Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

My Spouse Isn't the Person I Believed I Was Marrying. Do I Have Grounds for Divorce?

My Spouse Isn't the Person I Believed I Was Marrying. Do I Have Grounds for Divorce?

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

What do you think about the following marriage situation:

An unbeliever commits numerous acts of adultery while single, then deceives a believer into getting married. Does the unbeliever carry the sin over into the marriage? If so, does the believer have biblical grounds for divorce?


Dear DK,

You ask, “What do I think about the situation?” I think that it is sad and painful. Nevertheless, it’s possible, if the right things fall into place, to have a great marriage even under these circumstances.

You asked, “Does the deceitful, sexually sinful individual carry those sins over into the marriage?” Yes, without a doubt.

Whether or not you have biblical grounds for divorce depends on whether or not the unbeliever becomes a believer, as well as the following factors:

First, you may choose to stay married. There is nothing that says that you must get a divorce even if you have justifiable reasons.

Second, if the unbeliever repents of his/her past sins, confesses and receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then grace covers and forgiveness cleanses. The foundation for a successful Christian marriage is now in place. Of course, both partners have much psychological healing to do because of the hurts, real and/or imagined, which exist both within and between the couple. There are no grounds for a biblical divorce in this situation.

Third, Paul taught in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 that if an unbelieving spouse wants out of the marriage, then the believer has grounds for a biblical divorce.

Fourth, Paul taught in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 that if an unbeliever is married to a believer and the unbeliever wants to stay married, then the believer has no grounds for divorce. Hopefully he/she may guide their partner into a salvation relationship with Jesus.

Fifth, marriage is a contract which is based on honesty and trust between two parties. A contract which is entered into based on deception and deceit is a fraud. Therefore, it is not a valid contract and cannot be legally binding or enforced.

The Bible is filled with contracts. In the Old Testament they are often identified as covenants. God made many covenants with Israel and when Israel sinned, and failed to hold up their end of the contract, God felt no obligation to hold up his end either.

Although it is never strictly said, following the biblical guidelines of a covenant, there is no valid contract between you two since your marriage was based on a deceitful lie. You can get divorced with a clear conscience.

I’m sorry, DK, for the awkwardness in which you find yourself. I do understand that you might be asking this question for another, and if so, I hope that my answer is helpful for your friend as well.

Sincerely, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Publication date: August 19, 2015

This article is part of our larger resource: The Christian Woman’s Guide to Starting Over after Divorce: 7 In-Depth Steps to Take Starting Today. If you’re going through a divorce or are already divorced and looking for more resources, be sure to visit our guide!