God doesn't bind fraudulent contracts—including the contract of marriage. Under the first covenant God made with Israel, if a man married a woman and found that she had deliberately hidden the fact that she was not a virgin, he was permitted to put her away. We would say that the marriage was annulled. That is, it was never a valid, bound marriage. The same would be true today for a man who deliberately hid his sexual sins from his prospective wife. There could also be other types of fraud. Let's look at some of the issues concerning fraud.
There Must Be Deliberate Deception Before Marriage
Fraud is something that occurs before marriage and begins in the mind of the person committing the fraud. Fraud is when a person deliberately hides a fact that he or she knows will cause the prospective mate not to wed . This is not the same as just putting one's best foot forward. No one is expected to tell his or her prospective mate of every flaw, evil deed and sin committed in the past. We don't do this; we don't expect a prospective mate to do this. We aren't perfect; we don't expect our prospective mate to be perfect. But what if someone has a flaw so great that he fears that his prospective mate won't marry him, and then he deliberately hides that flaw? This would be fraud and a person would be free to leave. In God's eyes there never was a marriage. It is annulled.
Even in civil law, fraud is something that is considered to be a deliberate deception. This is a general principle in contract law. If you purchase a used auto and then the standard transmission goes out in a few hundred miles and you find sawdust in the transmission (an old trick to keep a failing transmission quiet), you can claim fraud. The seller deliberately defrauded you. If no sawdust is evident and it can't be proven that the seller knew the transmission was defective, there isn't provable fraud.
A few years ago my son and his wife purchased a home that turned out to be in an area that occasionally flooded. The fact of the flooding hadn't been disclosed. My son and his wife wanted to claim fraud in the purchase of the home, saying that had they known about the flooding, they would never have purchased the home. But they purchased the home from a government agency that had foreclosed on the home. Representatives of the government agency said that they didn't know about the flooding. Since they didn't know about the flooding, there wasn't deliberate deception and fraud couldn't be claimed.
Now back to marriage. Example: a couple marries and they have no children. It is discovered that she can't have children. Having children is very important to him, so he says that he wouldn't have married her if he had known that she was infertile. Yet, she didn't know that she was infertile and didn't deliberately hide that fact. This wouldn't be fraud. Fraud must start in the mind of the person committing the fraud. But if, on the other hand, she knew that she was infertile and deliberately withheld this information because she suspected that he might not marry her if he knew, then this would be fraud. This would be a deliberate fraud that started in her mind before the wedding.
If Fraud Is Not Acted on When Discovered, It Is No Longer Fraud
Suppose a man has marital problems after being married for some time and then tries to dissolve the marriage by saying that his wife wasn't a virgin at the time of marriage. His accusation might be true. The problem is that he found it out right after marriage, but it didn't bother him enough to separate at the time. His marriage was new, fresh and sweet. Later, after arguments and other marital problems, he wants to be loose so he claims fraud. However, once he knew she wasn't a virgin and he accepted her, it was no longer a fraud.
What Fraud Is Not
Fraud isn't the difference between romantic fantasies before marriage and the realities of marriage. Most of us, perhaps all of us, have unrealistic expectations about our chosen mate. We don't really know someone until we're married. None of us is perfectly balanced, and our lack of balance can make us difficult to live with. Some of us are lazy, and some are workaholics. Some of us never save money, and some of us save to the point of being tightwads. Some of us are temperamental, and some of us are emotional ice cubes. These are the usual, run-of-the-mill human failings. Still, they can be so exasperating that they can lead to divorce.
It's easy to say: “If I had known about these flaws I wouldn't have married. I was defrauded.” If that's all that is needed for fraud, then perhaps all marriages that end in divorce could be considered to have been fraudulent. When people divorce, they do it because there is something they don't like about the ex-mate. But it doesn't mean there was deliberate deception before the marriage, and that it was done with the knowledge that if the other person were told, the marriage wouldn't have taken place. Some marriages are doomed from the start, but that doesn't automatically make them fraudulent.
If a person had clear reasons to suspect a problem before a marriage, but didn't ask, it obviously wasn't important enough at the time to him or to her to be a fraud. Not being a virgin is, sadly, a common problem in this age. If a man or woman truly wouldn't have married someone who wasn't a virgin, why hadn't he or she asked? However, if a person does ask and receives a lie, that is a fraud.
Advice for Those Thinking of Marrying
There is a lesson in this for couples contemplating marriage. They should do what they can to avoid fraud. We don't have to go through a list of all of our gruesome sins in offensive detail, but we don't want to deliberately hide something that a prospective mate should know. If one has been married before, on drugs or in trouble with the law, he or she should say so. Hopefully both are virgins, but if not, they should let their prospective mate know that they've sinned in this area and have repented.
A prospective mate might want to know how serious a problem the other had and ask if it was a common sin. But, one shouldn't go into names and details. If the person wants to know gory details, perhaps this is a clue that the other needs to find someone else.
If something is important to a person, he or she should ask about it and not marry someone whose past and present life and habits are question marks. In the desire and excitement to get married, prospective mates shouldn't overlook clues about possible flaws. Is he very jealous? Does she have a bad temper? It's another clue—fights before marriage usually escalate after marriage. Has this person been married before? How many times? Been in trouble with the law? These are all matters to be discussed.
When Joseph thought that Mary had been unfaithful, he acted. He didn't wait to see if the marriage would work out. Hopefully all who marry will never have to consider the subject of fraud. However, if one does find himself or herself in this unhappy situation, he or she can take time to pray about it and counsel about it, but needs to make a decision as soon as possible. If one decides to wait to see how the marriage will work out, then the person is saying that the fraud isn't enough to reject the other as a mate. It is then no longer fraud. UN