Spousal Abandonment and Divorce

Spousal abandonment is a form of misconduct in matrimonial law. One spouse moves out of the family home without justification, without the other partner’s consent, and without the intention of coming back. That partner also halts financial support.

Couples are typically accustomed to sharing responsibilities, income, and expenses. When one partner moves away, the other can struggle to stay afloat. In some cases, abandoned partners can use this trauma to inform their divorce settlements and get a bigger piece of the estate and its benefits. 

What are the different types of abandonment?

Anytime one spouse moves away and breaks financial obligations, abandonment applies. But nuances exist, and understanding them could be key to winning your divorce case. 

Most courtrooms recognize two main types of abandonment: 

Criminal abandonment 

If a partner leaves the other without just cause, criminal abandonment could be at play. Courts typically look for evidence that the person abandoned the following:

  • Children: Parents aren't required to give their children everything they want, but they are legally responsible for a child's health and well-being until the child reaches 18 years old. If a spouse moves out and stops contributing to a child's upbringing, this could be criminal abandonment.

  • Sick spouses: About 1.9 million people are diagnosed with cancer in a typical year. Others struggle with difficult conditions like diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease. If one spouse moves out and leaves the other to deal with these issues alone, abandonment could apply. A sick spouse can’t support the entire household alone. 

Constructive abandonment

Marriages sometimes end due to misconduct, abuse, or deception. Moving out could be a reasonable response to a spouse’s poor decisions and the damage they might cause. 

For example, about 40% of couples living together have no idea how much the other makes. If one partner finds out the other hasn’t been contributing to the household expenses despite the ability to do so, moving out could seem reasonable. 

Similarly, if you’ve been living with an abusive spouse and need to move out to protect your health and safety, few judges would penalize you for that decision. Sending payments to your former spouse could reveal your location, so staying hidden could be wiser. 

How does marital abandonment impact divorce?

Judges in many states have significant leeway in making estate decisions. You're entitled to an impartial judge per the United States Constitution. But a judge could be persuaded to take your side – and give you more benefits – based on abandonment charges you levy. 

Spousal abandonment and your finances

When one spouse moves out, the other can be left with steep shared bills and debts. As the divorce drags on, this spouse could suffer significant harm, including a reduced credit rating. 

If you can prove your spouse left you without cause and you struggled in the aftermath, the judge could offer you a greater share of the estate or a larger spousal support payment. 

Spousal abandonment and child custody

Courts like to keep families together, as it's typically best for children to grow up connected to both parents. But when one spouse willfully leaves the children behind without supporting them, that person may not seem responsible enough to accept full custody rights. In some cases, a misbehaving spouse may also need supervision during child visits.

Spousal abandonment and your emotions

Breakups are never easy on anyone. But when a divorce stems from deception, abuse, or abandonment, your emotions can run high. 

Divorce settlements aren't meant to penalize bad behavior, but when you're feeling lost and upset with your former partner, it's hard to negotiate and settle. It's common for cases like this to go to court rather than settling out of court through mediation or negotiation. 

How do you claim abandonment?

Marital law starts with the states, each with slightly different rules. Some require couples to cite a reason for the divorce, and abandonment could be ample cause to request a split. But some allow no-fault divorces in which neither party has to be in the wrong for the process to proceed. 

Most states have free legal services that can answer common questions. Contact the courthouse in your county and ask about abandonment and what to do next in a divorce. 

It's typically quicker and easier to get an uncontested divorce. Experts say at least 90% of divorces are uncontested. Finding your partner and working together on your divorce is the easiest and least expensive way to move forward. It’s also the easiest on both parties emotionally.

But if you have no idea where your spouse is, or you're afraid to reach out to someone who has abused you, ask a lawyer for help. Together, you can find a path forward.



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