Questions From Readers
● As one who is studying the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses, I am interested in pleasing God. Seventeen years ago my husband left me, and I have not heard from him since. He may be deceased by now. Am I free to remarry?—A. S., U.S.A.
We are happy when those studying God’s Word express genuine interest in pleasing Jehovah. In order for one to do this it is important to acknowledge and live by his inspired Word.
The Bible says that death dissolves a marriage. Speaking about a Christian wife, the apostle Paul commented: “If her husband should fall asleep in death, she is free to be married to whom she wants, only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2) The same would apply if the wife died; the husband would be free to remarry.
In the case in question, apparently there is no concrete evidence that the husband is dead. Thus the legal marriage still stands. It would be both illegal and immoral for the wife to go ahead and remarry just because she felt her husband was dead.
However, in many lands there are laws to the effect that if an adult has been absent and not heard from for a period of years he may be legally declared dead. Volume 17 of the legal work Corpus Juris states: “At common law the rule was that a presumption of death arose from an unexplained absence of seven years, . . . although in a few jurisdictions a shorter period has been prescribed by statute.” (Pages 1167, 1168) But one cannot simply assume that, since the specified time has passed, he or she is free to remarry. Legal steps must be taken. This lawbook continues: “No presumption of death of a person arises from the mere fact of his unexplained absence unless diligent efforts have been made to find him.”—Page 1171.
Just what legal action is required would have to be determined locally. The “diligent efforts” might include contacting all relatives and friends who could be expected to have heard from or about the absentee, checking at his former residences and places of employment and posting a public notice in a newspaper. If an exhaustive search produces nothing to indicate that the absentee is alive, the court might pronounce him dead. Before that takes place the wife would not legally be free to remarry.
If all reasonably possible efforts to find the husband have failed and legally he has been declared dead, the wife must decide what to do. If she honestly believes him dead and wants to remarry, she must be willing to bear the responsibility before God, who knows all the facts and motives involved.—Gal. 6:5; Heb. 4:13.
This is a serious decision because the missing mate, who has been ruled as dead, might make an appearance again. What then? Corpus Juris indicates what is true in many places: “Where the presumption [of death] is rebutted by facts showing that the absentee is alive, the intended marriage is rendered void ab initio [from the beginning].” (Volume 38, page 1296) The woman would have to separate from the second man and get the matter straightened out.
While such a reappearance might seem unlikely, these things do occur. One woman in the state of New Jersey was deserted by her husband in 1924. In 1943 a court declared him dead. Two years later she remarried. In time she became a Christian. Then thirty-six years after her husband deserted her she learned that he recently had been living in a town some thirty-five miles from her home. Thus her second marriage was null and she had to separate from the second man, to whom she thought she was married, and get the entire matter straightened out legally.
So in regard to the case under consideration, we can say: The lack of information about the husband would not hinder the wife’s becoming a Witness. If in time she could show to the satisfaction of the representatives of the Christian congregation that all efforts to prove that he is alive had been unsuccessful and that there was good reason to believe him dead, and he is legally declared dead, they would allow her to assume the responsibility for the decision to remarry, “only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) She should remember that this is a very serious matter, not one to be rushed or taken lightly. A Christian marrying under these circumstances must shoulder the responsibility before Jehovah, who “judges impartially according to each one’s work.”—1 Pet. 1:17; Heb. 13:4.