The Impact of Marital Abandonment

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Marriage can be an exciting journey for many, but it can lead to a very bumpy road for others. There are times when relationships hit a breaking point. Problems arise, communication breaks down, and the urge to walk away can feel intense. In the end, having your spouse walk away from your marriage can be life-altering, causing more problems than solutions. According to, willful abandonment in a marriage can lead to severe consequences for the person left behind without communication, financial assistance, or attention from the other spouse.

Whether you call it marital abandonment or desertion, both result from one spouse leaving the marriage without communicating with the other and without the intent of coming back. Although many mistake it as a separation, which is often a mutual decision between spouses, abandonment is not the same. Marital abandonment is defined as a spouse who has walked away from their financial obligations and leaves the marriage without communicating with the other spouse and without the intent of coming back.

California, like all other states, is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning neither spouse needs to prove fault to obtain a divorce. Though the court will not accept evidence of fault, under rare circumstances, such as the disappearance of your spouse, you may plead willful abandonment as grounds for divorce.

When a spouse walks out of a marriage and abandons their spouse and children, it may imply their denial to contribute toward the family’s financial support leaving the abandoned spouse to face unexpected economic challenges. Whether or not they have filed for a divorce, divorce laws in most states allow for the filer to request spousal maintenance when facing these types of challenges.

If someone leaves a marriage because the other spouse has made it impossible to stay, the person leaving the marriage can claim “constructive desertion”. Constructive desertion occurs when one spouse won’t physically leave home but has made life intolerable through their actions for the other spouse. If one partner feels forced to leave home because of the other’s misconduct, they have been constructively deserted. According to U.S. Legal, other examples of marital misconduct that apply to constructive desertion include the willful refusal of sex without just cause and the nonperformance of other marital duties that would contribute to issues in the marriage.

If one is considering whether to abandon a marriage, it’s essential to take note of the consequences. While abandonment is not a legal ground for divorce in California, it can influence child custody.

According to Divorce and Your Money, abandoning and failing to provide care for a dependent, ailing spouse or minor children is considered criminal spousal abandonment. California Family Code Section 7820 claims that the family law court can terminate parental and custodial rights if a parent has abandoned their child. Usually, the parent who leaves and does not return may be required to pay more in child support than if there was a joint legal and joint physical parenting plan in place.

Facing an emergency like this in your marriage can be frightening, and it can be challenging to see an opportunity for resolution. Aside from relying on your support network, the most important thing is to consult with an experienced attorney promptly. You have probably overcome many challenges in your life before this moment, and people are willing to help you through this process. When facing marital abandonment, do your best to focus on your next immediate steps, let others support you, and take charge.

At the Schoenberg Family Law Group, our divorce attorneys believe that knowledge is power. We are all deeply committed to helping our clients navigate their family law matters and providing them with a road map of their case. In so doing, we strive to ensure that our clients are aware of all options before deciding upon a course. We zealously advocate on behalf of our clients, and in so doing, take a realistic approach to all cases.

Written by Debra Schoenberg


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