get married to one another again, their nikah would have to be re-announced. Although this is the 2nd Category of divorce, keep in mind that this is still counted as Divorce Number 1.
Divorce Number 2: This can only happen if, after a 1st Category or a 2nd Category divorce has happened, the husband and the wife decide to reunite. After they have reunited, if he divorces her again, this is counted as Divorce Number 2.
Keep in mind, it does not matter what the Category of divorce Number 1 was. They could have reunited before the three month waiting period without needing their nikah re-announced, or they could have reunited after the three month waiting period by having their nikah re-announced. Either way, when a couple reunites after divorce Number 1, and later on the husband then divorces his wife again, it is counted as divorce Number 2. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
Such divorce may be pronounced twice; then, either retain them in a becoming manner or send them away with kindness.(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:230)
Divorce Number 3 and 3rd Category (Talaqe Battah): To repeat, after a 1st Category or a 2nd Category divorce, if the husband and wife reunite, and then he later divorces her again, this is counted as Divorce Number 2. After all of this is done, the husband and wife decide to reunite again. After they reunite, he later divorces her again. This divorce is counted as Divorce Number 3, and this automatically and immediately becomes a 3rd Category divorce, which is an irrevocable divorce. There is no 1st Category divorce where he has a waiting period to take her back, and there is no 2nd Category divorce where he has an option of nikah by which they can be remarried. The couple can now no longer be reunited unless the wife gets married to someone else and then that marriage happens to end. Obviously, this is an extreme case. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
And if he divorce her the third time, then she is not lawful for him thereafter, until she marries another husband; and, if he also divorce her, then it shall be no sin for them to return to each other.(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:231)
In commentary of this verse, the Holy Prophet sas said:
Curse be upon the one who marries a divorced woman with the intention of making her lawful for her former husband, and upon the one for whom she is made lawful.(Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 11, Hadith 2,071).
The above is a summary of Fiqh Ahmadiyya, vol. 2, p. 75–83. To declare three divorces at one time is not permitted.
The Messenger of Allah was told about a man who had divorced his wife with three simultaneous divorces. He stood up angrily and said: “Is the Book of Allah being toyed with while I am still among you?”(Sunan an-Nasa’i, vol. 4, Book 27, Hadith 3,430)