Understanding Marital Abandonment


  • The legal description and state guidelines affect how marital abandonment is treated in the divorce process.
  • Marital abandonment can create financial problems for those relying on dual-income living.
  • The emotional distress that marital abandonment creates will require support and help.
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"With the difficult emotions of what the marriage meant to you interacting with the subsequent act of desertion, it can be hard to sort through your own perspective on the situation, but creating a support system that will allow you the help that you need is key in helping you face the difficult reality of marital abandonment."

It might be a cliché or might just be something that you may see in a movie or a television show, but coming home to an empty house with a note saying that she is leaving, can happen.

Desertion happens. Many find themselves alone in the marital home after a spouse leaves, forced to pick up the pieces. Between the physical, emotional, legal, and financial consequence of marital abandonment, the difficulties are innumerable.

The act of leaving

Marital abandonment comes up in a variety of contexts when discussing a spouse deserting the family unite, but from a legal perspective, marital abandonment refers to a situation in which one spouse severs ties with the family, forsaking his or her responsibilities and duties to the family, according to the Legal Dictionary.

Moving out of the family home in order to create a temporary or permanent separation is not considered marital abandonment. The difference can be interpreted in the refusal of support, financial or otherwise. If a spouse is unreachable or refusing to provide any level of support, an argument for marital abandonment can be made.

The argument is based around the notion of willful desertion. Because of this notion, the abandoned spouse has no financial responsibilities to the abandoning spouse, in most states. Many states also require the abandoned spouse that they have been a victim of marital abandonment, in order to secure a divorce.

For example, in the state of Virginia, you must have a ground or grounds for divorce, and the party seeking the divorce must prove the ground or grounds to the Court. In the state of North Dakota, willful desertion is listed under causes for divorce and is defined as the voluntary separation of one of the married parties from the other with the intent to desert.

Financial perspective

The financial consequences of marital abandonment can be difficult if you, as an individual, rely on the financial security that a dual income household creates. The time spent working at your regular job can take away from the time needed to develop a sound legal strategy, but without the time spent at the job, you would not have the money to afford a sound legal strategy.

This puts your financial future in jeopardy. In creating the uncertainty of the situation by deserting the family dynamic, they also have create the possibility of returning at any given moment, changing any semblance of normalcy or routine that may have developed in their absence. That means any spending routine developed in their absence can be cut into by someone that may wish to have a piece of the pie.

However, this scenario requires the abandoner to return. This requires the family to deal with the spouse that left on an emotional level and requires both spouses to deal with legal process of divorce. This may force the abandoned spouse to revisit the emotions of the situation, creating additional mental strain and stress.

Emotional perspective

With marital abandonment, the emotions of the situation are never easy. Just like with any breakup, the emotional responses can resemble the responses of the death of a loved one. When your spouse first leaves, it can leave the spouse that they left behind weighed down by the memories, the chest pain, the wistful tears, the longing, and the aching throughout your whole body, according to Psychology Today.

Similarly, you may experience a sense of rage in their absence. You may be forced to take multiple roles that you previously did not occupy, causing you a moment of distress and anger. You can be forced to feel the pain of the situation before you are ready, due to the consequences of reality. With so many roles to fill as a financial provider, a maintainer of the family home, and possibly even the sole responsible parent, you do not always have time to sort through the complicated emotional tapestry that marital abandonment entails.

Unlike the death of a loved one, the grief of marital abandonment might be even harder to get through. Because your spouse is still out there, you are forced to actually feel the pain, sadness and anger that desertion entails.

It is important to avoid overthinking what went wrong or how you might be able to get your spouse back. Many often require healing and support, in order to deal with the emotions of the situation if or when the spouse returns in any capacity. Paying attention to the fading of those emotions will allow you to realize your self-growth and offer motivation to help you move forward in your path to recovery.

Legal perspective

If you have children, it is important, from a legal perspective, to file a motion for primary physical custody and child support when you file for divorce. For children, the typical period of time that has to pass before a child is considered abandoned, depending on the state and court. If you choose to terminate the abandoner’s parental rights in the future, this can be a helpful tip.

Making sure that you and those you support are well-protected is an important priority that needs to be addressed, but so is taking care of yourself, as an abandoned spouse. With the difficult emotions of what the marriage meant to you interacting with the subsequent act of desertion, it can be hard to sort through your own perspective on the situation, but creating a support system that will allow you the help that you need is key in helping you face the difficult reality of marital abandonment.

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