If a partner moves out, when can we consider that a valid divorce has happened?

Someone emailed:
You point out that in the Greaco-Roman world of the early church there was no concept of the modern day notion to seperate from you partner for a time and then to eventually get divorced. Biblically speaking, when should a person be considered to be divorced - once a person permanently moves out, or once it is declared annulled in a court of law? And also, it seems from your writings that you are not in favor of long seperations. What is the reason for this?

Reply: The Bible doesn't tell us when a person should be considered to be divorced, but lets try to work it out from biblical principles. It is the wronged partner who has the right to decide that the marriage contract has been broken and they won't continue to forgive. So the marriage comes to an end when the wronged partner decides that it has ended. When Paul wrote 1Cor.7.11 about the woman who had separated from her husband (thereby divorcing him) he told her not to remarry and to try for reconciliation. Why wasn't she allowed to remarry? - because she had divorced someone against their will. The divorce would not be valid till her former partner decided that it was over, and so she was stuck, unable to remarry, till he did so.

I didn't realise I said anything about long separations, but you are right that I am against them. Mainly because Paul tells that woman in 1Cor.7.10f in as strong language as possible, that she should not have separated (v.10). She had already disobeyed this, so he tells her in v.11 to try to reverse what she has done by remaining unmarried and attempting reconciliation. Paul also says that couples should not even separate for the seemingly good excuse that they want to spend more time in prayer - except perhaps for short periods.

Does a trial separation help to heal marriages? I suspect that they help to break them much more often than they help to heal.

For more on abandonment see When Your Partner Walks Out in Divorce & Remarriage in the Church



Anonymous said...

Separation, in my view & in my experience, very much helps break the marriage rather than heal it. The single pseudo-single state becomes the norm. The issues are not dealt with and kept at a distance, and the prosecution of divorce is made so much easier. It just formalises what has already taken place.

Anonymous said...

SOme short time out might have helped me negotiate a reconciliation instead of keeping up the pressure. My pastor had asked us what I wanted to change, and I was so paralysed by hurt that I couldn't even say, I just wanted it all to stop.

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