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What Does the Bible Say About...Divorce?

I have been married for [over ten] years to my current wife. About a year and a half after we were married, while she was pregnant with our son, she told me that she did not marry me for love, but rather for financial support of her and her kids. As you can imagine this quickly hardened my heart towards her, but I stayed with her so that I could see my son born and be the father to him that I could not wholly be if I had divorced her. Over that past 14 years, she and I have continuously had problems and she has threatened me with divorce and taking my son away many times just to get things her way. Many of our problems stem from her admission that she did not love me when we married and my resentment towards her. About two years ago, I had an affair which I have not told my wife about. With all of this said, I have three questions. First, did her marrying me under false pretense nullify our marriage contract in the eyes of God? Second, if the contract was nullified, did I ratify the contract by not leaving her then? The third question stems from my inability to live under these conditions any longer and my desire to file for divorce. The third question is "If I divorce her, am I obligated to tell her about the affair in order that I might someday find the right person for me and want to re-marry. From what read in the Bible, her marrying me under false pretense allowed me to divorce her, but the underlying question is whether my staying with her, even though solely for the sake of my son, forfeited my right to do so at this point. If my rights are forfeited, then it appears to me that my only choice would be to admit my affair to her, and thus give her the right to divorce me. I desperately need honest answers.

Answer

I find nothing in the New Testament that allows for divorce under false pretences. Unless you are Jewish there is nothing in the Bible that might authorize a divorce in your situation.

In answer to your first question, marrying under false pretenses probably would not nullify the marriage contract. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that you would first have to prove false pretenses. Although marriage for love was not unheard of in the Bible, the concept really only gained popularity in the past couple of centuries. Prior to that, and even today in many countries, arranged marriages were common, and the couple may not have even met before the wedding. So unless you can prove that she claimed before the wedding that the only reason she was marrying you was for some reason other than support, there probably werenít any false pretences in a legal sense.

Even under the slight possibility, though highly improbable, that you could prove false pretences, the fact that you have continued in the marriage for an additional fourteen years would seem to indicate that you accepted those conditions. She could argue a legal term called estoppel. Under the theory of estoppel, you are prevented from taking an action if you did not act on it immediately. An example from real estate law says that if a neighbor parks his car half on your property and half on his, and you donít make him stop, then after a period of time in which he continues to park there you lose the right to make him move it. You are estopped from taking action. Such would probably be the case in your situation. For fourteen years you have accepted the situation. You can no longer divorce her based on her stated reason for marrying you. (Again, you should discuss the legal aspects with a lawyer.) The Bible is silent concerning the specifics of whether you would have a legal right to take action after such a long period of time.

Should you tell her about the affair? Tough question from a Bible standpoint. First of all, lying is a grave sin. On the other hand, if you tell her about the affair she may choose to forgive you and not divorce you, and you would suffer doubly. While Jesus said the only acceptable reason for putting away a wife was "fornications,Ē there is some question as to whether adultery after the marriage is included. Even if it is, there is nothing that says a divorce is required.

Also, from your standpoint as the one who adulterated the marriage, if she chooses to divorce you, there is still the question of adultery. Under the usual reading of the passages (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9), if you were to remarry you would be committing adultery, as would whomever you married.

You wanted an honest answer. Basically, it is this. There is not biblical justification for you to divorce your wife, or for her to be required to divorce you. And if she does divorce you because of the affair, the best you could scripturally get out of it would be to be free from an unhappy marriage, but unable to enter into another marriage.