Q&A: Was I Married? Am I Divorced?

Was I Married? Am I Divorced?

Question

Years ago I moved in with my boyfried. I did not just want to live with him; I wanted to get married. But he refused, wanting to wait until he was further along in his schooling. He did, however, consent to marry "on paper" before a judge in order to secure residence status in the United States (he was not a United States citizen). With that reasoning only, we got married, never publicly acknowledging our "marriage." My understanding was that this "paper" marriage would eventually lead to a "real" marriage. Thereafter, we obtained separate residences, and our relationship did not progress as planned. My "husband" has never recognized our marriage as legitimate, and no longer desires to marry me. Recently, my husband filed for divorce and dissolved our "paper" marriage. Were we indeed married in the eyes of God? If so, was that considered a biblical divorce, allowing me to remarry? If not, what place does that leave me in?

Answer

"Were we indeed married in the eyes of God?"

Yes, you were indeed married in the eyes of God. You were legally married in the eyes of the state, and that made you legally married in the eyes of God. You even lived as a married couple for a time. The Bible frequently speaks of people marrying, and appears to recognize and validate local marriage customs as binding even in odd situations (e.g. Jacob and Leah [Gen. 29]). The Bible does not state that consummation (i.e. sexual intercourse) is necessary to validate a marriage, nor does it state that a vow is necessary. In fact, there are some cases in which a man is legally bound to marry a woman regardless of the desires of either (e.g. Deut. 22:28-29). Even in a modern marriage before a judge, the couple enters a legal relationship with legal ramifications (e.g. responsibility for the debts of the other; responsibility to support the other financially; various other family law rights and obligations relating to children, property, hospital visitation, inheritance, etc.), and that legal relationship requires a divorce or an annulment to dissolve. The taking on of these legal responsibilities equates to a vow to assume them -- at least the state perceives it as such even if the couple does not state it as such. Most Christian thinkers also perceive an implied vow in these cases insofar as the couple assumes certain responsibilities before God on the basis of the new marital status (e.g. rights over the other's body [1 Cor. 7:1-4], obligations to love, respect, provide for, etc.)


"If so, was that considered a biblical divorce, allowing me to remarry?"

A divorce does not prevent remarriage when an unbeliever leaves a believer (1 Cor. 7:10-16), or when it occurs as a result of infidelity (Matt. 19:9). In both cases, the wronged believing spouse may remarry. Some people argue that abandonment constitutes legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage on the basis that a man who abandons his wife is worse than an unbeliever. This argument is extended from 1 Timothy 5:8 which teaches that a man who fails to provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever. Abandonment is seen as a form of failure to provide. (Some also add that abuse constitutes a form of abandonment, and thus is another legitimate ground for divorce and remarriage.) If your husband was a believer, and your divorce did not proceed on the basis that he had been unfaithful to you, then it was not a biblical divorce. However, if he has since been unfaithful, it is my opinion that such adultery constitutes a legitimate basis for you to refuse reconciliation, and creates a situation in which you may remarry. If your husband was not a believer, then you are free to remarry.


"If not, what place does that leave me in?"

If you are not free to remarry, then you must either be reconciled to your husband or remain single (cf. Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:11). This is a hard place for a person to land, but it does happen sometimes. This is why the disciples initially reacted to this teaching by commenting, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry" (Matt. 19:10). Sometimes our sin puts us in very bad places. We can be forgiven of the sin, but sometimes we still have to live with its consequences (cf. 2 Sam. 12:13-14).



Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.